Showing posts with label Christian Yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian Yoga. Show all posts

POP YOGA! Yoga in Popular Western Culture

 

Yoga has explicitly entered mainstream culture in the United States. Every few years, Yoga Journal conducts a survey to gauge the importance of yoga. This is self-serving—the paper wants to know if it has a suitable audience—and the survey model is skewed because it stands to profit from the results. Nonetheless, the findings are eye-opening: according to Yoga Journal's 2012 poll, 20.4 million American adults practice yoga, they spend $10.3 billion a year on "yoga lessons and merchandise, including supplies, clothes, holidays, and newspapers," and 44.4 percent of non-practicing Americans are interested in giving it a shot. In my own research into the cultural past of yoga in the United States, I look at how yoga has been marketed as "Eastern" and mystical; as non-Hindu, universal, and scientific; and as a health-promoting activity.

This 150-year process has aided Americans in envisioning yoga as a secular discipline that has been gendered, culturally classified, and socially classified in a specific manner, free of any religious practices or convictions. This categorization entails both buy-in and push-back, and in this segment, I look at three examples of buy-in and push-back, as well as the resulting tensions and dialogues. Examining the popularity of yoga pants, Christian Yoga, and the Hindu American Foundation's (HAF) protests can demonstrate how mass culture and faith intersect to build pockets of unity and tension.


A pair of yoga pants



In the United States, yoga reveals the blurred boundaries between religious and secular practices (and in fact calls into question the many ways in which religion is defined). Yoga is debatable as to whether it belongs to any faith or whether it may be done by all. These issues will be addressed in the second and third sections of this series. But first, I'd like to look at how many of you might have discovered yoga—the cozy yoga pants that many of us wear even though we aren't practicing yoga.

The material and visual exploration of yoga pants reveals how they reify gender, age, and race categories and normativities. In other words, while yoga is not readily classified as religious or secular, it is more accessible to white/Euro-American, upper middle-class people, and yoga's visual culture in the United States represents and reproduces this construction of yoga. The easiest way to explain this phenomenon is to look at yoga pants in popular culture.

What is the ethnicity and ethnicity of most people portrayed wearing yoga pants if you do a short Google search for “yoga pants” and click on “images”? What part of the body is the subject of most of these photos? How many of these photos really feature someone doing yoga? If you see any pictures that are identical or different in terms of race and gender? What are the costliest and least expensive yoga pants, and how much do they cost? Now, just for kicks, look up “male yoga pants” on Google. What are some of the similarities and variations you find in terms of pant styles, body representation, and pricing? When I do this search, I find that most of the photographs are of white, slender women, with an emphasis on the lower half of her body. These trousers are also short and can cost anything from $14 to $120.

Many of the men's trousers, on the other hand, are loose, but the pictures also depict white, very healthy, athletic men, and the price range is close. Lululemon has been the brand most associated with yoga pants in recent years, owing to their appeal and affordability. It does not make men's yoga pants, but it does market men's kung fu pants. Its yoga pants for women range in price from $88 to $118. As women protested about their pricey yoga pants pilling, Chip Wilson, co-founder of Lululemon, said, "Frankly, those women's bodies just don't fit for it." They don't suit the bodies of those ladies. It's all of the rubbing on the elbows, how much friction is applied over time, and how much they need it.”

As a result, a Lululemon client would have not only a lot of discretionary money, but also a thigh gap. Lululemon would not make trousers bigger than a size 12, according to Wilson, since plus-size clothing needs 30% more fabric. “It's a money loser, for sure,” he said, trying to be sympathetic. I understand their situation, but it's difficult.” Women of color have begun to feature in Lululemon's catalogs in recent years, but the visuals and staff in each of the company's shops make it plain that the target buyer is a white, thigh-gap-thin woman who can afford to spend at least $200 on yoga jeans, top, and bra.

