Why I Love and Hate Yoga as a Hindu

Every time a skinny white yogi tells me to relax for Savasana, I want to scream.

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Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

Yoga is a beneficial practice. We see this in popular literature, research, and personal stories. I grew up Hindu and my experience with yoga consists mostly of my family and all their South Asian friends hailing yoga as one of the greatest gifts to global society.

Years ago, I went to the Aveda store to get some facial toner and I mentioned to the white male cashier that I was about to take a trip to India. He stood about 5'8", was half my waist size, had dark scruffy hair, and wore an earring.

“You’re going to India? Wowwww…are you going for a yoga retreat or something?” he asked.

I smiled politely. His assumption made me want to roll my eyes a million times over but I contained the fire raging within me.

“No, it’s actually going to be a very material experience. I’m going to go wedding shopping,” I responded with a sweet, cutting smile.

“Oh.” He was pretty disappointed at my lack of desire to become realized.

This attitude isn’t his fault. But as a Hindu, I can’t help but hate how yoga has become an exoticized Western practice.

At the same time, there are things I love about it, especially today.

Why I Hate Yoga

#1 Yoga is culturally appropriated.

Yoga has deep roots. When I was young, I was told it had Hindu roots. But there is more and more debate out there that it was simultaneously practiced by Buddhists and Muslims. Regardless, a combination of New Age mysticism and capitalism has made yoga a booming business. It’s exotic, it’s good for your health, and it’s only $150 a month—CHA-CHING!

When I was in high school, my mom heard about a yoga class in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. It was run by an Indian family that lived on a farm. It was for free every week. There was no mood lighting or incense or Lululemon. I can’t say what the “true” yoga experience is like, but we learned techniques that I have seen in yoga classes I have paid for as well as ones I never knew about. My mom told me she remembered some of the ones I didn’t know from her youth.

Yet a yoga studio run by white “trained yogis” seems to have more legitimacy than my free farm yoga experience. And studios are profiting from it via cultural appropriation.

Here is another great piece about the colonization of yoga from Anuradha Kowtha, CEO Manifest By Design:

Whenever I am in a yoga studio, I can’t help but giggle at the mispronunciation of Sanskrit words, and I feel genuinely uncomfortable with the idols and South Asian decor sitting next to $100 yoga pants.

#2 Yoga has an oppressive history.

Back in the day, gurus taught yoga. To be a guru, you needed to be a Brahmin, the highest caste in the Hindu caste system. Brahmins were typically priests or teachers and they were on top of the social hierarchy. It’s important to remember that the caste system itself is oppressive within Hinduism and outside of it — it is particularly Islamophobic.

While this exclusivity eventually “progressed” for all to teach and practice yoga, its mysticism is physically on display in today’s yoga studio. While people with privilege sit in lotus pose, yoga’s oppressive history is removed for the sake of ambience.

Why I Love Yoga

#1 Yoga is good for you!

Have I felt completely amazing after a yoga class? Hell yes! I am more limber, I feel less anxious, and I know I did something great for my body. I have been doing sun salutations every morning, and even this small habit has proven to be helpful for my flexibility and lower back pain.

There are some great books out there that talk more about the benefits of yoga. There are also so many cool yoga apps — I have the Daily Yoga app. It has also been shown that yoga is helpful for those that are inactive, prison inmates, and cancer survivors.

I cannot deny the health benefits of yoga despite its murky past.

#2 Yoga is becoming fat and body positive.

Fat and body positive movements and individuals which include people of color and people with disabilities have emerged, redefining the skinny-white-girl-doing-yoga trope. Whenever we think of any type of exercise, it’s so easy to associate it with losing weight. Exercise is an enjoyable form of movement. It doesn’t have to be about shedding pounds and inches. It can (and should) be about feeling good, loving our body as it is, and having fun!

While the reasons I hate yoga still exist, I love any form of resistance that helps to decolonize it. This also shows that yoga has more than one shape, color, and ability.

Here are some great resources and people spreading the love of fat and body positivity:

  1. Body Positive Yoga
  2. Yoga and Body Image Coalition
  3. Jessamyn Stanley
  4. Big Gal Yoga
  5. Tommy Valencia

I’m not saying you need to stop going to yoga class. But it wouldn’t hurt to look into ways to decolonize yoga, recognize how this is harmful to people of color, and understand that I don’t want to say Namaste back to you.

Nisha Mody is a writer that currently works as a Librarian and formerly worked as a Consultant, Recruiter, and Speech Therapist. Find her on Twitter and Instagram. But most importantly, adore her beautiful sister cats. Disclaimer: My posts may contain affiliate links.

Writer. Feminist Healing Coach. Librarian. Cat Mom. I write about healing & justice. Read more at thehealinghype.com and hear me on my podcast, MigrAsians.

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