Yoga, a 5000-year-old Indian practice, is now a tool for the elites to be healthy and attain a certain standard of beauty. In today’s consumeristic age, yoga has birthed a billion-dollar industry, and the popular perception is that to embrace yoga, one has to spend lots of money. If you wish to meditate, you will have to subscribe to meditation Apps; if you want to learn yoga, you need to enroll in a yoga studio, which will not only require you to pay but also will expect you to show up in the ‘right’ yoga gears – breathable leggings, supportive bras – and have the right accessories – yoga mat, block, knee rest pads, belts and whatnot. And, above it all, is the perception of yoga aligned lifestyle that propagates that you spend an inordinate amount of money for turmeric lattes and sage incense sticks.
In an interview with News18.com, Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, the chairman of the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research at Ananda Ashram (ICYER) Yoganjali Natyalayam, explained how redundant and unnecessary these expenses and accessories are.
Yoga Beyond Class Divide
“People want to buy eco-friendly yoga mats and the latest athleisure clothes. But the truth is this is just consumerism at its core. If you have a blanket, you can use it as a yoga mat, which would suffice. All you have to bring to learn yoga is yourself,” he explained.
Currently a member of numerous expert committees of the Ministry of AYUSH, Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani said that yoga, which was founded as a practice to unite mind, body and soul, has inadvertently become another thing that deepens the class divide.
“Marketing has made yoga expensive.
One thinks about buying so many inessential accessories before joining a yoga class,” said the yoga guru and pointed out that such expenses might be the reason why marginalised communities and groups may find yoga inaccessible.
“We have taught the disabled sections of society to support them with their disabilities and have worked with the transgender community to help with their gender dysphoria, and have persevered to make yoga accessible by all,” said Dr Bhavanani.
However, it would only happen when the conversation around yoga moves beyond the glamourised physical aspect, and people begin to recognise yoga as a practice that is not just a tool to a great body or more Instagram followers, but a path to becoming a more self-aware, and awakened individual.
Old Thing in Shiny New Packet
Dr Bhavanani pointed out that the recent popularity of yoga can be chalked up to social media culture. Nowadays, people can click pictures of themselves doing handstands in front of the Taj Mahal. They can share videos of them doing yoga on a beach in Goa and post them on Instagram to get thousands of likes and views. However, while on the one hand, these sorts of publicity are helping yoga stay relevant in popular perception, it is unconsciously depicting yoga as an external physical practice, while in reality, it is a far deeper journey to one’s true self and can be very useful in maintaining mental health balance.
Celebrities jumping onto the yoga bandwagon has also proved to be a double-edged sword, said the yoga guru. On the one hand, popular actresses endorsing yoga has made it popular with the masses; on the other, it has also given rise to this unrealistic expectation among people that if they do yoga, they will look like certain actresses.
Dr Bhavanani pointed out that while this ill-founded belief can never be true, it also does not project yoga and its true potential. The doctor quipped that perhaps that is the problem with repurchased yoga from the West that we are mass marketing these days, in big Indian cities, that it doesn’t show the extent to which yoga can be beneficial in everyday lives.
“Yoga has become an industry in the West that has moved away from Indian roots. Many Western yoga gurus have, in fact, patented yoga techniques in the West which are originally Indian,” he said.
Reclaiming Our Yogic Roots
Dr Bhavanani explained that there is a dire need to reclaim our yogic roots, modernise them and mass market them for free so that people can understand the actual benefits of yoga and can access it from all sections of society.
The yoga guru pointed out, “There has been a movement of yoga from traditional centres into colleges and universities. We have different universities offering yoga-based programs, including PhD in yoga.
He also said there is a second movement in collaboration with hospitals. The majority of hospitals have yoga centres nowadays. The government of India is supporting these collaborations too.”
Dr Bhavanani said that yoga is an experiential journey going deep within, connecting with one’s nature and the Divine within us, and we want everyone to embark on this journey. Toned abs are only a stop-over; they can hardly be a destination for life.