Commentary: Yoga is widely misappropriated in the West

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On a bulletin board in the campus fitness center, a vibrant red flyer stands out among other advertisements hanging on the blue wall. The publication is promoting an upcoming yoga class titled “Kick Your Own Asana.” To most college students, this announcement appears to be a clever play on words. However, to those who have studied and practiced yoga their entire lives, this catchphrase is less cunning and more of a slap in the face.

According to the International Sivanda Yoga Vedanta Center, Asana is “one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that the poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment.” In this advertisement, Asana is portrayed as a quick way to work out in between classes. Presenting yoga as a short and quick “workout” class is going against everything the practice stands for.

Yoga’s traditional elements serve as a means of worship in religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. For example, in Hinduism, yoga is seen as a method to help one achieve unity with God. Even in Buddhism, a religion that does not worship a God, the art of yoga is used to stimulate wisdom and well-being in one’s daily life. None of these religions use yoga as a way to burn calories or to sculpt abs. As a Christian, I cannot imagine how I would feel if another culture altered a religious practice of mine in order to use it for their own benefit. Yet, American culture is doing this by altering the motives of yoga.

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