Is it just me or does everyone seem to be a yogi these days? Scrolling through Instagram, it is not uncommon to see, most frequently, a size six fitness blogger in a carefully tailored Lululemon outfit doing some complicated yoga pose in a scenic background. This is usually followed by a spiritual or ‘self love’ quote as a caption. Obviously, there should be nothing harmful wrong with that, after all, yoga is for everyone. However, seeing the frequency of these type of posts increase, one cannot help but wonder if yoga has been reduced to a fashion, a way of gaining more ‘likes’ than an actual journey to enlightenment.
one cannot help but wonder if yoga has been reduced to … a way of gaining more ‘likes’ than an actual journey to enlightenment.
Yoga made its first concrete appearance in the second century through the works of Pantanjali and was originally designed as a vehicle for reaching the meditative stage. The physical poses, or asanas are just a small portion of the bigger equation. Yoga actually involves eight stages which one must go through to be connected to the Divine, according to the spiritual beliefs of Hinduism.
In India, the army has actually replaced some military drills for yoga exercises as an attempt of reviving the practice in the country from which it originates from. It is taken very seriously, the class begins with sinus cleansing and ends with group breathing exercises.
Growing up with an Indian background, I was exposed to the practice as from a very early stage; mainly through my parents and grandparents. I never got into it, (mistakenly) disregarding it as a pseudo-science, until all of a sudden, yoga was everywhere; go to any gym and chances are it offers a yoga class. And, that is exactly where the problem lies.
While some classes do touch on the philosophy of yoga, not all of them do. People join the practice because it is being marketed to them as a new-age fitness trend; something like spinning or cross fit. If one joins the practice solely as an aim to get ‘more toned’ and ‘flexible’, then it is a form of cultural appropriation. Why? Well, because you are benefitting from the Indian practices without knowing what it all actually stands for and what it aims to achieve. Indians do not practice yoga as a workout, they practice it to seek something deeper.
Indians do not practice yoga as a workout, they practice it to seek something deeper.
During an interview, an American yoga teacher was asked what she thought of “Indian Yoga” versus “American Yoga” and she said replied with the fact that “Indian Yoga” is more strict, to quote her “you pose and stop, pose and stop, there’s only one way to do it: the right way” whereas the practice in her studio promotes “freedom of expression”. The Yoga Minister of India countered her statement by saying “Technique does the benefit”. Just because one is ‘stretching mindfully’ on a yoga mat does not make it yoga.
The fact that the spiritual significance of yoga has been completely disregarded gives rise to gimmicky alternatives of the practice such as; Heavy Metal Yoga, Boxing Yoga, Nude Yoga, Christian Yoga?
Another problem is the fact that yoga is also being marketed as being ‘exotic’ or promoting the ‘hippie-like’ culture. I walked into a yoga class the other day, and the instructor, (needless to say, he/she was white) was wearing a turban. What is up with that? I doubted they knew what it meant to the Sikhs. They also had beads around their neck, which is usually what pandit-jis (or Hindu priests) wear during a puja (prayer) when reciting mantras.
Now that we’re on the topic of mantras. In Vedic traditions, a mantra is a powerful vibration which one can use to access the “spiritual states of consciousness”. Typically, they are said in Sanskrit. A lot of western yoga studios use these mantras without knowing what they mean, or why they are saying them. Now, this is not me telling you that you have know Sanskrit to participate in yoga, lot of Indian people don’t, it is just that the yoga teacher should contextualise the mantras, explain what they aim to achieve. The worst thing one can do during a mantra is laugh because it sounds like gibberish to them; while it may seem an innocent way of communicating one’s confusion, it is actually disrespecting the very beliefs of Hinduism.
The fact that yoga is publicised as being white predominated is also harmful to the society. This may be a whole other topic but it is just an example of how oppression is still alive today. Google ‘Yoga’ into your search bar and then go on images, they are all of white people. How come?
Google ‘Yoga’ into your search bar and then go on images, they are all of white people. How come?
This is not a piece to get white people to stop participating yoga, it is just a way of spreading awareness of the beliefs which form the practice. If you are genuinely interested in yoga, you should definitely go for it, the practice has never been more accessible, but please also do your research, and pay special attention to how the teacher treats the class.
For further research, take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtbHO9b1dnY