What’s Wrong With Yoga in the Western Culture?

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imageFor hundreds of years, Western Civilization has been adopting features from other cultures and turning them into trends. America is a big market for everything. Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Feng Shui and Yoga are the best sellers.

In order to be sold, the original product must be modified to become more acceptable for the western consumer. Thus yoga has been significantly “improved” to match the taste of the west.

Western yoga has nothing to do with the Krishna’s teachings on yoga found in Bhagavat Gita, as well as american ‘yogis’ have little to do with exalted Indian ascetics who live in forests, cemeteries and cremation grounds like e.g. aghoris. Western yoga has nothing do to with serving to God and finding you Path to the Enlightenment. Look at the pictures below:



The word ‘yoga’ is derived from Sanskrit concepts of ‘yoke’ and ‘concentration’ and interpreted as ‘union with the divine’. Some scholar consider yoga to be of Vedic or Pre-Vedic heritages, some trace it to Sramana culture. There is evidence as old as 3,000 BCE depicting yoga postures and meditation technics. Yoga is mentioned in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (part of Mahabharata), where Krishna instructs Arjuna on the meaning of yoga.

Krishna explains that there are three kinds of yoga: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Further Krishna explains the qualities that need to be developed: un-attachment and equanimity are among them.

Despite ancient history of yoga, its western (american) version fully belongs to the realm of pop-culture. If you lookup ‘yoga’ on google images, you will see that yoga sellers target primarily young female population. A new image of the western yogini is created – tight slacks, sexy bras, skinny hips and firm butt. Yoga is something to how off your body and outfit. Yoga became a brand and a trend. It is approximated to gymnastics and contortionism, but sells much better than the latter two.

Western yoga is fully deprived of its mystic and religious meaning. Can you imagine a yoga instructor who demands his students to practice vegetarianism, go to sleep at 8pm and wake up at 4 to offer the morning prayer, give up smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages, wear cloths made of organic materials and meditate 8 hours a day? Can you imagine a western yoga student who practices yoga with the goal of realizing his divine nature and attaining the God and not because he or she wants a tight butt and flexible muscles?

I suggest to call American Yoga an “Indian Style Yoga” since it is not yoga per se as Krishna explained it, but sort of. Culturally we are already used to sort-of-things. For example, we have ‘Amish style butter’ because it is clear that butter stuffed with sugar and growth hormones cannot be Amish. We buy ‘Greek Style Yogurt’ and go to Turkish or Russian style saunas. Every sushi restaurant run by Chinese or Mexican is also a Japanese style sushi bar. I noticed the difference when I got a chance to visit Mitsuwa Marketplace in Riveredge, NJ, where in 2012 the majority of employees were still Japanese.

Let’s face the fact: we live in the culture of counterfeit objects. Nothing is authentic anymore, unless we go after farmers or hand made products. Most of the objects we surround ourselves with are replicas (R), copies and imitations. Plastic imitates wood and metal, polyester and acrylic imitate silk and wool. Artificial flavors imitate natural flavors, artificial colors imitate real blue of the blueberry and real red of the strawberry. Chicken soup cubes imitate real chicken broth and flavored soy imitates meat, fish, cheese and you name it!

Now we can honestly say “Japanese Style Zen” and “Tibetan Style Buddhism” and I hope re-wording will not affect black friday sales of zen or the eight noble truth. Or of sushi or polyester yoga slacks.


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