Lululemon's ads (aimed solely at slim women) and high costs aren't the only things that make the brand notorious. Some also questioned its success due to alleged unfair labor practices. Lululemon began manufacturing in a nonunion shop in Vancouver, Canada, in 1998, although it has since shifted all its production abroad, mostly to China. “Third-world children should be able to work in factories because it provides them with much-needed wages,” Chip Wilson is quoted as saying at a business conference in Vancouver. Furthermore, he claims that "ninety-five percent of the factories I've seen in the Orient are much stronger than factories in North America."

“Many people in China come from the western provinces, and their ambition is to work seven days a week for 16 hours a day in order to have enough money to go home with and start a company in five years.” “In Canada, for example, 99 percent of our factory workers are Chinese woman sewers,” he said. They would be furious if you worked them eight-hour days. They'll ask, "What are you doing?" if you just work them five days a week for eight hours. I'm not interested in working with you.' If you just work them for so long, they'll leave at 4 p.m., walk across the street to another warehouse, and work for another six hours. This is in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.” Wilson made no mention of salaries, working conditions, unions, or benefits in his speech. Such marketing policies have sparked controversy, and Lululemon has received negative press as a result.

They also pose a threat to the yoga culture, which is known for being socially and politically liberal. The fact that their favorite yoga pants are made by a self-described libertarian whose labor policies may be construed as abusive has opened the door for other brands. Lululemon does not own the yoga pants market—as our Google search revealed, yoga pants can be purchased for $14, making them affordable to a wide range of people, and since they are comfortable, many women of all ages, styles, and sizes choose to wear them. However, this is not without its own collection of issues about women's bodies. Yoga pants are always too tight, and schools are enacting legislation prohibiting them.

In 2014, officials at Devils Lake High School in North Dakota held a girls-only assembly to clarify the current dress code, during which they demonstrated footage from Pretty Woman to highlight how women can be treated differently based on their clothing choices. This is not the case at Devils Lake High School. Yoga pants and leggings were banned at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in 2015 unless they were protected with skirt or trousers, as the school believed students should dress more professionally; however, the students were not persuaded. Female students have been advised that their casual attire is a distraction to male students and instructors, and they have responded by demonstrating. “Hundreds of students signed a petition, and some marched—one holding a banner that demanded ‘are my jeans dropping your test scores?'” after a middle school in Evanston, Illinois, outlawed leggings and yoga pants.

To oppose the surveillance and sexualization of girls' bodies, several students launched the hashtag #iammorethanadistraction. Given how disputed female bodies have long been, the controversy over yoga pants is unsurprising, but it does highlight how popular yoga and exercise accessories have been in the United States. Yoga can be done in any outfit—I've seen women in saris do asanas (poses) that I could only imagine. Yoga skirts, on the other hand, have been the staple yoga attire for American women in the last fifteen years. It's almost as if the material and sensation of yoga pants psychologically prepares us for yoga practice and healthier health—or maybe only to be relaxed.

However, we struggle with the objectification/sexualization of the female body in American popular culture, as well as the need to keep the body sacred, as well as reminders that it must be healthy, slender, and shapely. This conversation has found a new home in yoga pants. It's not so much a question about who should and shouldn't wear yoga pants as it is about who should and shouldn't do yoga—and how.

Yoga by Christians


Yoga and Christianity have a long history together. Swami Vivekananda and raja yoga came to the United States thanks to the Unitarians, who founded the World Parliament of Religion in 1893.

They held the International Congress of Religious Liberals twenty-seven years later, and it was through that conference that Paramahansa Yogananda and kriya yoga were brought to the United States. Yogananda, following in the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda, refers to Christian scripture and uses Christian imagery in his Autobiography of a Yogi to position kriya yoga as an interdisciplinary activity. Both Vivekananda and Yogananda came to the United States to collect funds for their ventures in India, and they had to make yoga appealing to Christians and their values while being nonthreatening. Pranayama (yogic breathing) is a form of yoga.

 

Yoga, especially pranayama (yogic breathing), was a complement to Christian activity rather than a replacement.

