Chicago’s Unexpected Yoga Boom: A Cultural Deep Dive in the middle of a crowded public park or on a matt in front of a room full of YouTube followers, it’s hard to avoid encountering yoga. As a practice that combines the physical with the spiritual, its popularity is undoubtedly growing. But yoga’s spread is not without controversy. As an anthropologist who specialises in culture, Philip McKenzie is well equipped to look beneath the surface and understand its complexities. In this episode of Deep Dive, he takes us through his three-part series looking at the impact of yoga and its influence on contemporary Western culture.
Om Sweet Om: Exploring Chicago’s Unforeseen Yoga Renaissance
One of the most controversial aspects of yoga is what’s called cultural appropriation. Using a tradition from a marginalised group to profit your own group is the essence of this form of colonisation, argue US academics Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff. This takes the form of either ignoring yoga’s roots and history, or, more subtly, treating it as a simple exercise. The latter, argues yoga instructor Mark Singleton, is what happened when the Hindu yoga teacher Krishnamacharya adopted Western body-focused fitness and gymnastics training into his teachings.
The YouTube yogi Adriene Mishler, who runs the popular Yoga With Adriene channel, walks this fine line between respectful practice and harmful cultural appropriation by using correct Sanskrit terms and bringing essential philosophies of humility and gratitude into her classes. But she’s also promoting her brand through the sale of yoga mats, clothing and other merchandise emblazoned with icons and symbols that may be perceived as stereotypical.