Sunday, November 02, 2014

The downward facing dog returns to India's cities

A few years ago, when I decided that it was high time that I started preparing for a healthy sixth and seventh decade (and, gasp, more?) of my life, I went to a yoga class.  It certainly felt weird with "om" and "namaste" from the yoga teacher, who was a White American woman.  I wanted only the physical fitness exercise and not any spiritual awakening during those fifty minute sessions.

I quit that.

I am yet to take up yoga again because I cannot seem to find a yoga studio or a teacher who can't keep the physical fitness regimen and spirituality in separate compartments.


In the old country, the land of yoga and chai (every yogini here seems to be a big time chai enthusiast as well!) the prime minister, Narendra Modi, is on a campaign to bring yoga into the forefront.  On to the international front too:
One of PM Narendra Modi's first global imprints could come soon with the fructification of his proposal - which he announced in his UNGA speech — for an International Day of Yoga. As many as 50 countries - US, Canada and China most recently — have signed up for co-sponsorship of a draft resolution which India's UN mission is preparing for declaring June 21 as international Yoga day.
One would think that India has so many problems to deal with that campaigning for an international yoga day shouldn't even be on the list.  But, hey, what Indians want to do has not been a problem for this American for many years now ;)

There are a number of reasons why Modi is pushing for this international yoga awareness.  One of them is also his fascination for another Narendra from India's past: Narendra Nath Datta.

There is a good chance that the name "Narendra Nath Datta" might be an unfamiliar one even to people in the old country.  But, tell them the other name of his, and they might even smack themselves on their foreheads for not making the connection: Swami Vivekananda.  (Did I hear you smack yourself?  hehe!)

Modi's fascination for Vivekananda runs deep.  Troublingly deep.  It is a rich topic for another day.  For now, I want to stay focused on yoga.
Yoga first came to mass North American attention in 1893 when Narendra Nath Datta, better known as Swami Vivekananda, gave a lecture on the principles of spiritual yogic practice at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
America is a trendsetter, thanks to its economic, military, and cultural dominance.  Thus, when America's popular TV shows and movies routinely feature yoga studios and attractive men and women, well, it should be no surprise that India's affluent class is now taking up yoga:
In recent years the practice of American-style yoga has come into vogue with the Indian middle class. While hatha yoga never disappeared from Indian society, the how and why of its new popularity reflects a shift toward the consumer culture associated with yoga in the West.
I am reminded of my grandmothers' comments about men wearing earrings.  In the old traditions in the old country, it was not uncommon for men also to wear earrings.  That tradition is also why my earlobes were pierced as a part of my first birthday celebrations.  Alas, I have no photo of the young me wearing earrings!

Trust me, that's how I looked as a kid! ;)

But then it soon became unfashionable--my parents did not go through that ceremonial ear-piercing for my brother, who is only two years younger than me!  As it became fashionable for men in America and Western European countries to sport studs on their ears, that fad spread to India too and my grandmothers had quite some chuckle over it.  If only they had lived long enough to see the number of young women with nose-rings here, perhaps even outnumbering the number of young women with nose-rings back in the old country.

So, no surprise that yoga has returned to India.
The researchers found that the new, Westernized yoga was often scrubbed of its traditional spiritual aspect, and was now “easier” and “more fun,” as well as an indication of high social status. “It is now becoming like a designer stamp to be doing yoga,” one woman said. Its association with the West makes it glamorous.
Ah, yes, it is all about the fashion trends.

It is one crazy world; but, dammit, all these make life so fascinating!

Caption at the source: "Indian students from a Delhi Public School perform yoga"


Ramesh said...

Unclear as to what you are railing against.

If it's the mix of spirituality and exercise in yoga - tough luck. That's the way it is. There are other purely exercise regimes you can opt for if you don't want the spirituality.

Yoga is India's most recognisable export, by far. Its there everywhere - China is full of it, minus the spirituality (perhaps I should buy you a Eugene - Guangzhou ticket !) So, of course, every attempt to spread it would be done, although I am not sure we need any help from governments on this.

If its dismay at not having a pair of diamond earrings, I shall dutifully complain to your mother.

There is a big revival of yoga here. Sure, there will be a few doing it as a fashion trend, but by and large it is also the spirituality that attracts practitioners. Maybe your "old country" must be China :)No trace of any religion whatsoever. There are even a few redheads there (dyed of course).

Sriram Khé said...

In an earlier post, you promised me a round trip ticket to Kerala.
Now, you are promising me a "Eugene - Guangzhou ticket" and a pair of diamond earrings.
Aren't you the awesomest friend ever! ;)

Yogic practice doesn't have to be tied to chanting of Om. But, for some reason, the yoga studios here continue to brand yoga with that spirituality flavor. One of these days I will find that kind of an instructor. She will be a natural redhead too ;)

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