This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

From India, With Love: Cultural Appropriation And 50 Years Of Light On Yoga

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Shameem Black:

Fifty years ago, Indian guru BKS Iyengar published an instruction guide to yoga that helped to make the practice a global sensation. Today, Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika (1965) is regarded as the book that introduced the physical and spiritual practice of yoga to the West.

While Iyengar – who died last year – might have been pleased by his ongoing impact, the past 50 years have also witnessed controversy about the globalisation of yoga. Recently, the University of Ottawa cancelled a free yoga class for the disabled. Why? Because of concerns about “oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy”. This decision has sparked the latest round of debate on whether yoga in the West constitutescultural appropriation.

BKS Iyengar. Flickr/Marat Z
BKS Iyengar. Flickr/Marat Z

It’s true that yoga has a special relationship to India. While yoga is not a singular tradition, India is usually seen as the land of its birth. In recent years, the Indian government has made worldwide headlines with its nationalist promotion of yoga.

India now boasts a national yoga ministry and has promoted an International Day of Yoga. It encourages yoga within schools. It includes yoga within its Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.

But yoga has also long been a participatory culture with practitioners in many different places. For many people – including some Indians – it no longer connotes much other than the globalised wellness industry. Indeed, it’s quite possible that yoga’s success within global consumer culture has inspired much of this nationalist fervour.

Nationalism and globalisation have often gone hand in hand. For many 20th-century Indian promoters, spreading yoga beyond the nation was frequently an important nationalist project.

Late 19th-century advocates of yoga, such as Swami Vivekananda, thought that the practice could represent a distinctively Indian contribution to the world (Vivekananda also hoped that the world could pay). Yoga allowed many Indians to look powerful on a global stage, even and especially when India was not politically strong.

When Iyengar’s now classic Light on Yoga appeared for an international English-reading audience, it represented Indian cultural heritage in empowering rather than embattled ways.

Appearing in the mid-1960s, a period of dispirited national mood after India lost a border war to China, Light on Yoga projects confidence that India has much to share with the world. Despite its modest demeanour, the book exudes poise and openness, not fragility or anxiety, when it comes to spreading the practice worldwide.

REUTERS/China Daily
REUTERS/China Daily

While we usually think of Light on Yoga as a set of physical instructions, it also offers cultural instructions about how to consider the practice. Iyengar’s manual brought together philosophical description, imaginative storytelling and scientific language.

The book created a very distinctive form that described each pose, or asana, through stories, philosophical teachings, physical instructions, medical effects, and photography. This form of writing located yoga within different ways of knowing the world.

By including these diverse ways of thinking about yoga, Light on Yoga valued the ability to speak in many ways to many people. Indeed, this diversity reflected something important about yoga itself. As the book famously declared:

As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavour to win inner peace and happiness.

REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski
REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

This concern for plurality shapes the modern ideas of Indianness that emerge in the text. Reading Light on Yoga, one can feel simultaneously connected to forms of devotional Srivaisnavism and to Darwinian theories of evolution.

The manual’s rhetoric resonates with the language of the Upanishads – the central texts of Hinduism – as well as with the vocabulary of Western medical anatomy. Anticipating today’s hot question of whether yoga is religious, Light on Yoga suggests that yoga is not exactly a religion in itself:

[Instead, it is a] science of religions, the study of which will enable a sadhaka the better to appreciate his own faith.

Being “Indian” and being “Western” are not adversarial identities in Iyengar’s book. Instead, they are intimately intertwined. This approach, which suggests how yoga can support expansive forms of identity, is one of Light on Yoga’s key legacies.

Yoga was globalised by Indians, in dialogue with people from many parts of the world, long before the practice became a billion-dollar industry.

None of this is to say that we can’t productively ask questions about how power, inequality, and respect shape yoga in its travels around the world. I believe we should. But one of the important legacies of Light on Yoga is its cosmopolitanism.

If we’re going to defend yoga against desecration, let’s defend this generous openness to the world.

Shameem Black is Fellow, Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, Australian National University.

This post was originally published here on The Conversation.

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

By Azad bansala

By Mitesh Solanki

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below