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Western Capitalistic Yoga & How To Challenge It

BREAKING NEWS: If a yoga studio or space is treating the practice as a commodity, they are appropriating yoga.

Yoga at its core is meant to be a holistic approach to human health based on the unity of spirit and body. But in today’s age of modern stress (disturbing our mental balance and having a negative impact on our physical health), more and more people are willing to pay a pretty penny to do yoga as their answer to stress or working out; without paying any mind to honor the sacred ritual and practice.

You’ll know you’re getting a culturally appropriated version of yoga in a class from a studio where it’s blatantly all about the money. We hate to call out and shame studios, but if you have to include statements like this in your marketing, “peace and privacy for an ultimate luxury experience, meaning that your om will never be compromised by overcrowding and that you’ll always receive individual attention,” then you’ve sadly strayed so far away from the truth of yoga.

We can probably all agree that yoga is an excellent method of preventing physical and mental illness, no one is fighting that statement. But the exponential growth of the yoga industry is flat out disrespectful to the origin.

History lesson for you… the birthplace of yoga is India. But within the past 20 years, certain locations in the world have become “yoga enthusiasts,” such as Bali, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Great Britain and the USA.

Starting a class with a spiritual lineage acknowledgement of the roots of yoga is key but rarely happens.

Instead, this is what we are presented with. Let’s dive into an example of yoga’s exponential and capitalistic growth in the United States: an average yoga practitioner spends $62,640 during his entire life on classes, accessories. Most people exercise 2-3 times a week, more often in the morning (34%) than in the evening (18%).

This industry is sometimes referred to more broadly as “the enlightenment industry” and is already so significant that economists are taking its share of economic indicators into account. Not to play devil’s advocate here on exploiting the sacred practice, but don't these statistics indicate progress in the development of society and our conscious people? Shouldn’t we be happy for this growth, if the awareness of an increasingly larger number of people expands on the interest in their personal development? We understand that can become an indispensable component of their lives.

But when we witness the boom of companies like Lululemon who are defining the new standard of yoga apparel, many yogis cringe. These fashion lines and studio accessories (such as $100 mats) are leading big corporations to profit on the practice. When in reality, yoga is all about sustaining ourselves in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with money, desire, or material possessions. As we see the practice become profitable, we need to acknowledge the fact that is losing its sacred and pure value to us.

Michelle Cowden writes about a comment made to her by a Yoga studio owner, “I only own cars with leather seats because I am in the sweat business.” How did something as peaceful and sacred as YOGA fall victim to capitalism?! Well, we can probably give thanks to the greedy land of mass production, the United States.

But how and why has it grown so fast?! Why was it so easy for the US to make billions on this industry? The research below notes that on average between December and January each year, the interest in yoga increases by 73%. In 2018, there was a large increase in Google's yoga-related user questions (92%), compared to December 2017.

What motivates people to practice yoga? Here are different reasons we found in a survey of Western practitioners:

Tension release (54%)

Physical and mental strengthening (52%)

Feeling happy (43%)

Getting more time for yourself (27%)

Feeling less lonely (21%)

Disconnection from the Internet (20%)

We know yoga has existed for thousands of years, and research results indicate that there are also various new trends in yoga. Practitioners would like more classes in conditions different from the usual yoga study. Currently, 66% of the participants take part in yoga under experimental conditions, and 83% would like to try it.

Among the 2,000 people who took part in the survey, different levels of experience in yoga were distinguished:

12% advanced yoga practitioners

22% intermediate

27% beginners

37% brand new

It’s around, and it’s not going anywhere. But a compassionate healing practice like yoga must face many changes to fit into an unfortunate capitalistic system (and not to mention one of white supremacy)...

So, how do we challenge capitalistic yoga?

Scientific data confirms all the influences of yoga on the human body and mind. Yoga brings physical benefits to the body, but also relaxes the muscles and mind, relaxes but also relieves the symptoms of inflammation. The statistics highlights that yoga has a huge, positive impact on mental health, which allows to find peace of mind and freedom from stress. ALL OF THOSE BENEFITS can be found in your own home and by deepening your practice. So why contribute to the appropriation by spending $20 per class at some ritzy studio in a big city?!

  • Don’t go to “trendy studios” who are just trying to sell you on the idea of a work out (especially places like Bikram or westernized hot yoga).

  • Don’t spend money on clothing, gear or classes from a company who isn’t supporting traditional yoga practice, because you will just be furthering the problem with your purchase if not.

  • Go to studios that offer sliding scale, scholarship or donation based practices, for they are combining the traditional yoga philosophy with Western capitalism by offering allowing all to join them in practice, regardless of their income.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be a fair exchange for sharing yoga. Just that it should be accessible not overly exploitable. In addition to the physical benefits, yogis believe that peace of mind is one of the most satisfying benefits of yoga (and one that everyone deserves to achieve). The inner self-reflection as well as the practice of compassion that connects people to the inner world.

Unfortunately, in the United States it is a common trend to bank on selling people their own right to an experience. When studios do this, and price classes at unaffordable fees, which many people of color or indigenous people cannot partake in, we see cultural appropriation stripping the essence of the true yoga culture away.

So don’t forget to think about these points before you go to your next yoga studio. You have the right to find a way to relax, achieve peace, improve your health and work on mental health while having a more authentic experience. Yoga should be accessible and available to all.

Certainly big corporations who promote accessories, fashion and classes will still benefit from the development of this wellness phenomenon, but most importantly we the people can still benefit ourselves without supporting them and by reclaiming the right to deepening our own practice.

To learn more about deepening your practice see this blog post on decolonizing your practice here.

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