Yoga practice in the United States began to move away from pranayama and toward asanas (yogic poses/postures) in the 1940s and 1950s, signaling a shift away from pranayama and toward asanas (yogic poses/postures). Yoga began to make its way into American living rooms in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to books and regular television shows. Yoga was now a pagan discipline because of market forces. Hindu yogis, on the other hand, tended to advocate yoga as a discipline that was "ident with all of the world's great religions." In the summer of 1971, the second annual Yoga Ecumenical Retreat was held at Annhurst, a Catholic Women's College, where nuns, priests, monks, rabbis, and "long haired young people" all came together to practice yoga based on Swami Satchidananda's teachings.

Sister Maria explained, "Deep prayer often entails transcending the body and the senses." “Yoga is a huge support in this regard. It aids in the relaxation of the body and mind, as well as the integration of the entire person.” Sister Rose Margaret Delaney considered yoga to be a practice for prayer rather than prayer itself: “I don't use a mantra. She explained, "I meditate on the Gospel of the day and use Yoga to prepare myself for prayer." Christians are still using their biblical origins to reformulate yoga today. Many Christians participate in yoga courses at gyms or yoga centers, but others are turned off by the overtly Hindu comparisons, meditation, and chanting. Parishioners at Washington, DC's New Community Church sing "Sha-LOM," not "OM" or "AUM."

Many Christian yoga classes, including Sister Rose Margaret Delaney's, repeat Bible verses during those poses to keep their minds on God and Jesus Christ rather than Isvara, the Hindu Lord of Yoga. The Sun Salutation, or Suryanamaskara, is a twelve-step sequence of asanas and pranayamas. “Sun,” S-U-N, is replaced with “Son,” S-O-N, in many Christian yoga courses. As a result, when they do the twelve steps, it is to prove devotion to Jesus rather than Surya. The teaching of Christian yoga is known as "Yogadevotion" at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and while some participants are suspicious, one of the pastors, John Keller, is positive because "it attracts future converts into the church's doors"; "about a quarter of Yogadevotion students are not churchgoers."

This blending in practices does not sit well for everyone. Many Christian yoga critics are troubled by the combination of Christianity and yoga. According to one critic, using yoga to entice people to church is not harmless, but rather "dancing with the devil." A increasing number of books are advising Christians against combining yoga with Christian practice. “Yoga originated in India as part of the paganism practiced there,” writes Dave Hunt in his book Yoga and the Body of Christ, and argues that yoga is one way the West is being invaded.

Laurette Willis, the founder of “PraiseMoves,” a Christian alternative to yoga, which, along with “Fitness to His Witness,” is a trademarked system of exercise for good health, plus the blessing of Jesus, offers perhaps the most innovative and interesting critique of Christian yoga. Willis, a former "New Age" believer who came to faith in 1987, grew up doing yoga with her mum, but says, "From experience, I can tell that yoga is a risky exercise for the Christian and takes seekers away from God rather than to Him." Willis, like Hindu opponents of Christian yoga, claims that yoga and Hinduism are inextricably linked because all "yoga postures are sacrifices to the 330 million Hindu gods."

Christian yoga, on the other hand, is a "oxymoron" for Willis, who defines syncretism as "an effort to combine contradictory belief, religions, or doctrines." Willis also developed the proprietary "PraiseMoves," which is not Christian yoga but a "Christ-centered approach to the discipline of yoga," as an alternative to Christian and Hindu yoga. Willis claims that, while the class appears to be yoga and is structured similarly to many yoga classes in the United States and India, it is not. Since she's "discovered there's not an unlimited amount of ways the human body can move," she admits that some of the PraiseMoves postures mirror yoga postures, and she tells us that these postures were formed by God, and that PraiseMoves is "a way to untwist these advantageous postures back to glorify God."

