Yoga = India? Maybe not so much.

Via Roger Wolsey
on Dec 29, 2010
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Yoga: a positively un-Indian Experience?

People who visit the U.S. from other countries (or who meet Americans while we’re traveling abroad) are sometimes surprised to learn that we haven’t all been to Disneyland, or Graceland, or attended a professional football game.  They’re surprised that we don’t all own handguns, talk like Texans, or go to church every Sunday.  And they’re dismayed that we aren’t all extroverts.

Similarly, it may be a shock to some of us to learn that not very many people in India do yoga—and that many of the teachers there learn it from American DVDS (!).

Arvind, my current renter/house-mate, is a PhD student from India, and I was surprised to learn he’d never used a neti pot and that he knows few people who have.

In the coming New Year, we might do well to consider that may be what we think we know, isn’t based in reality.

Maybe half of what we “know” is really just a bunch of lazy stereotypes and overly-generalized and highly romanticized hogwash.

Maybe we should get out more, do some stretching and some three-fold, victorious breathing (on and off the mat) … and not fool ourselves about the supposed origins of where such practices came from.

Ultimately, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is good, and pure, and brings life, well, let’s just do ’em and not come across as some sort of yogic experts.

Namaste, …. er, Cheers, …. nah, who am I fooling?,

Sincerely, (kind of old school and boring, but at least I’m not putting on airs)


aka Raja Daja (oh no I didn’t!)


About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


9 Responses to “Yoga = India? Maybe not so much.”

  1. Cynthia says:

    So true! My longest-running piano students' family hails from India. This could have been written specifically about them. They are Hindu ovo-lacto vegetarians, but all the kids seem to want to eat is cheese pizza. And not even good pizza. Cheap Ci-Ci's buffet pizza (think dyed-orange cheese + tomato sauce so sweet that it gives Chef Boyardee a run for its money). But I love them more than anything…and I love how they are always teaching me about "Indian culture."

  2. BrotherRog says:

    Cynthia, you are a reminder that not all Texans "talk like Texans" (or that that whole line of thinking needs to be rethought ; )

  3. Cynthia says:

    So true! My longest-running piano students' family hails from India. This could have been written specifically about them. They are Hindu ovo-lacto vegetarians

  4. Ramesh says:

    Roger, the world of yoga is big, as big as the world of science, or the world of religion, or…. there are layers upon layers, one transcending and including the other.

    What we think of as yoga in the West is mainly postural yoga, asanas, and many of those are Western, most of them are done differently than in traditional India, etc.

    Moreover, an Indian, will think of a yogi as a swami, many of who do not even practice asanas. Or a sadhu, many of whom smoke ganja all day. Or a Himalayan Yogi, of which there are very very few. Or a great guru (very few), or a not so great guru (very many), etc.

    Few Indians as you say, practice yoga, but more and more are practicing as asanas there thanks partly to Western influence. Odd as it may seem.

    But in the larger context of Indian tradition, India is steeped in yoga philosophy and mythology and lifestyle that goes way beyond asana practice in the studios here. Because yoga is a large and wide subject, and in the Indian context, they may not think of it as yoga, while it very much is yoga, or came from the tradition.

    More importantly, when we think of Hindu religion, and most Indians do identify as Hindus, it is mainly based on Vedic traditions and myths and the worship of various Gods, etc. Some in India will call that Yoga also, but most will not, because it is not yogic as in Patanjali Yoga or Tantric Yoga, etc. But many will have pictures of Shiva in their car or taxi, and will pray to Him, the King of Yoga while smoking a cigarette and honking the horn!! It's multilayered for sure!

    And this was all coming from one of those "yogic experts" on EJ.

  5. BrotherRog says:

    Thank you for this lovely, if somewhat expert, contribution Ramesh! : )

  6. Meliss says:

    Hello, Rog, didn't you learn that from me too? Rethink Texans already!

  7. BrotherRog says:

    lol! It's true Melissa that neither you nor Cynthia talk like some of the more stereotypical citizens of the great state (or is it a republic? ; ) of Tejas. Y'all bless me with your presence in my life.

  8. jiminboulder says:

    Hi Roger,

    Interesting review mentioning deeper spiritual implications of yoga in the Oxford Journal of Hindu Studies, on F.W. Smith's "The Self-Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilisation."

    I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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