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Like millions of Westerners out there, I too joined the yoga bandwagon about eight years ago.
After trying out my first Bikram class, I moved onto Moksha and then settled at a hot yoga studio, which practices all types of yoga, in a hot space.
I too fell in love with how yoga made my body feel after a particularly tough workout.
I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice.
And, finally, I too got burned out by the practice.
Disillusioned—and at times—even disgusted at the people who I thought should be setting an example to the rest of us. But, as it turns out, they are even more messed up than you realize—and yoga is just an effective cloak to hide their true nature.
For me, it was and always will be the health benefits of yoga which attracted me, and that still keep me around. But, perhaps in my naïveté, I also thought the people who were a part of the scene would be as sincere as they appeared to be.
I had read just about every book out there, was thoroughly sick of the New Age charlatans claiming to have psychic abilities all in the name of Mr. Dollar—and selling their wares, whether it was books, weekend retreats or $1,000 seminars—and I became disenchanted with what the so-called “good life” that a Westernized professional was offering (it’s a formula, no more.)
With yoga, I finally felt that I found something authentic, based on authentic teachings…plus, I felt great afterwards.
The people seemed nice; they had read and kept quoting all the great seers and sages of the centuries: Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Rumi, Hafiz and more recently, writers like Eckhart Tolle. They were into the green movement, recycling and genuinely concerned about Mother Earth. They wore Toms and donated to legitimate foundations like Unicef, Right to Play and so on.
But a few nagging observations wouldn’t leave me.
1. First of all, I’m of Indian heritage. I’m brown. You look at me and you know I’m ethnic. I speak the language and still have many extended family members in India and I go back to visit often. By and large (and I’m generalizing, since it’s not always the case) but yoga in the West is increasingly becoming a trendy diversion for the affluent and bored—or those who are obsessed with the body beautiful and the cult of hedonism which follows that.
India is still deeply conservative, socially; arranged marriages are still the norm in the villages and were also the norm in the big cities, until maybe 20 years ago. Binge drinking, sexual promiscuity and drug taking, which are elements of the club culture, are strongly frowned upon and considered socially unacceptable in many social circles in India. But yet, it is being passed off as something that is a part of yoga by North American suburban kids and marketers looking for the next big trend…when it just isn’t true.
2. It is extremely classist. It lacks plurality and inclusiveness. I do not see many people of blue-collar backgrounds who can afford these classes on a regular basis—and many of them are precisely the ones who could probably benefit the most from yoga. Most of the studios in my city charge around $1,200 for an unlimited yearly membership. That’s serious coin.
I can hardly envision a stressed out, single mother, trying to raise her kids on social assistance being able to afford that when she probably needs the benefits of yoga more than the pampered trophy wife who just returned form her five-star shamanistic initiation retreat in Bolivia.
I walk into most of my yoga classes and I see nothing but a sea of white faces, with maybe the token black and asian. Some people may read that as a racist statement but I’m not trying to be racist—and this isn’t a reverse racism argument either—it is just my observation.
Yoga in North America caters to the affluent and is falling in line with the capitalist system of profit. It is increasingly distancing itself from the true roots of yoga.
3. It is really annoying to watch some white people try to act ethnically brown, when they are not…and will never be.
Intention is everything here. I can understand there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but when the Pussy Cat Dolls show up in saris at some premiere, you have to ask yourself: what is the intention?
Pale women with Shiva tramp-stamps do not look good in saris, doing Bollywood dance moves or wearing bhindis—especially if they have freckles (like, really.)
For Indian women, this is part of their cultural heritage and identity, not some gimmicky hip trend to try out and pose around in until the next trend shows up.
4. Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already.
The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960’s. Chanting in sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or, an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (yes, that is a real academic subject.)
Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.
5. Just because it’s exotic does not mean it’s real or more authentic. Real Indians, in India, make fun of many Westerners behind their backs and are making money off of their ignorance.
Do you see real, native Indians, in the fancy expensive ashrams in India? No.
Do you see many native Indians “following” your Guruji? Probably not.
Do you see many Indian women at these open air clothing-optional Tantric weekend couples workshops in Hawaii?
Did you ever ask why not? I’ll let you in on a little secret: many of these so-called gurus and God-men (and women) of India are scam artists—but because their ashrams and centres bring in so much much-needed cash and tourist dollars, the Indian government looks the other way. And in fact, they are in on it too.