Willis' trademarked methodology claims to strip yoga of its Hindu jargon, revealing a fundamentally Christian tradition. The irony of this controversy over yoga in popular culture is that when Indian yogis first arrived in America, they courted Christian yogis. Many Christians today do not see yoga as a conflict; they happily practice it in gyms, church basements, retirement homes, and community centers. Yoga refers to a wider audience because it is non-Hindu, universal, and empirical, as well as a discipline that is sure to improve one's fitness.

Christians like Dave Hunt and Laurette Willis, on the other hand, demonstrate that combining religious, spiritual, or international beliefs and traditions can lead to controversy and discomfort in this region. What effect does yoga have on Christianity? Can it strengthen or weaken Christian commitment? Is it causing Christians to become less religious, or is it allowing Christians to dive further into their faith? Not only Christians debate the purity and roots of yoga; Hindus have also followed this line of investigation in unique ways.

"Take back yoga" and the Hindu American Foundation

Although Christians question whether to practice yoga, a Hindu activist organization claims that yoga is expressly Hindu and launched a "Take Back Yoga Campaign" in 2009.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a Hindu advocacy or lobbying organization, identifies itself as an advocacy group that provides a radical Hindu American voice. The Foundation engages and educates public policymakers, academics, the media, and the public about Hinduism and global problems affecting Hindus, such as religious liberty, misrepresentation of Hinduism, hate speech, hate crimes, and human rights. HAF stands squarely against hate, injustice, slander, and fear by upholding the Hindu and American ideologies of empathy, equality, and pluralism.

In the last decade, HAF has been involved in several scandals. It objected Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus' National Book Award nomination, claiming it was biased and misleading, and it is the first to speak out when a garment manufacturer or designer uses Hindu iconography in "inappropriate" ways. Most prominently, prior to the "Take Back Yoga" movement, HAF filed a lawsuit challenging the methods used to write about Hindu culture and tradition in California social sciences textbooks. The lawsuit was dismissed in court, but the fight over textbook material in California continues, and the HAF has launched #donteraseindia to raise awareness. The "Take Back Yoga" movement is credited with putting HAF on the map of mass culture.

It all began with a blog post on the HAF blog in 2009 called "Let's Take Yoga Back." Sheetal Shah, a young Hindu-American student, laments in this post that the yoga taught in this country lacks the Hindu mark. She is particularly disappointed that Yoga Journal does not promote yoga using the term "Hindu," that there are no Hindus in her yoga courses, and that she was able to find several yoga teachers but none who were clearly Hindu. How do we preserve and encourage yoga's Hindu origins if most yoga studios don't have Hindu students, let alone Hindu yoga instructors, she writes? Our Hindu forefathers recognized the advantages of yoga and spread the word to the rest of the world. The West recognized yoga, fell in love with it, transformed it into a physical and “spiritual” art, removing all metaphysical connotation, and declared themselves experts. While many non-Hindu Americans are enthusiastic about yoga, the majority of Hindu Americans seem to have ignored its value in uniting their mind, body, and spirit, and have given up their understanding and possession of this life-changing activity.

As a Hindu American, I implore you to restore yoga by reclaiming your expertise in its teaching. I strongly advise you to enroll in a beginner's yoga class at a local studio and to invite your girls, siblings, parents, and friends to join you. Many of our nearby Hindu temples offer free yoga classes taught by Hindu teachers, and some of you might even be attending them... bring a friend or family member with you next week. If you practice basic asanas at home, take an advanced yoga class at a studio to take your practice to the next stage.

HAF responded to Shah's call with gusto. Following Shah's blog post, HAF published a position paper on yoga's Hindu roots in 2009: Yoga is an important aspect of Hindu belief and practice, according to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). However, regardless of religious religion, the science of yoga and the enormous rewards it provides are for the good of all mankind. Hinduism is a set of pluralistic doctrines and lifestyles that recognizes the presence of other philosophical and religious practices. As a non-proselytizing religion, Hinduism never forces yoga practitioners to profess allegiance or convert. Yoga is a path to personal enlightenment for those who seek it. In the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog, HAF co-founder and board member Aseem Shukla engaged pop guru Deepak Chopra in a dispute about yoga's ownership beginning in April 2010.

