Parabhakti Das, President of ISKCON’s Villa Vrindavana community near Florence, Italy, presented at a panel discussion on preserving authenticity in yoga during the European Academy of Religion’s annual conference this spring.
The conference was a four-day event running from March 5th to 8thin Bologna, Italy. Thirty to forty different panels a day covered diverse topics from religious freedom, to interfaith dialogue, to religion and social change.
These were led by academics as well as practitioners like priests, imams and rabbis. The panels were held at various different venues across the city, including museums, theaters, hotels, universities and historic palaces.
Parabhakti spoke on March 5that a panel entitled “Yoga as a way of spirituality, source of well-being and social cohesion, from the East to the West.”
Bologna, Italy, the city where the conference was held
He discussed how he and Yadunandana Swami had attended the most recent European Confederation of Yoga conference. There, major concerns had been brought up about where the genuine path of yoga was going and how there was a need for bona fide yoga teachers.
With many dubious interpretations of yoga, such as beer yoga, surf yoga and more, Parabhakti said, there’s no better time to remind people that yoga is not just exercise to relax the mind or the body; it is also a bona fide spiritual path.
“Yoga is a process to help people get closer to the Divine,” he explains. “So we are looking for authenticity. One of the main concerns is to have bona fide teachers. Someone made a proposal that they should have to practice at least 2,000 hours a year. That is quite normal for people who are deeply involved – for instance devotees are chanting sixteen rounds, and practicing more than two thousand hours a year. But for some people, it’s just a job.”
The opening ceremony of the European Academy of Religion Conference
Other speakers made similar points, aiming to promote correct knowledge of the ancient practice of yoga, and delving into its history, philosophy and spirituality.
Presenters included chairperson Raffaella Di Marzio of LIREC (The Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion, Belief and Conscience, of which Parabhakti is also a member); Professor Fabio Scialpi from one of Italy’s biggest universities, Università di Roma-Sapienza; and yoga teachers Narya Tosetto from the Ananda Association and Maria Cristina Kaveri Cantoni from Tathata Vrindham International.
Parabhakti Das’ daughter, Giorgia Bombieri, also spoke, sharing her experience as a yoga teacher who combines both hatha and bhakti yoga in her classes.
Bhaktin Giorgia Bombieri, Parabhakti's daughter, shared her experience of the transformative power of yoga
“She pointed out the tremendous power of transformation that yoga has with her students, and emphasized the importance of using yoga to help people in this way, which was greatly appreciated by the panel,” Parabhakti says.
Next, Parabhakti has been invited to speak about yoga at two more religious conferences – one in Rome in April, and one in the North of Italy.
“There is a lot of confusion about yoga today,” he says. “And we have raised a topic that seems to be interesting for many people. So let’s see where it goes – it seems to be opening a door.”[ bologna ] [ florence ] [ italy ] [ religion ] [ yoga ]