When I Was a Yogi

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by Hazel Anna Rogers

I used to live and breathe yoga. I would go to two or three yoga classes every single day at my local studio and dreamt about doing a teacher training in India to pursue my love for my practice. The studio I went to was populated, predominantly, by women, white women, and I don’t actually remember seeing any people of color practicing in the studio during the whole four months that I practiced there daily. I was deluded with what yoga was, what it meant, and what I was actually getting out of it. At twenty years old I hadn’t yet realized the cliché of my fanatical pursuit of ‘spirituality’ (or the western version of it). After a few years of hard work and with the onset of (some sort of) maturity, I began to see it everywhere: The Pseudo-Spirituality of the modern age.

The yoga classes I went to blasted pop music from speakers as we practiced and would often end with a group of women chatting excitedly about the yoga pants they were yet to purchase, or the retreat they were yet to go on in Bali. This strange capitalistic exploitation and whitewashing of Eastern practices is not new. The expensive Ayahuasca experience, which involves drinking the South American entheogenic drink for its eye-opening and healing attributes, has long been a favorite pursuit of Western travelers. However, its traditional usage is as a medicine to be drunk by only the Shaman in order for them to heal their patients, a fact often overlooked in favor of experiencing the hallucinogenic properties of the plant for oneself. Tantra meditation and practices have been seized upon by the western world, and one can expect to be charged big money for a session or retreat with a ‘tantric’ teacher.

We pick and choose the ‘appealing’ aspects of religions, spiritual practices, and cultures and then exploit them to make money. We wear harem pants, dreadlock our hair and claim to wish for nirvana while we fill our Amazon baskets with overpriced supplements and patterned yoga mats. In saying all of this, I must add that I am not against practicing yoga, meditation, or incorporating some sort of spiritual practice within our day-to-day lives. I think such practices can help us to rethink how we approach the constant stream of modern stresses we are subjected to, thus they can be highly beneficial for our long-term health and happiness. My frustration comes with the commodification and harnessing of these practices for material gain or the warping of a practice to turn it into something completely outside of its original roots.

Ancient yogic texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or the Goraksasataka, explicitly detail the central elements of yoga as dharana (focus), Pranayama (breathing practice), and nada (sound), with hatha (movement) often subsidiary within the practice. These integral aspects of yogic history are forgotten within a Western context in favor of an obsession with the physicality, or ‘work-out’, gained from the postural focus of modern yoga classes. The preoccupation with a physical yoga practice in India was originally a secret training developed to strengthen the population to fight for national independence against the British. How funny that this original intention should have come full circle and have evolved into what yoga is today: a practice aimed mainly at females with the objective of weight loss in order to achieve a societally acceptable body.

I must reiterate that I am not against embracing different cultures and choosing to introduce beautiful rituals into our lives for the better. Perhaps all I’m conveying here is bitterness, a bitterness towards a society so disconnected from itself that it decides it must disconnect other societies from their origins too. And perhaps that is true, in a sense. It feels wrong, to me, that the word ‘mindfulness’ has become synonymous with American books about entrepreneurship, or white Youtubers talking about ‘self-care’ while touting brand-deals and sponsorships.

All these peaceful, wondrous ancient methods that we were introduced to have been steadily whittled down to money, as it seems everything always is. The same happens every time we discover a new ‘superfood’. Let’s use white quinoa as an example. The nutrient-rich grain started its journey in women’s health magazines, then men’s health magazines, then every health magazine, and then EVERYONE was buying it. Left right and centre, every supermarket began stocking the little white pearls of goodness. But that all came at a price. Quinoa comes from the Bolivian Andes, and as a result of an exponentially increased demand, many Bolivians can no longer afford to eat their own quinoa and must instead rely on packaged food from shops. Prior to this, they sustained themselves, their families, and their land through circular farming methods involving potatoes, alpacas, and llamas alongside their faithful quinoa crops. This is no longer possible, nor is the possibility of growing various kinds of quinoa. The West only hungers for the white variety.

What am I trying to say here? I suppose the resounding message is one of awareness. Awareness of what you’re putting your money towards when you buy so-called ‘superfoods’ or pay for a ‘mindfulness’ app founded by Amazon. Awareness of the cultural demographic of your yoga class and questioning why it is that all of the so-called ‘yogis’ you’re surrounded by are white when the practice itself was developed by the people of India. Awareness of the endless scams and fraud of the ‘wellness’ industry. None of us are perfect, and I have no shame in saying that I was a part of all of this strange whitewashing of Eastern cultures a long while ago. And you know what? I still do a gratitude meditation before I eat, I practice yoga and yogic breathing practices, and I have delved into the world of yoni rituals most enjoyably. But I don’t seek to cast a shade over the cultures of yore in favor of promoting my white version of ancient methods, or earn money speaking on subjects I know little to nothing about, like tantra. I am not better than anyone else. I am still learning. And you should be too.

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Hazel Anna Rogers can be reached at https://badessay.com/

Author: Carl Kruse

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