#WhitePeopleDoingYoga  |  ARTIST STATEMENT

This piece is a reflection of my relationship, as an Indian American, with yoga and its migration to a new, Western context.

Not too long before moving to the Bay Area 7 years ago, I began to collect grass roots level mediation and yoga ephemera from the 1960s through to the 1980s. This era, particularly in the Bay Area, was when yoga started making a big impact on Western culture. I became interested in how yogic practice was
being mined and commercialized; in how the South Asian face of the discipline was being removed in the branding and portrayal of the practice and culture. Now, an image search for “Yoga” mainly returns images of white people in various poses,followed by images of dogs and cats doing the same.

This project is not about the individual pieces in my collection, but the overall voice that is put out in front of us, which is overwhelming and suffocating to me.

As you go through the exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, you will notice a sharp turn as yoga enters a new level of commercialization in the West. The $27 billion yoga industry has re-branded a complex and rich discipline to make it easier to sell yoga as a line of products. Brands like Lulu Lemon and Nike have started appropriating and trade-marking phrases, moves and clothing—aligning and embedding themselves in our understanding of yoga, while the South Asian face and voice is relegated to an exotic caricature—
cartoons, adoption of South Asian names by white Westerners, mystical creatures, Hindu gods. One archival study of seminal health and wellness magazine, Yoga Journal, found that over the course of two years “there was never a South Asian person on the cover, and less than 1% of content contributors were South Asian.”1 

The act of picking and choosing what works in popular Western contexts, while ignoring the remaining core philosophy and historic practice, shows an ironic attachment of one’s ego to a desire for ownership over an ancient practice that emerged from an altogether different, South Asian, tradition of material denouncement.

In the end, I feel compelled to draw parallels with industrial colonization by the same dominant voice that is now adding another conquest to its collection.  Meet the new founders of YOGA.

 1 [Roopa Singh, Esq., Archival study for the South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America, SAAPYA]