The Overuse of the Word “Namaste”

Women practicing yoga in a class

In the last year, I’ve gotten much more into yoga having tried Bikram, power and vinyasa flow yoga. There is a yoga for everything including a new craze called “Broga”. Yes, I’m serious.

And while I love each yoga class for the physical strength I build and the ease of mind I achieve at the end, I can’t help but feel frustrated every time my instructor ends class with the mispronounced “nAM-ass-stay”.

How can I practice yoga with someone who wears shoes in front of a Ganesha idol and can’t pronounce any of the asanas? And I can’t help but think that the Lululemon-wearing girl next to me is perhaps the same girl who commented on the “smelly” lunch my mom packed me for in middle school.

Yoga is not about $100 yoga pants that make your butt look good. And while yoga has roots in my religion, Hinduism, it has been rebranded over and over again and is largely secular now. I have no problem with yoga being open to those of all beliefs. Hinduism is an open and non-judgmental faith.

But what I do have a problem with is everyone’s lack of knowledge of the roots of their practice. I have a problem with my Gods being plastered on everything “hippie”. There is literally a huge Ganesha tapestry at my local thrift store. The practice, savvy marketers have claimed, is “a spiritual path but not a religious one” – all in an attempt to assuage the committed Christian who wants to hang on to Jesus while doing the surya namaskara (obeisance to the sun).

I don’t expect yoga to preach Hinduism but the world needs a little schooling. Dr. Aseem Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation states that Hinduism had become a victim of “overt intellectual property theft, made possible by yoga teachers who had offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.”

There, having the mind actively focused upon a single point, with thought and sense activity controlled, sitting on a seat, one should practice yoga for purification of the self. With an aligned body, head, and neck-keeping these steady, without movement. Focusing the vision toward the tip of one’s nose without looking about in any direction.
-Bhagavad Gita 6.12-13

The Vedas emphasized the dhyana (mental) aspect of yoga as the most important aspect, as opposed to the asana (physical) component. By focusing on one’s breathing, one can stay in the present and relieve themselves of outside influences both negative and positive. This kind of meditation is central to Hinduism.

Yoga has incredible health benefits. But simply throwing around “Om” cannot suddenly make you a more peaceful person if you do not understand the divinity of the word. Western adaptations of the ancient tradition such as Broga are welcome by me as long as it is accompanied by consciousness and respect for the true roots of the practice.

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Related:
To Be or Not To Bindi

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Aria Srinivasan

Aria Srinivasan

Financial analyst trying to use her know-how to make the world a slightly better place. Travel addict and beauty not-so-guru.

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15 comments
Pandit
Pandit

My basic response here is: try to see the bigger picture. Mainstream Canada and America is, by and large, only coming to be exposed to Indian culture since around the 1960s. And yes, most of that through high visibility things like Bollywood, spelling bees, and yoga studios. But historically, the 1960s is like yesterday.

The road to greater understanding and sharing between these cultures is going to be a long one, and of course along the way there will continue to be specific incidents that are distasteful/disrespectful/ignorant, etc. To get enraged every time it happens is to get caught up in the temporary bumps along the way, and losing sight of the ultimate destination. I'm not saying to ignore incidents, and when there are serious crimes and emotional injury, yes of course that deserves attention.

We are the early generations of Tamil-Canadians and Americans. We're also a tiny, tiny percentage of the population (I know this is not so apparent in Scarborough, but it's easy to forget how there are long stretches of this country where isn't a Tamil for hundreds of miles). We need to adjust our expectations in proportion to the historical and demographic facts of our time.

In other words, we have to play the long game here. It's going to take years and years of each of us individually interacting with Canadians and Americans of other ethnicities to gradually spread a wider, deeper, and more complex appreciation of who we are and where we come from. In the meantime, stupid annoyances will come up but if we understand the long term strategy, we don't have to get so upset at it.

The side that is willing to be patient and overlook things is the enlightened one, and the side that will be more likely to succeed in its aims. The saying in spiritual circles is: "It is better to choose to be kind rather than right." And that's not some airy-fairy, goodie-two-shoes platitude, that is a practical and incredibly effective way of enacting change. You don't forget what's right, but you do what will in fact be more likely to achieve what's right.

Johnrambo33
Johnrambo33

@ariasrinivasan @Pandit Just curious, why is it that there is some form of dislike about white men among educated brown women?  Could someone explain this to me? Just take a look at this magazine. The ones who write about white patriachy or some cultural appropriation happen to be brown,female,well-educated and career-driven women.


WHY?

ariasrinivasan
ariasrinivasan

@Johnrambo33 @ariasrinivasan @Pandit Hey, I actually never sensed that from this magazine, nor by any stretch of the imagination wanted to demonstrate that sentiment in this piece. I can't answer why because I have no idea! Sorry if you got that impression. 

ariasrinivasan
ariasrinivasan

@Johnrambo33 @ariasrinivasan @Pandit I don't see any mention of white men in any of them with the exception of the sexual harassment one. And the white people say to brown people is a parody.. nothing aggravated. The coachella one is about Kendall and Kylie Jenner for the most part. The bindi one focuses on Gwen Stefani and her friend... I don't get your point. 

Johnrambo33
Johnrambo33

@ariasrinivasan Oops. I thought you were Canadian.  I understand there is some element of racism in U.S. I don't see much in Canada, More about oversensitive pocs. 

Johnrambo33
Johnrambo33

@Pandit Loved your reply.  Most westerners especially the educated ones do take huge efforts to educate themselves about South Asian Culture. Its good as far as I am concerned.

