Like most culture, Yoga is now political. What was once part of a route to spiritual liberation, the 5000-year old practice is now just a form of exercise. It has fallen prey to capitalism, and become a tool of social posturing, a fancy, an exoticism. Search “Yoga Lessons” on Youtube and count how many of the results are white. So here’s a list of South Asian yogis taking yoga out of its current mould. Perhaps this International Yoga Day, you might want to form a resolution to amp up your practice.
Many Instagram yogis have this lean, lithe body that’s borderline unattainable. Can yoga get you there? Who knows? But do you need that body to be a yogi? No way. And Jessica Rihal is proof. She’s the refreshing body-positive breath of fresh air we all need. She refers to herself as joy curator and radical self-acceptance motivator.
Here’s a controversial one: you either love her or you hate her, but either way, she’s, uh, not celebrating International Yoga Day. That’s Nadia Gilani, yoga teacher, author and The Yoga Dissident, for you. She does not shy away from serious talk about yoga and its discontents. Her practice, apart from having many ardent students, is radically authentic.
ABCD stands for Any Born Conscientious Desi. It’s a community with a magazine, podcast (called Yoga is Dead) and a yoga practice run by Tejal Patel. “I am a passionate advocate for the Indian American teacher in the Western offerings of yoga,” she writes. “I believe in diverse representation for all people of color…and create offerings that are inclusive, accessible for all body types, income and experience levels.” Pretty much sums it up.
Hersha Yoga is the real thing. She has grown up under the tutelage of Yoga Master Swami Satchinananda Saraswati. “It’s a discipline that helps anyone live a happier life,” Hong Kong-based Hersha writes. “I have seen many of my students save their marriages, reduce their dependency on mood-enhancers, speak their truth, believe in themselves more and have the courage to choose the path of peace…”
Pakistani Yogi Aliya Agha insists that you can lose weight with yoga. And you should take her word for it: she’s regional director of the World Yoga Federation in Pakistan. She’s lived and traveled in over two dozen countries to learn yoga. She believes in its power to help one transcend the physical realm. Through her academy, she offers training programs for every level of yogi: from the novice to the serious practitioner.