Yoga Changed My Life, But I'm Squirming At Its Politicized Celebration

20/06/2015 6:29 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
STRDEL via Getty Images
India's Madhya Pradesh state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (C) joins schoolchildren in a mass 'Surya Namaskar' yoga exercise in Bhopal on January 12, 2012. Some 1.6 million people including school students joined a sun worship exercise January 12 in an Indian state which seeks to set a world record in such a mass event, the organisers said. A spokesman for Madhya Pradesh state government said 620,000 students were among those who rallied for 'Surya Namaskar' -- obeisance to the sun -- programme to try and set a new Guinness World Record. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Self-care, in times like ours, is a revolutionary act. Now that I introduce myself as a 'yogi' to people (notwithstanding all the stereotypes that come attached with the term), I think it worth the while to talk at length of my yoga practice, the only space-and-time I am the most unapologetically myself. For the past two years I have been practicing hatha yoga full time. By the very fact that I have continued consistently and am writing this piece, one could attest to my 'faith' in it.

However, it is not spiritual faith that I am here to espouse. What I want to express is how yoga has been a material happening for me. In a philosophical age that swears by materialism, and in a nation currently under the throes of religious frenzy, run by a government that threatens to appropriate spirituality to the Hindutva agenda, it becomes important to speak out against and to clear all the misunderstandings (even at the risk of being deemed defensive). This piece is neither a case for 'scientization' of myth or spirituality, which many right-wing pragmatists are guilty of; nor is it a romanticization of Indian traditions; it is rather just a grateful testimony to the journey towards physical, mental and emotional well-being that has begun for me through my practice.

"Yoga is not something to celebrate, least of all to 'nationalise' and politicise; it is something to be."

When younger, I was a sickly child, and I grew up battling recurrent infections and allergies. Having experienced an overhaul of physical and mental health recently, I proudly attribute my current state of contentment, health and joy to my disciplined practice, and I claim that it is the best time of the day for me. It is not merely because to strike each pose is an energetic experience of bliss in itself. It is also because that one hour of practice spreads out and disperses itself through my days, transforming my life in subtle but beautiful ways. It has changed me to the extent that I have become yoga. I do not mean to sound mystic here. I only mean that with time, who I am on the mat expands to who I am in real life. When I decide each time to lift myself back up on falling out of a pose; it makes me love my body in all its fallibility; it makes me award and honour my body when it shows me how beautifully it can adapt to changes and do wonders. More importantly, with that capacity for self-compassion has come the capacity to be unconditionally compassionate to those around me; I find myself smiling at strangers, trying to understand everyone in their situation and building solidarity with all at a much quicker pace. In that desire to change the world, one thing at a time, my practice has made me better equipped with health, self-belief and most of all, love.

Without going into descriptive detail of what yoga does to the body and what it is, I would just say what it is not! Yoga is not about becoming slim or beautiful. It is also not about trying to be 'cool' or 'hippie'. It is, in fact, about making peace with your body type and learning to not give a damn about standards of beauty that are not set by yourself! Yoga is not competitive; quite the contrary, in fact. It is the life-affirming realization of perfection in imperfection; the feeling that one is complete as they are. Yoga is not something to celebrate, least of all to 'nationalise' and politicise; it is something to be. To exceptionalise and celebrate yoga is to forget its principle of everyday consistency. The last thing yoga needs, therefore, is one specific glorifying day earmarked on the calendar.

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