Sunday January 19, 2020

A young American Hindu woman says: Do not de-link Yoga from its roots

History dates the practice of yoga to the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., where it developed in India as a Hindu tradition

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Female yogis
Female yogis from 18th-century India , Wikimedia commons

By Gauri Rangrass

I remember the first time I wished I were white. I was four years old. Since that day in kindergarten, I have dreaded roll call. My cheeks would burn as teachers stumbled over my name on the first day of school every year. Classmates would snicker when my grandma picked me up every day. Why does she wear clothes like that? What’s that dot on her head? I wanted to erase every part of me that didn’t share a common thread with the homogenous white community that surrounded me. My Dadiji, whose wardrobe consisted only of saris, and whose makeup collection consisted solely of vermillion powder, eventually stopped picking me up from school because I told her I could just take the bus.

My brownness was harder to hide. It was something I spent fifteen years of my life trying to like, and eventually, love. My internal battle with Hinduism was even more difficult. It was not long into my childhood before I started to reject my Hindu identity. I fought with my parents when they encouraged me to go to the temple. I never bothered to learn the significance of Hindu traditions, which were often the only way my mother could make her new home in Michigan feel familiar.

The first time I picked up and read a Hindu philosophy book, I was sixteen. I learned about Dharma and how Hinduism is more of a way of life than a truly organized religion. It made sense to me. It felt intrinsic. By the time I started my freshman year at Northwestern, I had finally reclaimed Hinduism as a part of my identity.

Maybe that’s why, as I sit on a yoga mat in Studio 2 in SPAC, anger rushes through my veins when a white instructor presses her hands together, leans over, and says, “Na-mah-staaay.” I’m the only brown person in the class and it seems that I’m also the only one who feels uncomfortable returning the gesture. Not once does the instructor reference the Indian and Hindu origins of yoga. It’s alienating to see these strangers to Hinduism partaking in this religious practice with more comfort and more entitlement than I can ever imagine finding within myself.

History dates the practice of yoga to the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., where it developed in India as a Hindu tradition. Considering how popular yoga has become in America, it’s surprising that it only gained prominence here during the 1980s. It’s infuriating for me, as a second-generation Indian-American, to observe yoga becoming reduced to a Western subculture. Among the many college gyms and strip malls where Western yoga manifests itself, perhaps its most visible presence is on Instagram. Searching for “#yogaeverydamnday” yields millions of self-timer photos of white girls posing in expensive activewear, captions littered with trending hashtags, but void of any reference to Hinduism.

Girl doing yoga
source: Instagram

It seems to me that’s what Western yoga is all about, image. It’s about body image. It’s about looking hot. It’s about looking happy and looking trendy. Whether or not it’s actually genuine, these white yogis sure want to show their followers just how enlightened they are. They want to be seen in their tight-fitting yoga crop top and Lululemon leggings, with their mat slung across their back and a seven dollar green juice in hand. Many will show off their “Om” tattoos as some sort of fashion statement. They’ll quote the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, in their captions to make themselves seem complex, mystical, exotic.

Related Article: India the home of eternity and peace : Swami Jayramdas

Why can’t this trendy yoga persona also include a true understanding of yoga’s Hindu origins? Why is yoga only cool when it has no ties to brown skin? How can Western yoga so liberally use Sanskrit words but feel no obligation to think critically about what they mean or where they come from? Take, for instance, the following paragraph from The Greatist about common yoga poses:

Plus, striking an impressive asana (yoga lingo for pose) looks ridiculously cool. The only problem? Sometimes it sounds like our yoga teacher is speaking in a different language, which makes it slightly difficult to follow along. With Sanskrit names like utkatasana and trikonasana, yoga poses may sound a lot more like spells you’d learn at Hogwarts than shapes you can actually get your body to make.

Yoga Asana
Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana , Wikimedia Commons

Spells you’d learn at Hogwarts? Last time I checked, J.K. Rowling published her first book in 1997. Sanskrit has been around for 3,500 years.

So, no, by going to a few yoga classes, you’re not “finding your Om.” It’s not that easy. It took me years of feeling othered, years of questioning my brownness, years of pushing away my family’s religious ideology before I found my Om. I’m no yogi, but I am a Hindu who has struggled in a white-centric society to understand and love every non-white facet of my identity. So the fact that today’s instructor feels entitled to a Hindu practice without once referencing its origins makes me mad. For her to so casually greet our class in Hindi – “Nah-mah-staaay” – without acknowledging that she is borrowing from a long-standing Hindu tradition is problematic. Twenty students will leave this SPAC studio today lacking awareness of the cultural and religious significance of yoga. That leaves me feeling unsettled.

