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Fox News Controversy on Yoga and White Supremacy Reveals Problem of Yoga Discussion

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A new Fox News headline, “Americans who Practice Yoga Contribute to White Supremacy, Michigan State University Professor Claims,” dangled like red beef before its readers, vagrant them to snap. Which is precisely what happened; the comments domain is dirty with written attacks destined at “stupid,” “mentally deranged” “so called professors,” suggesting “you can’t fix liberal.”

Caleb Parke’s story, tagged “controversies,” takes aim at an article on informative allowance and the yoga courtesy by Shreena Gandhi, a visiting expertise member in the dialect of eremite studies at Michigan State University, and Lillie Wolff, an organizer/trainer with Crossroads Antiracism and practitioner of yoga.

Unsurprisingly, commenters hurling insults don’t seem to have review the strange article, nonetheless they do seem to have review the Fox News story—or the headline, at least—which doesn’t fake to seriously rivet Gandhi and Wolff’s arguments. Instead, like a grocer shred fat from a carcass, Parke delicately cuts and pastes quotes on informative allowance to benefaction for his readers a very simple, and misleading, picture: professors call yoga practitioners white supremacists.


A clever and consummate reading of Gandhi and Wolff’s arguments, however, leaves the obliged reader reflecting on the idea that white Americans practicing yoga should continue to do so, but in ways that critically simulate on yoga’s South Asian roots, the story of colonialism, and the enterprise and energy to suitable from historically oppressed communities of color. Gandhi and Wolff are transparent to note that there are already white practitioners of yoga who do all of the above, so they’re not arguing that it’s unfit for white people to use yoga responsibly.

As a academician of yoga in contemporary multitude and the politics of global spirituality, we can’t help but resolutely determine with Gandhi and Wolff that capitalism and white precedence provoke and reify one another by the yoga courtesy (among other ways) by troublesome thoughtfulness on chronological and contemporary systematic forms of oppression. Unfortunately, their essay wades into domain that’s both intellectually cryptic and processed for those fervent to possibly explain yoga for themselves or to darken any try to critique widespread white culture.

This latest series of events reminds me of a debate several years back in which a luminary devout Christian coopted the Hindu American Foundation’s criticisms of allowance and colonization in the yoga courtesy to offer his regressive narrow-minded mission.

In a 2010 blog post, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned Christians against practicing yoga lest they turn Hindu. (I wrote about his warnings here.) When a New York Times front-page article brought to mainstream courtesy the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Back Yoga” campaign designed to lift recognition of yoga’s supposed Hindu origins, Mohler interpreted it as a “vindication” of his own position on yoga. This pierce was probable since, as it incited out, Mohler and the Hindu American Foundation shared an essentializing prophesy of yoga—both saw yoga as radically Hindu.

Mohler’s strategy was not distinct that of Fox News’s Caleb Parke who, by clever pruning and expurgation, embellished a uncomplicated picture of Gandhi and Wolff’s arguments.

While those like Al Mohler or Fox News and its contributors aren’t likely to turn exponents of multiculturalism anytime soon, how competence courteous scholars or advocates of yoga equivocate such distortions? Though never wholly avoidable, we would advise that, when nonetheless another homogenizing prophesy of what yoga is and is not is offered, that prophesy can be simply coopted and spun toward functions that go directly against the goals of those enlivening chronological alertness and social responsibility. Given that, we offer up the following suggestions as ways that competence help equivocate the deceptive co-optations and exploitations of arguments that mostly offer worried purposes.

First and foremost, beware of a tongue of origins and ownership. Gandhi and Wolff advise that yoga teachers should study “Hindu tradition” (as if there exists some identifiable homogenous start point) and that yoga “rightfully belongs” to Indian women. These are overwhelming assertions. In examining the roots of yoga, the query for an start is both historically ungrounded and suggests that there even could be a singular “essence” or “authentic” tradition. In fact, there are only contested and eclectic systems in which we find traces and signs that indicate over themselves to incomparable informative complexes and social forces.

For at slightest two thousand years in South Asia, people from several ideological and unsentimental eremite cultures invented and reinvented yoga in their own images. The interreligious and intercultural exchanges–between, for example, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains–throughout the story of yoga problematize a clarification of yoga as radically or creatively Hindu. Gandhi and Wolff also advise that postures “comprise only one-eighth of the practice,” therefore white American practitioners intermix “its loyal abyss and meaning” and skip the loyal aim of yoga, which is to “remember the inherited totality and tie with concept consciousness.”

