Silencing, Safety and Hinduphobia in YogaLand

It’s taken me 5 months to open up about this. Yes, me, the one who usually has no qualms about saying things as they are – it took me 5 months to really do this today. In the meanwhile, while it may have seemed that I was occupied with other things – teaching classes, educating (for free) on other sticky matters that Instagrammers love, leading sadhanas, etc, this matter sat firmly in the center  of my mind space. It would not shift, it would not budge and it took a toll on my health – physically and mentally.

It is always easy to speak up and resist an outsider, a colonizer, a supremacist who fits the frame and stereotype of being the outsider. What happens when the speaking up and challenging is for someone who is supposedly an ‘insider’? What happens when that insider supports the colonizer agenda? What happens when the conversation itself is hushed by the very people who, on all other platforms appear to be working towards uplifting the silenced? What happens when the so-called victims themselves jump into oppressor tactics? These are the questions whose answers I experienced. Those were the experiences I  was stuck with over almost half the past year!

Now, it is time for me to declutter my mind space. In my silence, while I cocooned myself in response to the pain and harm that folks who were, until then, ‘my people’, I’d like to believe that I got some clarity and a fragment of healing. I say, ‘a fragment’ of healing, yes. The pain is still here. But the clarity of stepping back and observing the dance of self righteousness, commodification, tokenization and self-tokenization all in the name of ‘Decolonization’ and ‘Anti-Cultural Appropriation’ has been a massive shift. That, and the shocking revelation of how, in the midst of this dance, what was actually happening was an enactment of blatant Hinduphobia.

Yes, that’s the word…

Here’s the story.

In April I came across an article written by a colleague whom I got on well with. We had worked  together in some projects and workgroups and the channels of communication between us were always friendly and open. The article was published in the Yoga Journal, notorious for its appropriative, white washed bigotry and racism. I assumed that with all the social media backlash, they were looking to do better and that this article might have been a segue for more Desi representation in their content. I don’t comment on article / podcast links unless I have opened & read or listened to them fully. It took me a few days to open up and read the article in question. By then, I’d seen many other colleagues from the yoga community comment with high praise and pride at the work. When I did read the article, I was shocked. The article was extremely flawed and had many errors. It was on yoga & Sanskrit – both areas that I have some knowledge, let alone expertise, to be able to critique it with integrity.

I considered the author to be a ‘friend’ – a word that seems to mean many things to many people on Social Media – from Facebook ‘friends’ to friendship being considered an equivalent to ‘absolved from the consequences of any actions’. Very few, I understand now, use the word to mean someone who may also hold up the mirror and nudge the other to do better at the same time be open to receive the same mirror holding in return. The objective of friendship to be mere  fair weather friends or those who only appear to fan your ego, sadly, is what seems to run many ‘friendship’ circles and ‘like minded communities’.

Anyway, I held that mirror up to the author. I had the following reasons to do so:

  • I considered the author an open-minded friend who would want to do better.
  • As a steward of Dharma, I wanted to do what was right and rectify the errors that were being presented to a wide readership of a publication that clearly refused to put in any effort towards correctness and was doing the bare minimum through superficial allyship and tokenism.
  • As a teacher, I felt responsible for my students, or any student / practitioner, who without access to better teachers would be terribly misguided by this article and experience emotional and spiritual harm. (I’ll speak more about this later in the post)
  • I felt the article showed Desi teachers in poor light and demonstrated how a brown skin and a Hindu name could be tokenized and equated with knowledgeability, when clearly that was not true. (I’ll speak more about this too later)
  • Since the author was clearly not aware of the basic Sanskrit, and since the article was all about Sanskrit, I was willing to offer my time (with due credit if the offer was accepted) to help the author edit the article and republish.
  • Yoga Journal clearly needed to do much, MUCH better and I wanted them to acknowledge the error (like most decent publications do), take down the article (at least the e-edition), support the author to rectify the errors and perhaps exert due diligence when it comes to whom they actually showcase as experts in their publications!

I did two things: I wrote to the author, with kindness and with the offer to help edit the article. I also wrote to Yoga Journal, with sternness, disappointment at their lack of credible focus and the urge for them  to do better. I wrote to them with the backing of the Karnataka Yoga Council of which I am the State President here in India.

Excerpt of my first email to Yoga Journal on 28th April 2021

A few things came out of this.