Western yogis: For you to appreciate and enjoy yoga is fine. By no means must you become a Hindu in order to practice this tradition. However, a line is crossed when you fail to give credit to yoga’s roots or use it as a prop to gain social media attention. Yoga is much deeper than an Instagram presence. So next time you liberally use a Sanskrit phrase or think about quoting the Gita in your caption, please ask yourself: Do you genuinely know the significance of these words or are they just Harry Potter spells to you?

This article first appeared on May 2,2016 at Northbynorthwestern website. Published with due permission. Gauri’s Twitter handle @GauriRangrass

 

 

 

  • Pritam Go Green

    Yoga is the ultimate form of meditation and exercise. Even broken spinal spinal cord can be fixed with the help of proper Yoga. Thanks to India for introducing the world with such a beautiful cure to many disease.

  • Shubhi Mangla

    Yoga is indeed a very beneficial exercise. Not just Indians but people outside India are also taking a liking towards Yoga.

  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    If we peek into the benefits of yoga, it gives us relief from countless ailments at the physical level.

SHARE
  • Pritam Go Green

    Yoga is the ultimate form of meditation and exercise. Even broken spinal spinal cord can be fixed with the help of proper Yoga. Thanks to India for introducing the world with such a beautiful cure to many disease.

  • Shubhi Mangla

    Yoga is indeed a very beneficial exercise. Not just Indians but people outside India are also taking a liking towards Yoga.

  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    If we peek into the benefits of yoga, it gives us relief from countless ailments at the physical level.

Next Story

Major Updates Coming To Instagram in 2020

Know about the major Instagram updates this year

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instagram
Here are the major updates that are coming to Instagram in 2020. Pixabay

Instagram is constantly updating. In this light, we need to understand the changes that will affect our usage of this platform. More than at any time before, we will be able to have more control over the platform so we can see how we can improve our presence here.
Instagram is becoming a place where you will be able to focus on relevant matters that increase your follower base and reduce the unnecessary distractions that add no value to your profile. Here are the major updates that are coming to Instagram in 2020.

New Buttons Are Coming

You probably know how Instagram has developed over time. From a completely sleek platform where you could not see any of the features of your account to the place where multiple options have become more available, Instagram has changed the way we see the platform. Now, it is adding features that will give us more control over the profile. Some of the buttons we will be able to see are:

instagram
The Instagram updates in 2020 will include introduction of new buttons. Pixabay
  • “Restrict” button – When you restrict someone, they won’t be able to see when you are online or when you’ve read a message from that person. At the same time, you won’t receive any new notifications for comments from that person. The “Restrict” button allows you to have more control over what is visible on your profile. 
  • “Create” button – With the “Create” button, Instagram allows you to share posts that don’t contain photos or videos. In this light, you will be able to convert old content into something new and more interesting than the previous post you’ve posted.  
  • “Remove followers” button – We all know how annoying some followers could be. Now, we have an option to remove followers completely. With only one hit of a button, we can remove people from the followers’ list, which is a huge benefit if you want to shape your Instagram audience in a precise way. 
  • “Dark Mode” button – With the “Dark mode” button, we will be able to change the appearance of the screen on our Instagram account. This will be possible to do on different kinds of devices, including Android and iOS. Keep in mind that to make this option possible, you will have to update your system to the latest versions of Instagram, Android, and iOS. 
instagram
With the Instagram updates, it will be possible to use Instagram with more creativity. Pixabay

Instagram Algorithms Are Changing

It is now possible for Instagram to see and evaluate the quality of your Instagram profile. With the use of the precise algorithms, the Instagram evaluation will be based on users’ engagement on your profile. This applies to how many times users have seen your posts, how many comments are posted, and what is the quality of engagement on your profile. 

Is your reputation solid and can people resonate with your messages? These are a few crucial questions that will determine your position on Instagram.  

Also Read- Facebook to Send Notifications for Third-party Logins: Report

As you can see, all these changes are only the result of improved tactics that come from the Instagram team. Many Instagram users will now be able to see Instagram in a different light. The more quality content will be a huge plus for all of those who want to grow their audience and change their Instagram profile for better. 

With the Instagram updates, it will be possible to use Instagram with more creativity and more awareness about the relevant things that add value to your Instagram profile.