I am Indian, was born in India, but was raised in America for almost my entire life. As a first-generation Indian-American, my roots are complicated and diverse enough already, but the times that I grew up in definitely made things a whole lot more intricate. As someone who’s relatively young, I was born in the mid-90s and got to grow up while America, as well as the rest of the world, was becoming increasingly homogeneous.
In my household, when I was growing up, yoga was something that my mother forced me and my brother to learn. Less for the physical benefits, but more to help grow our spirituality, intellect, and inner balance. As a child, I always knew that it was a sacred art, and differed depending on where in India you learned it. As I grew older, however, I began to notice the spread of yoga, even in the little town that I grew up in. It was interesting to see how quickly it spread and became this heavily commercialized shadow of the original practice. In high school, I was never offended if any of my friends singled me out to come to yoga class with them, but I felt this sense that the Western world was missing out on a lot of what yoga is actually about when I attended these classes. There are also many things that get lost in translation when you don’t fully understand the language (Sanskrit) and fill in the blanks liberally. Yoga isn’t necessarily best when it’s outsourced to 50 minutes classes, rather it’s long-term progression of better understanding your own body and mind. That’s why I’m perpetually wary of Western yoga, because it leaves out a lot of the crucial things and focuses more on glamorizing the activity as a never-before-seen kind of weight-loss/flexibility/calming sport.
People who are really dedicated to learning it properly and becoming instructors who understand the actual benefits have done miraculous things for those in rehab, the disabled, or any other number of people who were struggling to walk or recover after a traumatic event. Modern medicine takes a lot from ancient medicinal practices, and overall makes treatments more holistic for patients. Similarly, I think the way that we learn to move our bodies and perfect our physical form shouldn’t just be limited to the country we live in. So many professional athletes nowadays implement yoga and Pilates into their daily workouts, and ultimately help average people get a better understanding about the capabilities of their bodies.
Although this is how yoga has spread in the recent years, many centuries ago (when Buddhism and Hinduism were just getting started), yoga was an esoteric discipline that was taught only to the holy sages and priests. It spread throughout South and Southeast Asia (China) due to the expansion of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Even then, the Buddhist monks made amendments to the practice and a new form of yoga sprung up among Buddhism, that was markedly different from the Hindu type.