For one, Yoga Journal ignored my emails and my tweets – I wrote to them multiple times following up on the matter. I have not heard from them except for one response that said they will forward it to the concerned team. Clearly, not one YJ editor is concerned, let alone the team. I have since seen Yoga Journal seem to publish articles and cover pages that want to appeal to the political atmosphere of the US. The eyewash by featuring BIPOC on their covers and focusing on anti-racism is a kick in the gut to yoga philosophy & cultural stewardship. It is mere distraction & diversion. They fail to convince that there is any real accountability. The article in question has numerous Facebook comments and tweets from lay persons as well as Sanskritists – not one received any respectful acknowledgement from the publication or their Social Media staff.

My comment on Yoga Journal’s Facebook page.

With the author, I was first told that they had clearance from their parents and community teachers to go ahead and publish. I was stunned at the statement which essentially threw elders right under the bus, refusing to take any personal responsibility in the matter. Then I heard the refrain that Sanskrit had evolved with migration, etc. This was another hashtag facepalm moment clearly indicating ignorance of the subject matter. And finally, there was the unspoken bit that suggested an open ear but no intention to rectify the errors that I had written out & sent over. This is where the first problem largely rested.

The author’s article announcement post on Facebook.

The author who, according to their facebook post, leant how to trace out the words in Sanskrit through a chart that was shared from their parents had not made a pronunciation error (to blame diasporic migration). The words were incorrectly written – by hand – as captions to the author’s artwork. While the pronunciation / transliteration was also wrong in many places, my focus was on the Sanskrit words that were incorrectly written in Devanāgarī – the script in which Sanskrit is written – and not a matter of my ‘quest for technical correctness’. Now, for any writer who chose to publish for international readership about a subject with sufficient technicality – wouldn’t you expect the basic conceptual correct knowledge of the writer, if not subject matter expertise? The author kept repeating on various social media discussion threads that they did not claim subject matter expertise – then WHY did they agree to write on a topic that was finally published with so many errors? Are we saying that the author and a money making machine like Yoga Journal had no resources to seek anyone in the world who would proofread the article and suggest amendments? Further, despite so many comments from knowledgeable Sanskrit scholars and readers on their social media Yoga Journal failed to acknowledge any of the emails and comments and continue to keep the faulty article live to this day and perpetuate false knowledge to their audience.

It is important to note here that yoga, yogic traditions and culture has historically been decimated and appropriated by the Western World by blasting our indigenous sciences, literature, wisdom and knowledge by deeming them blasphemous or incorrect; defacing them with Western ideas of what they think the correct meaning and knowledge should be and further capitalizing by promoting the distorted version to the world by calling it the real thing. Through this article, written by an author clearly lacking the credentials to teach any Sanskrit, let alone a few words, Yoga Journal has blatantly repeated what imperialism and White Supremacy have long done in academia and in the socio political and cultural world. They have taken Sanskrit, the ‘language of the Gods’, desecrated it, tokenized a brown woman and continue to capitalize on that with zero remorse.

Deep breath, Luvena… you got this… 1…2…3….

So, if you thought that was the end of it, it wasn’t.

If you haven’t guessed already, doing this work, standing on the side of Dharma, is not easy work. It is hard, arduous, exhausting and lonely. It is also very painful and isolating.

And it is very, very unsafe.

The Desi yoga community, of late, is seeing a rise in ‘supportive circles’. I’m a part of quite a few of these ‘safe spaces’, but quickly find myself leaving many of them.. The concept is good to hear, the intention appears to be wholesome, but most of these spaces lack the depth and grounded ability to be unbiased when it gets down and dirty with doing the real work. The colonized mind shows up there whenever there is a need for objective space.

After the emails and tweets between the author and YJ, I needed a ‘safe space’ where I could vent my frustration with people who I thought would understand. After all, some of these people constantly focus about how ‘Namaste is being misused’ by white folks or how ‘our culture’ was being appropriated, I thought they would be understand how and why this matter was problematic. So while I had clearly ignored one very popular group after their founder had clearly told me that it was not a safe space,I shared the experience in another group where I’d been a member for a while and expected an objective understanding.

While a few people understood the impact of what I was addressing, the bulk of the responses included statements and messages like:

  • We shouldn’t be infighting because of the White Gaze upon us.
  • I was looking for technical correctness in an language known to be elitist and casteist.
  • The author was trying to do the right thing by trusting in her elders.
  • Me calling the author my ‘friend’ in my post and then going to speak about her in a closed group for South Asian yoga teachers where she was absent was not done and constituted a breach of trust and shaming.
  • I should be happy for someone who gains success & visibility through Yoga Journal – but yes, by all means hold Yoga Journal accountable for not exercising due diligence.
  • That there was so much harm being done by the colonizers as it is and was I even on the yogic path by shaming my sibling?
  • And there was an unbelievable gaslighting comment where my concerns were labelled as pro-colonizer and I was asked why I used white person emojis?! Yes, that also happened.

