What the Hell is Yoga, Anyway?

The short answer is that it seems like no one knows anymore.

I went into this week intending to talk about this article, in which Lawson discusses various movements against the “Americanization” of Yoga, including the efforts of the “Take Back Yoga” movement of the Hindu American Foundation, which sparked as a reaction to the perception of yoga in America as something purely secular, not to mention a lucrative market to exploit, turning it into a multi-million dollar industry in a truly American fashion.  Lawson is insistent that the whole situation “is about blanching the culture out of something to make it fit our needs.”  But is this the whole story? An article I found shortly thereafter states that issue may not be so wonderfully clear cut anymore. The article details the many differing viewpoints on the issue within India itself- meaning its not the clear cut co-opting of a tradition that Lawson makes it out to be. No, it appears to go much deeper than that. Would would assume that, within India yoga would be more wholly understood, with a cohesive public opinion. This would be incorrect, however. Many push for it as an important part of spirituality and want it to be installed as part of school curriculum. Others argue that its inherent use of religiously significant chanting and terminology (such as the use of the ‘Om’, an important symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism alike) means that due to India’s nature as a secular democracy, yoga cannot be implemented in public schools. Still others find it to be purely physical, and others deem it a tool for cultural nationalism in India, thanks to the actions of prominent guru Baba Ramev.

And maybe that’s the basic, extremely simplified answer. Maybe yoga has become a tool, be it for spiritual enlightenment, for peace, for money, for cultural nationalism,  or for physical fitness. Maybe no one knows what yoga really is anymore because it is in such a constant state of flux, meaning different things to different people, but useful to all of them. Whether or not that cheapens yoga’s rich spiritual history or ensures that it will continue to persist in a constantly changing world remains yet to be decided.

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About mghartley

An anthropologist of religion (in the making) with a focused interest in East Asia (specifically the mudang of Korea) and an abiding love for folklore and mythology. Student of Korean (and sometimes French and Japanese) with an interest in linguistics and culture.

2 thoughts on “What the Hell is Yoga, Anyway?

  1. Perhaps Yoga is not a thing, like an object that we can point to and identify, but a discourse that is constantly reinvented and renegotiated depending on the user’s own particular interests.

  2. This makes an important point, but it can be pushed further. Yoga has always been a tool, a discourse surrounding a shift complex of practices that various people use to promote a variety of (sometimes competing) interests.

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