Kaiji_Itou_
Kaiji_Itou_

What's interesting is also when people probe and find out that my parents are Tamil, the follow up is 'Tamil tigers' with a smirk.


I just shrug it off and divert the topic to a different light. 


As Pandit mentioned, the way our individual peeps interact will leave a lasting impression on the Canadian sentiment.

ariasrinivasan
ariasrinivasan

@Pandit thanks for your thoughtful comment. I totally agree. One my Caucasian friends who is training to become a yoga instructor also pointed out that things need to adapt to stay relevant and cherished. Everything from religion, to foods, to yoga. As you are saying, perhaps, even with the distortion of it, it is better to get the culture exposed.  

Sean Velayuthan
Sean Velayuthan

My basic response here is: try to see the bigger picture. Mainstream Canada and America is, by and large, only coming to be exposed to Indian culture since around the 1960s. And yes, most of that through high visibility things like Bollywood, spelling bees, and yoga studios. But historically, the 1960s is like yesterday. The road to greater understanding and sharing between these cultures is going to be a long one, and of course along the way there will continue to be specific incidents that are distasteful/disrespectful/ignorant, etc. To get enraged every time it happens is to get caught up in the temporary bumps along the way, and losing sight of the ultimate destination. I'm not saying to ignore incidents, and when there are serious crimes and emotional injury, yes of course that deserves attention. We are the early generations of Tamil-Canadians and Americans. We're also a tiny, tiny percentage of the population (I know this is not so apparent in Scarborough, but it's easy to forget how there are long stretches of this country where isn't a Tamil for hundreds of miles). We need to adjust our expectations in proportion to the historical and demographic facts of our time. In other words, we have to play the long game here. It's going to take years and years of each of us individually interacting with Canadians and Americans of other ethnicities to gradually spread a wider, deeper, and more complex appreciation of who we are and where we come from. In the meantime, stupid annoyances will come up but if we understand the long term strategy, we don't have to get so upset at it. The side that is willing to be patient and overlook things is the enlightened one, and the side that will be more likely to succeed in its aims. The saying in spiritual circles is: "It is better to choose to be kind rather than right." And that's not some airy-fairy, goodie-two-shoes platitude, that is a practical and incredibly effective way of enacting change. You don't forget what's right, but you do what will in fact be more likely to achieve what's right.

Sriram Pakeerathan
Sriram Pakeerathan

Claiming that yoga belongs to Hinduism—or even to India or South Asia, for that matter—assumes the origins and evolution of yoga as monolithic. Neither contemporary “yoga” nor “Hinduism” is age-old or homogenous. Actually, both were assembled in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in interaction with British colonial realities. Pankaj Mishra points out that many upper-caste Hindus were happy to collaborate with the British in shaping a Sanskritized “unified Hinduism” under brahmin hegemony:This British-brahmin version of Hinduism—one of the many invented traditions born around the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—has continued to find many takers among semi-Westernized Hindus suffering from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the apparently more successful and organized religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The Hindu nationalists of today, who long for India to become a muscular international power, stand in a direct line of nineteenth-century Indian reform movements devoted to purifying and reviving a Hinduism perceived as having grown too fragmented and weak. These mostly upper-caste and middle-class nationalists have accelerated the modernization and homogenization of “Hinduism.”Caste-privileged Hindu leaders, through violent domination, have culturally appropriated a variety of diverse sects, practices, beliefs and rituals that have existed for centuries. This history, of both European influence and brahmanic appropriation, holds true for yoga as well. It should not be assumed that all the Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or Sikh communities embrace brahmanical forms of yoga as part of their culture. Representing South Asia as the birthplace of a mythical homogeneous culture is a crusade of the chauvinistic upper-caste Hindus. We need to consciously learn about and highlight the rich, diverse cultures, histories, customs, and spiritual practices of the vast majority of people in South Asia, especially the Dalit and Adivasi communities who are continuing to struggle to keep their cultures alive. What we need is a constant challenge to the caste-privileged attempt to define Hindu, Indian, or South Asian culture as monolithic and theirs.Meera Nanda points out that the physical aspects of modern yoga as it is practiced today actuallywere hybridized with drills, gymnastics and body-building techniques borrowed from Sweden, Denmark, England, the United States, and other Western countries. These innovations were creatively grafted on the Yoga Sutras—which has been correctly described…as "the yoga canon for people who have accepted brahmin theology"—to create an impression of five thousand years worth of continuity where none really exists. The HAF’s current insistence is thus part of a false advertising campaign about yoga’s ancient Brahmanical lineage.How can something that is itself a product of appropriation and hybridization of a variety of cultures be accused of being culturally appropriated only now by “the West”? If that bit interests you, read the rest, which seems to be addressed more to the Indian and yoga communities. (http://shetterly.blogspot.ca/2014/02/yoga-was-culturally-appropriatedby.html)

Sriram Pakeerathan
Sriram Pakeerathan

"The Vedas emphasized the dhyana (mental) aspect of yoga as the most important aspect ... By focusing on one’s breathing, one can stay in the present and relieve themselves of outside influences both negative and positive." So don't focus on all the negative and practice your pure superior yoga? It isn't "your" Hinduism. It's everyone's fictional friend! Anyone can interpret it any way they want to. It's not like most people that cheer for the Raptors can dunk, swish 3s, and now the history of NBA. Just learn to accept you can't control the way others act, you can only control the way you act towards others. So to all you Yoga and cultural purists, just let it go. I'm sure y'all can pronounce everything on the Italian menu to perfection

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