Additionally, there were some other observations:

  • There were some passive aggressive social media memes about in-fighting between Desi teachers made by Desi teachers – so yeah, the irony wasn’t lost.
  • There was some unfriending & blocking.
  • And there was some very loud silence from otherwise very vocal folks who, in the past, have messaged me with pride at me being vocal. 

So taking a stand when it is needed is not considered a matter of integrity. On the other hand, it is weighed for it’s marketability and success factor. If someone stands to gain success and break the glass ceiling, then we were to be happy for them, even if their method was unethical. Even remembering this incident now elicits a visceral reaction. Asking for accountability was categorically called as shaming – in other words, gaslighting the aggrieved to believe that their expression of hurt & ask for accountability was actually hurting someone else (who otherwise stood to gain from their actions). Yoga Journal was constantly pointed to for making amends and the author was absolved from any corrective action. It was assumed that my venting in a private group meant that my private email to the author was hate-filled as offensive.

Isolation in the face of doing the right thing is not new. However, I think I was naive (or stupid) enough to believe that the people who were making the righteous noise in the name of social justice & inclusion, were actually in it for the ethics of it. The performative activism and allyship is astounding.

Eventually, the post was closed for comments and sometime somehow some comments with personal attacks were deleted. The group post was closed for comments after all the above responses were collectively thrown about. Of course, there were a few sympathetic private messages which expressed unsafety for them to put their thoughts out in the group and by the time they did, the comments were closed. A few others typically messaged me weeks later apologizing for not being supportive on the forum (that’s another story there..). And such is life…

I felt it was necessary to establish this context here because what followed is the core of what this  blog post is all about.

So what exactly happened?

As I said it has taken me 5 months since the incident to speak up about it. If you think it has been an easy decision to write it out here, I can assure you it has not.  The yoga space, the Desi community and this whole area of ‘speaking one’s truth’ and standing on the side of Dharma all sounds great but it is not… it is very dangerous and unsafe.

I have since:

  • Lost income.
  • Missed out on speaking opportunities– some which I had already decided to stop supporting, others which saddened me by their U-turn. The echo chambers created by those who stand to gain from white capitalist allies are incredibly toxic despite what meets the eye.
  • Been labelled & attacked – sometimes passive aggressively, often ad hominem. My ‘faith’ has been questioned and my political leanings pondered upon.
  • Been labelled as anti-diaspora (conveniently forgetting that 4 generations of my family have been non resident Indians & that I only moved to India in 2014)
  • Been marked as a fundamentalist and/or Right Winger and Hindutva (sigh!)
  • Blocked by a white capitalist organization even though I had zero conversation or disagreement with them about anything.
  • Had my content plagiarized with zero credit…. Also plagiarised to used keywords indicating alignment with Dharma by folks with hardly any understanding of Dharmic principles.
  • Been cancelled & replaced – tokenization rules!

In other words, for the most part, all of these and much more, are part & parcel of what constitutes Hinduphobia. And no, Hinduphobia does not mean it has to be at the hands of a non-Desi. This is rampant Hinduphobia, a remnant of the colonized mindset. Such is the  detachment from our own culture and heritage that anyone standing FOR the culture and heritage and not pandering to white capitalism is instantly labelled with political affiliations and the intention of call-out or call-in is tossed away. The need to align with whiteness & white-folks determined success overshadows the need to learn or really connect with one’s own culture.

Why bring in Hinduphobia? Well, what else would it be? Apart from the lack  of support, the Desi yoga community has a host of voices who feel validated and heard when they call out white appropriation and capitalization of yoga and Hindu culture but oddly turn a blind eye when their own folks actually pawn away and distort their culture. Furthermore, they silence those who do speak up about it because if they didn’t, then it would impact their income too! Social and financial currency are very likely key here as I see more and more Desis define their success by their appearance in white supremacist and racist organizations and conferences and less by holding themselves accountable and in alliance with their heritage and culture.