 

Underneath Shukla's grievances, one senses the indignation of an inventor who found Coca-Cola or Teflon but failed to patent it, wrote Chopra. Isn't that a petty reason for painting such a bleak picture? When most Indians consider the enormous success of yoga in the United States, they may grin at the glitzy facets of the phenomenon, but they believe something positive is happening overall. Shukla frowns in disapproval at the same scene. Shukla retorted that, while Chopra profits financially from Hinduism (which he refers to as Vedic knowledge) and claims to be an Advaita Vedantin, he does not credit the religion in any of his platforms.

This debate drew the attention of many Hindu bloggers, anti-yoga Christian blogs, and non-Hindu yoga blogs, with each viewpoint siding with Shukla or Chopra, depending on whether they preferred or required Hindu yoga. The New York Times and CNN have published articles highlighting the key actors in this movement as the controversy gained national exposure. Although many people have strong feelings on who owns yoga, the HAF has specifically taken measures to frame the discussion. While it claims that everyone can learn yoga and profit from it, it is adamant that the Hindu origins of yoga be recognized.

The questions become, “Is yoga Hindu?” or “To which religion does yoga belong?” when boiled down and distilled, as Internet discussions sometimes are. Scholars can disagree about the Jain or Buddhist legacies of yoga, or even argue that yoga is more European and imperial than Hindu, but in the end, none of this matter in a postcolonial world where religions are divided. Labels have repercussions in mainstream culture, and the increasing popularity of yoga among Hindu South Asian Americans, combined with the fact that it has been turned into a problem by HAF, has given yoga's name, history, and ownership religion, sociopolitical, and economic implications. The bigger question is why "ownership" is still a concern.

We live in a world where trademarks, copyrights, and phantom mortgages enable people to become billionaires. Religion, culture, and even basic fitness are all impacted by inequality and an environment that prioritizes financial stability and dominance above all else. So, it was only a matter of time before yoga became a battleground for names and histories. Aseem Shukla was referred to as a "fundamentalist" by Deepak Chopra.

Non-Hindu yoga instructors who liberally use "OM" in their teaching are often opposed to the HAF movement, and it is easier to label them as fundamentalists and ignore them than to hold an open discussion about the causes, implications, and advantages of colonization, as well as racial exploitation and power contours. To put it another way, I don't believe we should or should dismiss the debate about yoga's location or possession. Rather, I believe it is a good time for us to reconsider our assumptions about Hindus and Hinduism.

White Europeans and Euro-Americans can appropriate aspects of colonized societies and enforce their beliefs on colonized peoples, some of which have come to Europe and the United States, as a result of slavery, patriarchy, and racism. However, when there are little repercussions for this appropriation and subjugation, as groups respond, they react in ways that seem to perpetuate patriarchal ideals of distinction and roots of faith and common culture. Simultaneously, we should consider other Hindu practices that middle-class Hindus in India and the United States have attempted to neglect and abandon.

Tolerance, karma, dharma, and Brahman are listed as core tenets of Hinduism on the HAF website, but Tantra, sacrifice, possession, mosque bombings, female feticide, or dowry burnings are not mentioned. These are just as important to Hinduism as yoga. Since the Protestant British religious borders never made sense in India, yoga, Tantra, and even Hindu worship spaces defy categorization, belonging, and neat histories, it was perhaps unavoidable that they would defy categorization, belonging, and neat histories. HAF, on the other hand, has opted to focus on meditation, demonstrating once again how yoga has become a part of the religious and cultural landscape of the United States.

conclusion The three references presented in this chapter demonstrate that yoga is a contentious topic in modern America, with debates raging about the manufacture of yoga pants, the bodies of women wearing yoga pants, who can/should perform yoga, and the roots and identity of yoga. These debates demonstrate how blurry and sometimes subjective the line between religious and secular is, and how necessary it is to publicly explore this messiness.

Is yoga a religious exercise or a secular one, and how have yoga pants found their way into our daily secular wardrobes?

