A new study published in the Yoga Journal found that nearly 20.4 million people practice yoga in the United States; yoga has become an increasingly popular tool to help people find balance amidst the chaos of life. Aside from the more traditional styles of yoga, such as hatha or iyengar, people from around the country have begun to create their own forms of yoga, including the unexpected: goats, dogs, horses and other animals, marijuana, nudity, “rave” scenes, aerial fitness, and more. While many may find these types of yoga to be beneficial, there are some key issues here.
According to CBS News, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a mission to revitalize yoga through a campaign that will bring yoga back to its roots – India. During the clip, it showed how yoga is practiced in India – a much different way of life than how it is practiced in America. For example, yoga in India consists of cleansing the nostrils and snorting, meditation, and very strict, precise movements. The Prime Minister stated that yoga is not meant to be seen as a form of exercise, but rather a tool to become more connected with oneself and the world.
Does this mean that Western civilization’s form of yoga constitutes as cultural appropriation? Yes, it does – but this can be mitigated by incorporating more of the nature that yoga was meant for – not just the physical component. Julia Gibran, a Toronto yoga teacher, stated for Vice Magazine,
“In the West in general, we focus on one limb of yoga, and that is asana. It’s become a very physical practice. But there are ways to acknowledge the roots [of the practice]. People can put a little focus on meditation, or bring in breath work.”
Gibran also noted that when she first practiced yoga it was taught by her grandfather, and she read a book called Bhagavad Gita with him – then moving on to learn more about Hindu tradition, cultural history, deities and symbolism, and more. She went on to explain,
“….the study of asana does help the Western population in terms of anxiety and stress, so it’s been such a gift. But something I struggle with is I feel very lucky to be of West Indian descent teaching yoga…I do consider myself, oddly enough, to be a minority.”
Does this mean that Americans should stop practicing yoga? Absolutely not – it just means that we need to work on incorporating more than just the physical component of yoga. We need to practice meditation and breathing, because these are key grounding tools that were developed to help us garner more love and peace for ourselves and the world.
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