What did I feel in all this? Terrible! I felt terribly frustrated, alone and unheard. The very people who were trailblazing the need to pass the mic to silenced indigenous voices were yanking the mic away from someone who was pointing out a glaring flaw and hushing the error by promoting incorrectness. By allowing and supporting the misleading article, these very people were suppressing indigeneity and knowledge. At best, these very ‘teachers’ were ignorant about Sanskrit or even basic Devanāgarī but were also wary that highlighting my words would mean accepting their own lack of knowledge. But that was never the point! So this hesitation – no, refusal – to stand up for what is right made me feel  physically sick. And I felt alone – it felt like a losing battle because all these saviors of Whitewashed yoga were actually, without mincing many words, were telling me to maintain the status quo, keep the family secrets in-house ‘because White gaze’… and don’t go about stirring the pot, because you’re clearly the minority here… So once again, the minoritized voice was attempted to be silenced.

We hear Desis speak about ‘our culture’ being appropriated, our traditions, our prayers, etc… but when it comes down to it, most of these folks refuse to openly say which culture, especially if it is Hindu culture. I know a few Sikh yoga practitioners & teachers who are very clear and proud about their culture and heritage. Yet, I find a sense of apology when it comes to Hindu teachers who refuse to freely & proudly shine their culture. There is an unspoken vibe that standing for their Hindu culture might make them unpopular or that their anti-Islamophobia may not hold strong enough.

Then there is the idea of Secularism that restrains people from claiming their identity authentically. Secularism doesn’t mean that one group gets the mic while suppressing the other. In the search for equity, Islamophobia is just as vile as Hinduphobia, yet, the latter is so openly practiced and no one seems to know it is even happening!

Situational examples provided in Understanding Hinduphobia, help clarify what may constitute Hinduphobic behavior. I can assure you one thing –  experiencing it first hand is gutting and very painful. Here are a few of the examples that landed squarely with my experiences:


“Accusing those who organize around or speak about Hinduphobia (including the persecution of Hindus) of being agents or pawns of violent, oppressive political agendas.”;

“Making unsubstantiated  claims about the political agendas of people who are simply practicing Hinduism.”;

“Erasure of the Hindu civilizational imprint, including the denial of Hindu contributions to specific histories, knowledge systems, geographies, culture, etc., and the superimposition of Western civilization norms.”

Understanding Hinduphobia

Over this incident, there has been overt silencing from within the community by segregating stewards of the practices by calling us gatekeepers when all that was being done was what everyone has been asking for always – a respect of the roots and traditions of the culture. If we find it ethical to call-out (or call-in) ignorant appropriation by White folks, then how can calling-in (or calling-out) of our own folks who promote incorrect knowledge be considered inappropriate? Note that there was an open offer to help fix the errors, the offer still stands, but there has been no effort to rectify the error. What remains, though, is the undisguised disregard for the harm that the article and the publication has done. There remains no accountability. And instead, there is now a division and capitalism stands to win.

For the white folks reading this, please do not think that I, in any way, condone your appropriation and misuse of yoga and yogic concepts. If anything, I will be ten times as harsh. So, do not, for once, think that this is an excuse for you to do as you will – remember that is the very thing that makes many desi folks resist doing their real reclamation of identity.

Earlier in the post, I promised to address the spiritual harm and the misrepresentation of indigenous teachers. Needless to say, Hinduphobia includes whitewashing and Whitesplaining (is that a word already?) of the word, the sentiment and the essential principle of ‘Guru’. In its most literal meaning of being a ‘teacher’, the publication of this article underscores the ruthless stereotype in YogaLand that ‘Gurus are abusive’ and/or ‘Gurus are not required’. Clearly this publication that holds the potential to cause harm will, and does, highlight the harm that any brown skinned individual can cause by putting themselves in a place of authority to teach, even if they don’t openly claim to do so. The authority that comes with being published in a yoga magazine with international readership – does one even need to wonder?

Then there is the thing about eligibility, the adhikara, to teach and once again YogaLand, in this new race to uplift Desi voices, seems to ignore the fact that what needs to be done is uplift Desi experience and ensure equity & respect for them. However, when uplifting Desi voices as teacher voices or voices of expertise on a topic that the White Western World is not qualified to judge, merely being brown skinned with an Indian name does not cut it! We cannot claim eligibility to teach just by mere birth into an Indian Hindu family! There is loads of misinformation or information without proper teaching that gets conveyed in families. There are loads of rituals & traditions that families follow but somewhere along the way the meaning behind the traditions hasn’t been transmitted. How can we ever issue blanket expertise status to anyone just for being born Indian? There is a reason for lineage and a reason for paramparā and samprādaya to enable teachers to not just be custodians but also stewards of right knowledge for those who truly seek. For this, we need the humility to know where to draw the line around what we can teach and where we must honestly say, “Sorry, that is not my area of expertise.”