These claims relate many critiques of blurb yoga that rest on the arrogance that yoga has a single, authentic start indicate and purpose. Yoga’s origins are mostly located in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in which the author prescribes eight limbs or stages the practitioner must master in sequence to grasp the aim of yoga, calm of the mind. In renouned discourses, yoga’s aim in the Yoga Sutras is mostly conflated with the aim of many hatha yoga traditions, attaining recognition of non-duality or oneness. The commentary of chronological grant on yoga (for example, here) plea such renouned views on the origins or essential aim of yoga. Throughout yoga’s history, discussions have featured argument, contestation, and dissent. There has never been a zodiacally supposed doctrine, teacher, complement of practice, or text.

Furthermore, the idea that yoga belongs to Indian women is surprising, given women are frequency manifest in many premodern yoga texts, which were authored by men. It’s not odd to find in such texts the idea that yoga practitioners should equivocate women wholly given the dangers they poise to yoga practice—women, after all, competence confuse the practitioner, ensuing in the detriment of bindu or semen, a critical piece required for attaining aloft levels of consciousness.

Homogenizing or essentializing claims about yoga’s ownership, origins, or purpose, such as those found in Gandhi and Wolff’s article, are actually in dispute with the plan on the politics of believe these authors wish to endorse—i.e., deconstructing what are taken for postulated as chronological or social truths that strut white supremacy.

We should also equivocate simplifying the chronological comment around yoga’s global distribution and popularization. Gandhi and Wolff, for example, advise the reasons yoga became renouned are tied up with colonialism. Several studies (for example, here and here) endorse this comment by documenting the early story of complicated yoga as a response to Orientalist stereotypes of India as despotic, unscientific, mystical, effeminate, and in need of Western domination, science, reason, and masculinity. Yoga became a means by which Hindu nationalists could display Indian strength and autonomy in response to these Orientalist representations, which were used to support the colonial project.

Nevertheless, the story of yoga’s popularization doesn’t finish there. Yoga didn’t turn a partial of renouned enlightenment until the late twentieth century when it was tied to a series of social trends, including the arise of the 1960s British-American counterculture and the consequent interest of yoga’s South Asian roots, changes in global consumer enlightenment toward a consumer-oriented proceed to spirituality and wellness among bourgeois civic dwellers, and the continued Orientalist gawk that graphic yoga as the devout filler to a Western informative void. A full comment of allowance and commodification in the yoga courtesy would residence all of these phenomena and their role in the selling of yoga and its accoutrement.

A second idea to equivocate regressive spin is to residence the global problem of capitalism such that the duration of white precedence becomes one among many symptoms. Another way to demeanour at this is that a concentration on white precedence in America lets other exploitations of yoga off too easy. The allowance and commodification of yoga are collection for perpetuating white precedence in the U.S., but also for creation a Hindu supremacist comment in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies precedence a renewed direct for ancient believe systems that will yield definition and purpose, such as yoga and ayurveda, in sequence to get inaugurated or sell blurb products (see here and here). They review to conventionalist tongue about yoga that thrives on nostalgia while also betraying a complicated season of capitalism, all while profiting off of a fear of lost informative norms tied to several forms of xenophobia, nationalism, patriarchy, Islamophobia, and homophobia.

Modi works closely with a series of allies to marry yoga to worried causes. Yogi Adityanath (Hindu jingoist and arch apportion of Uttar Pradesh) responded to some Muslim protests of Modi’s International Yoga Day efforts with the idea that those who exclude to perform the object salutations famous as Surya Namaskar are traitors who ought to drown themselves in the sea or leave India; Baba Ramdev (yoga luminary and entrepreneur) claims that he can heal the illness of homosexuality with yoga; and Sri Sri Ravi Shanker (another devout luminary and entrepreneur) responded to the arise in suicides among debt-ridden Indian farmers with the idea that yoga can forestall such suicides—forget courtesy to the social structures and mercantile policies obliged for their apocalyptic circumstances. The interweaving of worried politics, entrepreneur economics, and blurb spirituality in all of these total is alarming.

Despite the shortcomings in their proceed we extol Gandhi and Wolff for adding shade to an ongoing review about the allowance of yoga. As they suggest, the problem is not with yoga per se, but with a some-more formidable enigma of jingoist or extremist politics and capitalism, an mercantile complement that thrives on the exploitation and commodification of labor (at the biggest costs to women, passionate minorities, immigrants, and people of color).

That said, the evidence that white people are customarily doing yoga all wrong—implying that there is an identifiable right way to do yoga—is just too elementary and lends itself to worried spin. In the critiques of yoga’s allowance and commodification, let’s aim the systemic and global problem of capitalism, as good as the ways entrepreneurs and politicians opposite the universe use yoga to distinction off of resurgent fears of others and the consequent privileging of sold bodies, either white, heteronormative, Christian, or Hindu, but charity up one some-more homogenous prophesy of yoga.


Andrea R. Jain is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford, 2014).

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