Coming to us from fabulous Colorado, CF articulates her feelings better than I can, actually.....
Proud to be a Yogi from Muskogee
By ChronicallyFabulous (author of the blogs “Chronically Fabulous" and the upcoming "TheYogaExperiment"[link forthcoming])
Confession: I’m an All-American Yogini.
I’ve been practicing and loving yoga since 1994 – before wannabes like Madonna made it trendy. I’ve studied yoga at studios all over the US and Europe, with “famous” instructors. I’ve taught yoga to students who were inspired to begin yoga by my teachings. I know the names and the terms and the videos and the buzzwords enough to establish some old skool “street cred” – or is that “mat cred?”
So here is my confession: I hate sitar music, I’m not learning Sanskrit, I’m converting to any branch of Hinduism, I’ve never been to India…. And what’s more, I’m not interested in any of the preceding things.
I’ve been conflicted about my indifference to India for quite some time. I am of course aware of the ugly history of White Americans appropriating and reselling the cultural riches of other races while leaving those who developed the ideas to languish in poverty and obscurity. And even I have had moments where I have been horribly embarrassed by “American” trends in yoga, such as every yoga teacher brand-naming their yoga teachings, and of course the advertisements for new yoga-themed consumer products (Nike YOGA SHOES …..People who feel that the lower their body fat, the higher their spiritual awareness…Alanis Morrisette shrieking, “thank you India” on Top 40 radio….Russell Simmons headlining yoga events….Excuse me while my spirit barfs)
Plus, there comes a time in the American yoga practitioner’s life when s/he is supposed to make that great spiritual pilgrimage to India. To pursue a deeper, more authentic experience of yoga, and of course, also to be able to show off to the students back home and be accepted into the cool yogi clique (in a deeply spiritual way, of course.) Was I going to stay stuck in a gym-class-yoga mentality unless I booked that (very expensive) airline ticket?
The problem is, the glowing reports of American teachers returning from their passage to India did nothing to increase my desire to visit the subcontinent. A composite report from my former yoga teachers: “I spent a month studying yoga in Goa with Guru X and I got malaria and dysentery and worms, I had explosive diarrhea every night, I was held prisoner by militants, all my luggage was stolen, my Guru sexually molested me….. but it was a deeply spiritual experience that you just can’t understand until you go there, I urge every serious yoga student to experience it for themselves.” Umm……gee, I can’t wait…..
The flip side of White cultural appropriation is White starry-eyed Orientalism. Now that I’ve been in the yoga community long enough, I have discovered that many of the tenets that I believed were part of the ancient Indian wisdom of yoga are actually American ideals. For example, I was taught that yoga is by definition non-competitive, a sign of the Eastern wisdom that was above grasping American competitiveness. Imagine my surprise when I found out that in India, Yoga Competitions are commonplace, where yogis compete publicly for awards for the best physical pose. I was taught that yoga is about “listening to your body” – a phrase you would hear in nearly every class in the US in the past 10 years – about being respectful of your own limitations and never straining or pushing to injury. So imagine my surprise to read the many accounts by Indian yogis of how their beloved gurus would force them into extreme, muscle-ripping poses in order to show off and attract more students.
If we can be embarrassed by American yoga’s cheesiness and excesses, then we can also be proud of the American aspects of yoga that we take for granted: the preponderance of women in a discipline that was until recently men-only; the democratic spread of yoga to all who are interested in a book or a class, without having to make a lifetime commitment to a guru; and the expectation that a teacher/guru will keep his dick in his yoga pants, or face a lawsuit. I think all of these trends are truly spiritual progress. Also, in America we don’t drink our own urine (a trend among certain Indian practitioners, and proof that there IS something out there that tastes worse than wheatgrass.)
So I’ve come to peace with the fact that the yoga I practice and love is a truly American style. Thank you India, and thanks to all my teachers who have braved international travel to study, re-package, and water down this great art for people like me.