In this very shaky and flaky space called YogaLand, today, where we have an emergence of brown teachers who can be tokenized just to check the boxes of Inclusion & Representation in White Capitalist Organizations, who is to be held accountable? The organizations who can do better and dig deep… or the folks themselves who stand to be tokenized, or worse, who willfully self-tokenize?

Yoga Journal still doesn’t feel it necessary to address any harm because they stand to gain scholarly positioning by disseminating incorrect knowledge over traditional scholars, whom they refuse to acknowledge or approach.

It is unfortunate that some Desi teachers feel the need to benchmark success less by promoting their true culture with pride and more by allying with white-led organizations known to promote racism, inequity, prejudice and appropriative capitalism. I find a lot of teachers suddenly dropping ‘Dharma’ casually into their verbiage and still continuing to be bystanders, refusing to fully stand in the full expression of what Dharma means. Others continue to speak with authority and earn off ‘Yoga’ and ‘Dharma’ and yet denounce & problematize the Vedas because it is the ‘cool’ thing to do. Dharmic responsibility doesn’t mean doing what is right when it lines your pocket with Financial Currency and your media channels with Social Currency. No! it means doing what is right especially when everyone else is dancing to the other tune. There is no fair weather Dharma, my friends. It just is. Dharma prevails.

And while it remains painfully stigmatizing to be labelled and silenced by your own people for speaking the truth, we will still find a few voices who continue to resist and challenge the system. We will be isolated and our credibility will be questioned, tarnished and maligned; while white capitalists and their brown tokens will freely block us and delete our posts, comments and contribution, we will find very few who support us and we will be grateful to them for holding space – the real, unconditional and honest space – to stay true to Dharma.

And while all this remains as it may, we will not be silenced. Unsafe as it may be…

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः

dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ

Those who protect the Dharma are protected by the Dharma.


Special thanks: With much gratitude to my friends Savira Gupta & Kaya Mindlin for holding me while I cried in frustration to make sense of this crazy place we ‘lovingly’ call YogaLand and to Sneha Rao for picking the phone to hearing me rant for close to two hours that day when I felt my lowest, when I felt that ‘my Yoga Community’ had failed me…. and also for lifting me up by recognizing what I was so deeply hurt about; for hearing me out rationally where others didn’t.

References: https://understandinghinduphobia.org/

“Too Much” Ado Around Isms, Or Is It?

Yesterday, I sat for a very long time trying to understand what Jenni Rawlings’ blog, “What Makes Yoga Yoga? A Response to Social Media Critics” was bringing up for me. I was, all at once, feeling anger, shame, humiliation, belittling, fury and also experiencing a physical turmoil that I wasn’t able to settle. I was visibly upset – physically, mentally and emotionally. This was a pushback from a white teacher with so much condescension in her words simply because ‘self-appointed gatekeepers’ were calling out practices on Social Media that were clearly not yoga.

My upset was not one of intellectual debate and wordy back-and-forth, it was deeper than words – it was deeply personal and rooted in a sense of who I am and where I come from. It wasn’t for a sense of national pride as much as it was for a sense of resilience and fight for freedom and survival that my ancestors went through. It was an upset over the blatant disregard of the socio-politics at play hundreds of years ago and the residual supremacy and dominant culture syndrome. The stronger kick in the gut was the showcasing of relief by many at the assumed permission to continue the oppressive behaviour – relief at having been absolved of the discomfort of having to hear voices of the Desi / SA/ BIPOC community that have been silent for so many years. The permission was clear – practical tools were offered on how to shrug off these voices of concern when they were raised. People who wanted to appropriate and perpetuate harm could continue doing so – the people who are hurt by these actions can safely be ignored.

Yup! That was the slap on our faces… resounding slap…

So I messaged her on her blog and then when I couldn’t take it any more, sent her this email – all of 3 pages long. At the time of publishing this blog, I have received no acknowledgement for it and no response either. My letter was kindly edited by Sashah

Dear Jenni,

I am writing with deep concern about your recent blog post on “What Makes Yoga Yoga? A Response to Social Media Critics”

My name is Luvena Rangel, and I’m a yoga anatomy, physiology and philosophy teacher located  in Bangalore, India. My work involves teaching the above mentioned core subjects in YTTs as well as ongoing philosophy, teaching methodology, cultural norms and a deep study and practical research into Cultural Appropriation, Indian history, thought and socio-cultural bias – including racism, casteism and supremacist & systematic oppression especially in yoga. And I am an Indian woman.

