East Meets West – Yoga as a Metaphor for Western Life

jen at valley of fire

By Jennifer Buergermeister, MA © 2015

On 21 June – the new International Day of Yoga– Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, hopes the world will join in the biggest single yoga session ever held, with up to 45,000 people running through a 35-minute routine. The grass near India Gate will be transformed into the venue to lead the masses into a day of yoga.

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfillment, harmony between man and nature, a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but discovering the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature,” said Modi.

North America has become a metaphor for yoga. The word yoga has had various meanings over the ages, and people still debate in scholarly circles, “What is yoga?” Does yoga mean to yoke? Is it a chariot? Does it completely signify unity?

People have emigrated from nearly every country in the world to live in the USA. We have always been fascinated by the philosophies shared by the early yogis who visited here. We have made them into celebrities and we have an exponential number of stars still rising.

Yoga, Brief History of an Idea by Professor David Gordon White, PhD. said, “Over the past decades, yoga has become part of the Zeitgeist of affluent western societies, drawing housewives and hipsters, New Agers and the old-aged, and body culture and corporate culture into a multibillion-dollar synergy.“

In the United States, yoga has indeed become a commodity. Statistics show that there is a growing 16 million Americans practicing yoga every year. Yoga entrepreneurs have branded their own styles of practice, from Baptiste to Bikram’s “hot” yoga.

Yoga has become an art form, each practitioner bringing their own spin to their style and branding. Roger Rippy, cofounder of the popular yoga studio chain YogaOne Houston said, “The most popular form I see is athletic styles of yoga. Instagram and social media are changing how yoga is practiced in a big way. There are people who have practiced for years now solely through Instagram and online.”

Atypical to Indian traditional yoga, Westerners have opened franchises, branded their yogic art style, and invented logos. But this may be changing. There is growing interest now in India to brand and franchise Western Yoga!

For most people, practicing yoga means going to a westernized yoga studio. They have their yoga mats, yoga clothes, and yoga accessories from the hottest and best retailers. They practice in large groups under the guidance of a yoga teacher or trainer. It has become a social trend if not social status. Yoga is mainstream and has morphed into a mass culture phenomenon. And quite frankly, I do not think yoga is every going away.

Rippy said, “It is branching out and diversifying and fusing into something indefinable, which I kind of like. Yoga, like humans, evolves. I love seeing people connecting on the level of practicing yoga. At the same time, I see silos forming where people do not move out of their immediate circle, studio, patterns, and teachers. In my mind, it is all good yoga and it’s nice when we can acknowledge and appreciate each other, and see the beauty in other people’s practices and methodologies.”

I’ve seen the community change a lot over the past decade. There were once very few studios, many of which no longer exist for various reasons. The trend, especially with current real estate prices, is to franchise or diversify.

It’s beneficial to practice yoga. I have not found relevant evidence to prove contrary to the health benefit claims. Breathing and stretching, mindfulness, and stress reductive practices increase total wellbeing. Yoga is in the schools, prisons, military, and medical centers. In Houston, we have birthed the Texas Yoga Conference and now the initiative of the Consul General of India’s International Day of Yoga, a free event to be held this month all day Sunday, June 21, 2015 at the George R Brown Convention Center. Register or become a vendor at iyogadayhouston.org

Raye Lynn Rath, owner of The Yoga Institute in Clear Lake and Houston said, “There seems to be way more cohesiveness within the yoga community in Houston, more appreciation for what each teacher/studio has to offer and a much bigger collective community that is showing up for workshops, trainings and events, and it is really good to see.”

Houston is now a mecca for yoga in the USA where east truly meets west. “Presence is the way we experience true connection – with ourselves, with each other and with the power that holds us all – Love,” said Rath, “I think that the International Day of Yoga is evidence of this and will also contribute to its growth. It is a breath of fresh air.”

We hope to see our community support and join in the metaphor representing diversity and union, letting Yoga become a part of each of our lives as we unite in one common goal – to bring awareness to the world about yoga’s rich offerings handed down to us from thousands of years ago by the great saints and rishis of our time. Namaste’