Yoga in America has turned the corner from a practice that could have tamed our litigious, capitalistic, success-hungry mindset. Instead, the yoga industry is playing tug in a competitive dog-eat-downward dog market, and now India wants a piece of the action.
According to the St. Louis Dispatch "The Indian government is capitalizing on yoga's popularity by supporting global events such as the United Nations' International Day of Yoga that make the practice even more susceptible to global and commercial forces."
Yoga's success in America has India striving to export other parts of its culture as well. We've shown how attractive passing Nirvana and collecting two-hundred bucks can be. Thanks to the way Americans have shaped yoga in the West, India is getting a taste of what a cash cow a cat-cow can bring.
Will this turn into a case of reverse cultural appropriation? The West adopts a foreign culture, raises it to become a thriving industry, and when we're bored with it, we will return it to its parent country like an unwanted, bastardized love child.
The face of American yoga is no fault of ours, it's a product of our environment. The ever-present consciousness we claim to seek pales in comparison to style, fashion, and the latest health trends that pad our pocketbooks. Our society supports economic growth, consumerism, and sales quotas. How can yoga, a practice of wanting less, survive in an environment like ours?
In a culture where cash is king, competition spawns creative thinking and innovative advancements. Today's yoga market is hosting a plethora of interesting ways we can keep yoga attractive. Beer, baby goats, and back-bending to Beyonce are just a few of the strangest means to keep us swimming in the bubble of the American yoga business. It's a stretch, but yoga on the moon is coming.
While yogis strive to be transparent, spiritual beings of light, the underlying current of yoga in the West radiates egocentricity. Take a look at your Instagram or Facebook page. Yoga selfies aren't called selfies because they exude selflessness. Physical prowess, a yoga butt, and completing a near-starvation "cleanse" show how much discipline and hard work we're capable of. After all, successful Americans work their asses off. It's no different in the yoga studio. However, the reward is outside validation, and that fosters the addiction to do more and be better. What does my Facebook profile have to do with inner peace? Not much, unless my happiness depends on proving I exist, and getting a lot of likes for my creative display of narcissistic Namastes.
On a positive note, an impressive number of yogis practice Seva (selfless service) and want to share the wealth and support each other. But, when it comes down to the sink-or-swim situation of many modern yoga studios, survival is about who's dog gets thrown the most bones. The ones who win the game of tug can easily disregard their inauthentic actions. You know, for a yogi, success must be because of something auspicious and in the stars. Spiritual beings aren't competitive because they practice the Yamas and the Niyamas, particularly Santosha (contentment) and Aparigraha (not hoarding) and Asteya (not stealing). Complacency, working for free, and resisting the urge to copy someone's brilliant idea is how we all reach success in the Western world, right?
As someone involved in the business of yoga, I understand the slippery slope of depending on yoga as my livelihood. When casually discussing how to graciously brace against the ugly competitiveness and greedy entitlement this industry breeds, my longtime swami friend said something like this:
Amaroli is the practice of drinking one's own urine. It is common for yogis. It has many health benefits and is said to prolong life. However, this practice is not for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work to cleanse the body of toxins, and true grit to take that first sip. When someone comes to you and wants to fill their cup with your hard work, ask them if they would like a sip of your urine. When they decline, smile politely and nod to the importance of healthy boundaries. In business and in yoga, stay the course, do your best, and treat others as you would like to be treated. If you don't want to drink their urine, mind your own business.
Yoga can unify, however the context of yoga in America is one that divides. Statistics show affluent, Caucasian, self-regarding females who regularly drop $25 on a yoga class and $150 on a pair of yoga pants, are the bloodline of the Western big-city yoga industry. If India is seriously interested in selling out to model our money-motivated yoga culture, I hope they can see the writing on the wall. If yoga in India becomes what it is in America, we can all say goodbye to one of the greatest gifts to humanity. In the meantime, let us take a step back, put our monetary interests and gains aside, and stop bleeding the culture out of something so sacred.