I was hoping that your article, coming from a teacher who many of my friends & acquaintances from the “greater yoga community” look up to, would have presented an innovative, respectful, though-provoking  perspective. Unfortunately, I am deeply saddened that despite the efforts of so many Desis and BIPOC who tirelessly put in their emotional labour to have their voices heard (in your comments and otherwise)- it is evident that instead of doing the work of understanding internalized racism you have chosen to give a free pass to bigotry and prejudice by way of this dangerous piece of writing.

To begin, you have stated that the purpose of your post is to be highlighting the concern around social media users shaming yogis because of how an asana looks. However, your references are largely less to do with how an asana is demonstrated by people of different body types and abilities and seems to be more of a defense toward who is presenting them and how. 

Sexually explicit, intricate postures (not all yoga postures), demonstrated by white, able bodied people can and will be called out because the tradition of yoga is one of cultural respect – a bhava contained in a maryada – both concepts of deep significance to  Indian people and culture. This is not to say that there aren’t sexual connotations and traditions of nudity however,  the current western Instagram models touting body & sexual reclamation are activists of their own cause and rite of passage. It is not yoga.

And calling it out is not just possible, it is required. Bhava and maryada are both  concepts and values of Indic thought and upholding them is a part of the culture where yoga comes from and it is important that if we wish to be in the yoga world, that we respect and honour the roots of yoga. If the western ‘greater yoga world’ doesn’t want to accept these ideas of respect and sensitivity, then my opinion is that no matter how long they teach yoga, they are not entitled to it. Saying that  It is our ‘shared tradition’ totally erases the roots, culture and people from whom it came. 

That being said, I agree that there are a few self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ to yoga,  but what you fail to acknowledge in your article is that the entire practice of yoga comes from a country and a culture that deserves to be acknowledged. This culture values something beyond authenticity & pronounced titles to safeguard a culture. It is called swadharma. It is a concept that every Indian regardless of religious and/or direct/ indirect yogic influence is seasoned in. Unfortunately, that understanding of swadharma is something your piece is absolutely devoid of. 

I want to be clear that  your assumption of a “shared tradition” simply by way of practicing asana is harmful, hurtful & culturally appropriative. We do not ‘proclaim’ our connection to authenticity. We do not need to. Our bloodline, heritage & culture is sufficient to entrust us to that connection. When my 16-yr-old son (who does not practice yoga asana)read your article today, he shared with me that he felt anger and hurt. When I asked him why, he said, “Why? Because I’m Indian and this makes me angry.”This hurt & anger we felt is felt by many other Desi yoga teachers who read your blog & responded to it, and I would name this as Sacred Rage.

This is because your article consistently humiliates the tradition of yoga by questioning its purity. Your statement of the three Krishnamacharya students who have gone on to teach “their own branch of modern yoga” is indicative of a failure to truly understand the nuance of Indian culture, wisdom tradition, education and yogic thought- despite having possibly taught  (yoga?) for as long as you have. Please do the research – deeply and not superficially – on the parampara of a guru shishya tradition.

Ashtanga yoga is NOT a fast-paced practice just because WP who wanted a love & light equivalent to calisthenics / high intensity aerobics. The obviousness of various poorly understood  ‘facts’ & ‘claims’ are terribly harmful and show a deep gap between your knowledge of the roots of yoga. This gap that is likely inadvertently causing you to harm others by totally erasing aspects of yoga and the culture from which it derives.

To be clear- Krishnamacharya did NOT invent any yoga. For someone who makes a living off teaching yoga, your statement that Krishnamacharya would have been inspired by modern movement based practices is based totally in your own assumption and privilege. Krishnamacharya’s choice to teach anyone was his alone and it is painfully evident that Indian men and women had to sacrifice considerably to be able to teach and preserve a  knowledge that today, many white people want to have a piece of simply because it has been available.

When you say that  “It is therefore literally impossible for someone to look at a person doing a movement on social media and declare whether what they are doing is yoga or not.” – I absolutely do not agree. While we may not be able to understand the thoughts behind the photographed model and if they are in ‘yoga’ or not, a sexually explicit, narcissistic proclamation of flexible ligaments in contorted body shapes is not yoga…. And it not necessarily asana either. And yes, we CAN tell if it is a yoga asana or not. Dismissing the perspective, knowledge and connection of those of us who have cultural knowledge you may not possess is grossly disrespectful and assumes that if you are not the authority- no one is. 