There is nothing spiritual about it. It’s a cash cow and they are milking many Western followers of yoga for all they can get. Not always—I am generalizing. There are some authentic teachers left in India—but they’re usually just minding their own business and not interested in selling anything or proselytizing people. Unfortunately, the former is happening more frequently than the latter.
Another yogi who pretty much indirectly admits Caucasians are inferior to Indians is Bikram Choudhury. In his 60 minutes interview, he said that the intense physical aspects of Bikram yoga is more “suitable” to North Americans because they need to discipline themselves physically before they can start on the spiritual and psychic—and that it’s not necessary for Indians. That somehow, the physical and mental make-up of Caucasians is different from Indians and therefore, they need to do an additional step of rigorous physical training before attempting anything spiritual. Does anyone see the double-speak and double-standard here? (at 1:15 and 10:10)
They are promising you enlightenment just as long as you pay up or keep giving enforced “donations”—but it doesn’t work that way.
Why do you think celibate Buddhist monks devote their entire lives to living in monasteries under vows of poverty, living off of alms, trying to achieve enlightenment?
Because it’s excruciatingly hard work—and it takes a lot more than a weekend retreat or two, plus reading a best-seller, to get there.
6. Yoga can become cultic—very quickly—and the levels of self-absorption and narcissism can sky-rocket easily if you don’t watch it…so keep your radar tuned in. I have heard stories of certain Jivamukti yoga instructors threatening to cut off friendships with other yoga instructors from other traditions because they were not completely vegan.
That’s all you can think about?
There’s a nuclear reactor in Japan which is about to fail and spells disaster for the West coast of North America. Workers in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are on the front lines fighting technocrats and bankers who are trying to rob them of their right to live in some semblance of dignity and respect. There’s a Maoist insurgency in central India and peasants are trying to keep their land from mining companies and this is what you choose to bicker about?
7. The level of cultural awareness among some of the yoga set is pitiful at times. And yet, this is the same crowd that tries to come off as cultural and spiritual mouthpieces for Indian sub-continent.
It is truly a subcontinent, with vast differences in culture, religion, diet, language, customs and history. The only commonality you will find among Punjabis, Gujaratis, Marathis, Rajasthanis, Bengalis, Tamils, Goan, Keralese, Nepalis, Uttar Pradeshi, Kashmiri, Assamese, Ladakhs, Orissians etc is possibly the brown skin…if that.
Once upon a time, all these provinces and territories were their own kingdoms and countries. They were amalgamated and consolidated into one state and created into India by the British. Think of them as entirely different countries with their own unique identities—you wouldn’t mix up a Pole with a Russian (and if you did, they’d probably punch you), so why should you mix up a Tamil with a Punjabi?
You have no idea how annoying it is to hear some girl at the yoga studio look at you and say, “Oh, I have an Indian friend and her parents made her get married to some computer engineer in San Jose and she had to get this thing signed with witnesses. What’s that about?”
Me: “Was she Sikh?”
Girl: “No, I think she’s Muslim.”
Me: “Well, I’m Sikh, so I’m not really sure.”
Girl: “But she’s Indian, just like you.”
Me: “Yeah, but we have many different religions in India and practice things differently.”
And it just goes downhill from there.
In the end, I began to see how vacuous the scene was becoming and has become.
I still love the feeling I get after doing a session but I just can’t stand to be around the high-school popularity contest atmosphere which has permeated many of the studios these days—and some of the more vapid personalities who are claiming to be instructors and taking advantage of their privileges.
I know they are not all like that. There are some genuine, well-meaning people in the yoga community and some of them are doing some truly outstanding work.
But for me personally, I question the profit-driven, hedonistic aspects which seems to have taken over the subculture.
Yogadork recently had an article asking if yoga needs to grow up.
In short, yes. Big time.
Likes: The Truther Movement, well-done astrology, 80′s alternative music, rainbows, flowers that smell like flowers, mashed potatoes, roasted garlic, wine and port, Indian, Thai and Greek food, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Sunday brunch, reading, Ryzsyard Kapucinski books, old Jean Paul Gaultier, red lipstick, leopard print pumps, vintage hats and David Bowie.
Dislikes: Hip hop, country western music, Nickelback, New Agers, Canadian winters, Stephen King, sheeple, suburban mediocrities, Mexican food, Mondays, jocks, himbos and bimbos, people who ride their bicycle on the foot path and pedestrians on the bike path especially when the two paths are next to each other, people who stand at the front of the bus and block the entrance when there are tons of open seats in the back. You get the idea.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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