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  • Writer's pictureBrandy Berlin

Beyond the Celebrations: Examining the Intricacies of International Yoga Day


Below the Surface

I know you’ve heard it, but it bears repeating, the importance of healthy skepticism and critical thinking when it comes to yoga and its associated claims will save ya some heartbreak, I tell ya. So, let’s begin this practice by addressing something you are probably not personally, emotionally or financially attached to — the specific context of International Yoga Day and the complexities surrounding this global celebration. While International Yoga Day may seem like only a positive and unifying event on the surface, it is crucial to critically examine its origins, motives, and implications to gain a comprehensive understanding of why you're doing 108 salutations or liking or making a post promoting International Yoga Day — on the Summer Solstice — because the United Nations voted to claim and coattail that auspicious day.


Global Harmony or Cultural Dominance?

International Yoga Day, proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and adopted by the United Nations in 2014, has gained significant popularity as a global celebration of yoga. However, it is essential to consider the political, social, economic, and religious factors that led to its proposal. Critics argue that the Hindi nationalist movement and Modi's government had ulterior motives, using International Yoga Day to legitimize and glorify yoga as a means to further their cause and project India's cultural dominance.

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“Oh, I don’t know about all that, I just love how yoga makes me feel.”


“Oh, I don’t get into politics, and…. my yoga isn’t political.”

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Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Exchange?

One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the Western orientalism and its role in the acceptance and popularity of yoga. While the practice of yoga originated in ancient India, the mainstream adoption of yoga in Western societies raises real concerns about cultural appropriation. Critics argue the commodification and detachment of yoga from its spiritual and cultural roots dilutes its essence, turning it into a trendy commodity. It is important to engage in discussions that address the potential implications of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation associated with the global acceptance of yoga, including International Yoga Day.


Yoga for All, But at What Cost?

International Yoga Day has been criticized for potentially diverting attention away from pressing human rights violations, specifically the treatment, oppression, and murder of Muslims in India.

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Wait, what??

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Critics argue that by focusing solely on yoga and promoting it as a solution to global challenges, there is a risk of overshadowing critical issues that demand immediate attention. It is essential to maintain a balance between celebrating yoga's benefits and addressing human rights concerns, ensuring that International Yoga Day does not become a mere distraction from the pressing issues faced by religious and ethnic minorities.


Yoga as Soft Power

Soft Power is a term used in international relations and means the ability to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment, and it invites us to consider another point of contention revolving around the perceived Hindu nationalist agenda behind the promotion of yoga, including International Yoga Day. Critics argue that Modi's government seeks to project India's cultural dominance and promote Hindu values globally. This assertion raises concerns about the potential use of International Yoga Day as a platform to showcase India's cultural heritage and assert its influence, potentially overshadowing the political and social issues faced by regions like Jammu and Kashmir. The revocation of the region's special autonomous status and subsequent human rights concerns further complicate the perception and impact of International Yoga Day.


If you’re a “Wait, what??” know you’re not alone.


If you’re a “My yoga isn’t political”, I challenge that.


If you are going to reap the benefits of this international practice perhaps there is a chance to see how this practice may be being used nefariously and effecting others closer to the source of it?


Cuz, we are all connected, right?!? We believe in kindness and compassion, right?!


Or you could pick and choose what parts of yoga serve YOU and breathe slowly through stickyourfingersinyourearsasana?


It’s a choice about what relationship you choose to have with ‘your’ yoga practice.



The Need for Critical Engagement

International Yoga Day, as a global celebration, provides an opportunity for individuals and societies to engage critically with the complexities surrounding yoga. I argue it is essential to acknowledge and understand the multifaceted nature of yoga's impact on individuals, communities, and society at large.


Or you can just grab it and growl. After all, it’s ‘your’ yoga practice, right?!?


But maybe just maybe, by cultivating a culture of critical engagement and open dialogue, we can navigate the potential pitfalls and ensure that our support for International Yoga Day aligns with the values of inclusivity, social justice, and respect for different cultures and diversity.


My Prayer

Divine Spirit, if we choose to celebrate International Yoga Day, may it be a reminder not only to engage in the physical practice of yoga but also to engage in thoughtful introspection, open dialogue, and a commitment to social justice.


By questioning the authenticity, legitimacy, truthfulness, and trustworthiness of sources and claims associated with International Yoga Day, may we navigate the fine line between appreciating the positive aspects of yoga and acknowledging the potential harm that can arise from its misrepresentation or diversion of attention.


Through a critical examination of this global awareness event, let us ensure that our support for this celebration aligns with our values, promotes inclusivity, and contributes to a more informed and mindful engagement with yoga and its profound impact on individuals and communities worldwide.


May we use our healthy skepticism and critical thinking skills to promote a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of yoga, its cultural significance, and its impact on personal well-being and society. Let it be so. Aho.


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