To address your points about medical advances & knowledge of the human body compared to what existed in “early 20th century India, this shows another gap in knowledge.  If WP needed a study in Anatomy for yoga, there has been a deep study of the human anatomy & physiology AS WELL AS the emotions & spiritual consciousness involved for health & wellness developed in India AGES before modern medicine and the concept of modern movement science. I would say the depth of science was well developed in India way before white man came to  “save us” from our indigenous wisdom by burning our books and destroying the connection to scripture (colonization). Only to replace it with a dependency on modern science and a reliance on buddhi based science ,severing the ties to the deeper aspect of yogic practices. 

We have had Ayurveda for a long time and Eastern Anatomy is a discipline modern anatomy would just not be able to comprehend. I speak from a place of professional bias here. I teach Anatomy myself and come with a background in both Eastern & Western anatomy as well as Ayurveda.

Using Anatomy as a benchmark, your article is leaning on an anti-Indian prejudice and the language and emphasis in your post all indicate an effort to justify appropriation,  disrespect and an allowance or free pass for white people to continue harming the culture and people who maintain the integrity of lineage, culture and tradition day in & day out. 

I highlight white people because on your Instagram and blog comments almost all the supportive comments are from white people. These readers now have your piece to refer to when they are questioned about their participation in  prejudice and harm to South Asians and BIPOC. 

You have much to gain from this article, but this has hurt and caused immense pain & grief to the origin culture and peoples. Your article is consistently taking the points of those who are working to keep the tradition pure and then knocking them down by saying they are insufficient to make these claims. Why? I do not see you acknowledging any of the pressing comments that indicate concern but only find you engaging pleasantly with those who agree, with relief perhaps, with your POV. There is tremendous privilege at play here, and your ignorance of the concerned comments adds to your erasure of South Asian voices and Indian culture. 

Finally I want to address your statement “The boundary around what makes yoga yoga is something that is continually being negotiated and will always be open to influence from new ideas. Experimenting with different approaches, unique props, or innovative sequencing in yoga classes is not somehow a threat to the institution of yoga as we know it.”

You have concluded your article with one of the most demeaning words in your entire article – one that gives yourself and the many other people who benefit from  white supremacy and dominant attitude of colonization – this self-appointed right to appropriate, steal and take from colonized cultures with the shameless excuse that yoga will always be open to influence from new ideas.

In conclusion, I invite you to reconsider this article and deeply reflect on the harm you have caused and will cause. My hope is that you will take this feedback and begin to examine the privilege and internalized white supremacy at play in this piece.

 

Luvena Rangel

 

 

The Power of Namaste

namaste-hand-posture-background_23-2147707402

I didn’t grow up with a namaste greeting tradition. It wasn’t for any disrespect – it just wasn’t a form of our cultural practices. It wasn’t because we were NRIs but possibly because within the community, we largely socialized with the Catholic Mangalorean folks and as friends, there was an open blend of Indians from different states and even people from other countries. There was absolutely no derision towards the practice, but there was also no compulsion or education to apply this – except for greeting the Hindi teacher when she entered the class room in school (I studied in a CBSE convent school).

So, growing up, we really didn’t know the significance of namaste apart from understanding that it was an Indian cultural practice and we were familiar enough with it from Indian movies and our national and cultural events at the Indian embassy.

Well, truth be told, not many urban Indians, both local Indian residents as well as NRIs,  really know the relevance of this gesture today. I know this to be true from the many yoga practitioners & workshop participants I meet at my various talks and events. So I stopped giving myself a hard time over my cultural ignorance around it a long while ago.

That didn’t mean I stopped the process of learning more about it.

The yoga journey gives us ample opportunity to bow down into namaste. The expected culture of a yoga class often begins and ends with a namaskar mudra, but except for a few schools, not many taught about the significance of this gesture.

Let me begin by speaking for myself. I don’t greet my own teacher with a namaste and this is someone I respect immensely and look up to as a mentor, friend and guide. I am respectful and courteous (when I’m not cracking up about something and being my usual firecracker self), but I’ve not greeted him with a namaste. I will make it a point to greet him with a namaste the next time and see what our reactions are.

Not many of us greet our teachers with a Namaste either – definitely not if they are contemporary, urban yoga teachers…. and well, the teachers don’t always ask for it or greet in that fashion either.

Namaste

The divinity within me bows down to the divinity within you.

So without going into the specifics and etymology of the word, very simply put, the language of Sanskrit and culture of the ancient vedas and yoga have infused a lot of significance into namaste. Unfortunately, not many people really feel that spiritual connection when saying namaste, and the greeting itself is often said in such casual and colloquial intonation and inflection that one is left wondering, if it is of any relevance at all.