Also, how does looking at race, gender, and class reveal how yoga has been sold and created exclusively for one category of people in this country?

Why is it necessary to examine the intersections of mainstream culture, female sexualization, and yoga pants to better understand broader conflicts in American popular culture?

Finally, how and when do sects collide? Is this a US-only phenomenon or a worldwide phenomenon? Finally, who owns culture, and how can we draw the distinction between cultural exploitation and appreciation?

Why do you think yoga is so common in America?

What reasons do you believe are influencing its popularity?

In today's America, is yoga a religious or secular activity? When it comes to yoga, is the line between sacred and secular blurry?

What do you make of some Hindus' claim that yoga should not be segregated from its place in Hindu god worship?

What function do gender, race, and class play in the construction and practice of yoga, as well as other aspects of mainstream culture in the United States?

Is yoga practiced in your neighborhood?

Look for yoga-related advertisements or announcements. Is it promoted as a spiritual practice or a form of physical activity? To whom is it marketed?



Bibliography:

 

 1. “New Study Finds More Than 20 Million Yogis in U.S.,” www.yogajournal.com/uncategorized/new-study-finds-20-million-yogis-u-s.

2. Harry Bradford. “Lululemon’s Founder Blames Yoga Pants Problem on Women’s Bodies,” www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/lululemon-foundersome-wo_n_4221668.html.

3. “Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson Resigns from Board,” Financial Times, February 2, 2015, www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5d16fdd8-aaf2-11e4-81bc-00144feab7de.html#axzz4Eljmiko3.

4. Scott Deveau, “Yoga Mogul Has Critics in a Knot,” The Tyee, February 17, 2015, http://thetyee.ca/News/2005/02/17/LuluCritics.

5. Lindsay Ellis, “Yoga Pants Too Distracting for Boys? A N.D. School Cracks Down on Girls,” Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 2014, www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2014/1001/Yoga-pants-too-distracting-for-boys-A-N.D.-schoolcracks-down-on-girls-video. 350

6. Ellis. “Yoga Pants Too Distracting for Boys?”

7. According to Patanjali there are eight limbs of yoga: yama (moral principles), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (pure contemplation) (Yoga Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali, trans. Barbara Stoler Miller [Bantam, 1998], 52). Only two of the eight, breath control and postures, are overtly popular in the practice of modern Hatha yoga (though there are allusions to yama), partially due to the influence of those that brought new exposure to yoga starting in the nineteenth century. Further, it seems that both pranayama and asana were latched onto by modern yoga “exporters,” for they were easiest to translate into a modern ethos—one that focused on health, control, and ecumenism.

8. Edward B. Fiske, “Priests and Nuns Discover Yoga Enhances Grasp of Faith,” New York Times, July 2, 1971, 35, 55.

9. Phuong Ly, “Churches, Synagogues Mingle Yoga with Beliefs,” Washington Post, January 1, 2006, C1.

10. Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, “Stretching for Jesus,” Time Magazine, August 29, 2005.

11. Trayce Gano, “Contemplative Emerging Church Deception: Christian Yoga, Innocent Activity or Dancing With the Devil?”http://emerging-church .blogspot.com/2007/02/christian-yoga-innocent-activity-or.html.

12. Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ: What Position Should Christians Hold? (Bend, OR: Berean Call, 2006), 23.

13. Laurette Willis. “Why a Christian alternative to Yoga?” http:// praisemoves.com/about-us/why-a-christian-alternative-to-yoga.

14. “Hindu American Foundation,” https://plus.google.com/HafsiteOrg /about.

15. Sheetal Shah, “Let’s Take Yoga Back,” www.hinducurrents.com/articles /19969/lets-take-yoga-back

16. “Yoga beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice,” www.hafsite.org/media/pr/yoga-hindu-origins

17. “Shukla and Chopra: The Great Yoga Debate,” OnFaith, April 30, 2010,www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2010/04/30/shukla-and-chopra-the-great-yogadebate/4379.