Angrez Chale Gaye, Asanas Bhi Le Gaye: Save Our Yoga from Firangs


Angrez Chale Gaye, Asanas Bhi Le Gaye: Save Our Yoga from Firangs

Illustration: Akshita Monga

My latest attempt at self-improvement came a few days ago, when I found myself in a Bikram yoga class. A friend of mine, a zealous yogini, had highly recommended this, insisting that I could learn at my own pace with a guru who would “truly understand me”.

Perhaps this description should have been my first red flag. I’d asked her about a fitness class, after all, not a foreign-language tutor. But I naively decided I had nothing to lose but a couple of kilos, and grabbed my rubber mat and water bottle with optimism.

That’s how I spent a perfectly good Saturday afternoon paying ₹1500 to bathe in my own sweat. The American instructor called it an “energy exchange”, so I guess it was meant to be fulfilling in some way. As I was trying to get my foot to align with my shoulder in a wholly unnecessary way, my poor, oxygen-starved brain wondered what was the cost of being flexible.

All around me were girls who looked like slightly darker versions of the white women in the Google image search for “yoga”: clad in sports bras and Lululemon that they had bought online, toting water bottles with more technical features than my laptop. Some had built-in tea strainers, others had patented comfort-grip and cutesy logos, and at least two contained kombucha. Everywhere I looked, I saw a new, more saccharine slogan, from the standard believe-in-yourself, just-breathe variety, all the way up to “The best things in life are free” emblazoned across a sweatshop-produced T-shirt and worn with no sense of irony.

How did we get here?

We’ve already started along a slippery slope with hot yoga and aerial yoga, both fun variations on the classic.

When yoga, formerly practiced by salwar-kameezed women gently stretching in the local park, became the domain of hippie white women, it naturally underwent many questionable modifications. In the American spirit of Life, Your Way®, abominations such as “wine yoga”, and “Harry Potter yoga”, complete with the Downward Dumbledore, have spawned. This was to be expected, and I would look upon these flights of whimsy with a kindly side-eye. Besides a few cases of dehydration and some white folks in dreadlocks, I reasoned, what harm could it possibly do?

But now, even yoga in India is all about waifish women contorting themselves into shapes you last saw in your Class 5 geometry book. We’ve already started along a slippery slope with hot yoga and aerial yoga, both fun variations on the classic. Online quizzes abound, telling you which type of yoga is best for you, based on your favourite Disney princess. Even the salwar-kameez aunties of yore have hopped on the bandwagon, squeezed into some spandex, and hit the hatha circuit. Soon, we’ll have to contend with an onslaught of dominatrix yoga and pop-up yoga, yoga on horseback and yoga on paddleboards, yoga karaoke and yoga raves. It sounds like the product of an overactive imagination, but all of these have real-life precedent among white yoga practitioners.

And it doesn’t stop there.

While politicians are busy worrying about phantom threats to humara sanskar, why is no one stepping up to defend our beloved yoga from these foreign threats? Modiji, our Yogi-In-Chief, where are you?

It won’t be long before Imagica Snow Park starts to offer “snowga”, first developed by a yoga-cum-ski instructor from Connecticut. But it also won’t be long before we manage to re-appropriate our culture by gleefully and accidentally creating “slush yoga”,  or offering wine yoga classes with a separate non-alcoholic menu for teetotallers. The plethora of animal-inclusive yoga forms, including “doga” and “goatga” can easily be practiced in our streets, using the stray urban wildlife that is already at large. As long as we steer clear of the holy cow. And why do Harry Potter yoga when we can show off our patriotism and teach our kids Mahabharata yoga, incorporating the well-documented health benefits of archery and polygamy?

If and when we start exhorting the spiritual value of yoga dandiya, I’ll be the first to join the fun, sticks in hand. Until then, I think I’ll just spend the day in bed, paralysed by the fear of choosing the wrong yoga for my inner Disney princess.