My fellow desis would know of numerous other traditional gestures that are now practices with hilarious insignificance, and sometimes irreverence too – the ‘touching elders feet‘ practice, for example, where many people barely bend enough to reach the elder’s kneecap – but well…

Here’s why I’m writing about it despite it not being my culture or tradition by birth.

When I moved to India, there were a number of senior people taking their morning and evening walks in my residential complex. I didn’t know these people, but we would often make eye contact and soon progressed to exchanging smiles. With some women who didn’t speak English or Hindi, we moved on to a generally comprehensible, “Good morning, aunty” and for the rest, a polite nod of acknowledgement as I went on my way to drop the kids to the gate for school or on my way back home from the supermarket.

With some people, however, there was a different energy to the interaction. I couldn’t pinpoint it and the instinctive greeting that was evoked was the humble namaste.

I didn’t do anything dramatic with it. Like I didn’t, you know, join my palms or anything as I said it, but I just smiled and said, ‘Namaste‘. I’m guessing there was a slight bow to my head, and my eyes probably softened or something and my tone must have been softer.

I said namaste… and there was absolutely no discomfort in it.

Gradually, I stopped noticing it, but just for long enough to realize that I only greeted certain people with a namaste…. so I assumed it was the vibe I experienced around them – or that I only spoke to them in Hindi and perhaps that was why a ‘Good morning/ Good evening’ didn’t seem appropriate or in context – but that was odd because that was what I did with some others.

So it got me thinking a bit and made me smile… because I liked to experience namaste in my life that way, although I couldn’t really understand what that experience exactly was.

Then last month happened.

It happened at the next door supermarket where I make my daily pilgrimage to. I enjoy making small talk with the cashiers and the shelf staff, so I know them fairly well. I was standing with my daughter peering at the shelf for some Haldiram snacks when suddenly one of the staff passed by, but not before pausing to look at me and say, “Namaste, Madam ji!

I can’t quite explain how deeply touched I was at his gesture. He didn’t join his palms in a namaskar or anything; his hands were full with 2 shopping baskets he was probably going to home-deliver, but he stopped to greet me. I was full of an unexplained emotion that I am feeling even now as I type these words remembering and reliving that moment. (That was when I knew this blog was on its way.)

And then sometime last week something else happened.

There is this little stall outside the supermarket (the same daily pilgrimage site) where an elderly Sikh gentleman sells kathi rolls and momos as an extension of his son’s restaurant further down the street. The family knew us in passing – regular supermarket customers, etc. and his momos are delicious! It was the day that I went up to him for a plate of momos and this very composed gentleman stood up, smiled at me, joined his palms and said, “Namaste, ji

Again, there was deep sense of something that words couldn’t quite explain.

Over the days, I was warmed by these exchanges of namastes that never demanded anything beyond it, but still made me feel special enough to receive them in the midst of other shoppers, or sometimes when the Silk gentleman would pause in the doorway as we passed each other to join his hands and say, ‘namaste‘.

I grew used to it although I couldn’t explain it then. Today I think I recognize it – a little – although it is still largely incomplete in expression – but maybe enough to share the feeling in its incompleteness?

It was a sense of presence, a powerful sense of belonging of sorts. These people were not family, I don’t even know their names (well, I’m guessing one of them must be a Mr. Singh), but the greeting fostered a sense of connection – a grounded sense of respect. What was it that I felt? A sense of support. I still don’t know where this is coming from, honestly, but it was comforting feeling of family and trust.

Perhaps this came from the time when Mr. Singh told me that I could Paytm him later for my 3 plates of momos as my phone was left charging at home and I didn’t carry cash. Or maybe it was his smiling customer relationship skills of telling me I really didn’t need to worry about payment. Or was it the time he brought in a plate of special biryani that his wife made and packed a takeout for us to taste knowing he would meet us in the evening? Or perhaps it was that time when we didn’t take our grocery bag and that store staff told me to leave it behind and he would get it delivered at home?

Or was it the sheer presence of goodness and goodwill that was present in the humble namaste? A power that has the ability to reach beyond the confines of what is proper and what isn’t and connect us to the deeper fabric of life – and deeper still to the underlying essence of what it means to be a spirit taking a human form?

Whatever it is…. it just is.

तत् त्वम् असि or तत्त्वमसि

Tat tvam asi

That art thou….You are that

Namaste