Hey There! My name is Stephany and I am currently a freshman at Humboldt State University thinking about pursuing a major in Religious Studies. I welcome and thank all readers for taking their time to read my cultural anthropological religious case study. Before jumping in on my empirical data and analytical process (Wk 15, Objectives), I will first be telling you a little bit about myself. I am a proud Xicana seeking to improve La Raza and create tolerance in the world. I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, but chose to come up north because I wanted a change in perspective on what truly is important, cultural enrichment. While attending Humboldt State, I have found my passion, religious studies. I find it interesting learning what religious people think, believe, know, feel, and experience. I can later apply that knowledge to contemporary issues such as “today’s worldwide religious war” (Krissman, Wk. 10) since more people are killed in the name of their god(s) than for any other reason (Krissman, Wk. 11).
During my first semester at Humboldt State University, I had finally experienced the meaning of diversity. Everyone coexisting in this open environment where different perspectives are encouraged. The college had been my incentive in life, I’ve always wanted to go to college. However, once I got here I had no idea what my next step in life would be. Had it not been for the World Religions course I had taken that semester, I still wouldn’t know what to do. I now know how dangerous religious illiteracy can be and how it could be used as a power source. I plan to continue on growing (mentally) and see what other passions of mine emerge. During my free time, I like to listen to music, travel, and garden.
I plan to do my two comparative case studies on the American perception of yoga versus the significance/meaning of yoga in Hinduism. I decided to choose the topic of Yoga because of its continuous increase of popularity in western culture. I will be covering the various different teaching styles in America compared to the “teacher-student” dynamic in Hinduism. Secondly, I will be comparing the various reasons of “why” people in America practice yoga and comparing it to three types of yoga within “Hinduism; Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma, all of which require a starting point based on morality” (Prothero, 137). Thirdly, I will be talking about the influences yoga has had on fashion in America compared to the Sutras and Mantras accompanied with yoga in Hinduism. I will be conducting my research analysis on participant observation, interviews, CA2 (Cultural Anthropology 2 Book) and any outside credible source such as an article or journal post.
Growing up in an advanced capitalist society, my whole life has been subjective to the roles of media in which they have exemplified the rise of religion. I was enculturated (Krissman’s word for “brainwashed) into believing that if I was a follower of religion’s dogmatic ways, my freedom and safety would be taken away from me. However I have come to build my own hypothesis on religion in where I believe, religious illiteracy is far more dangerous than religion because it puts a barrier between ignorance and tolerance. Religion (a universal) is a source of ethnic identity and can unite and divide, just like language and (upcoming) “race” and nationality (Krissman, Wk.11). My current cultural anthropology education has presented the evolution of religious practices from all around the world. Anthropologists have studied the evolution of religious practice. Cultures have been known to modify a traditional belief from another, which may be borrowed through the “diffusion” from the subculture that may come to be appreciated for their different worldview (Spradley and McCurdy 2012; 256, 257).
Western nations are undergoing a revitalization movement, undergoing the construct of making a culture more satisfying. Wanting to emphasize on a more personal spiritual quest rather than becoming an exclusive member in as organized religion (Spradley and McCurdy 2012; 256, 257). Western societies have altered the spiritual significance of yoga that originated in eastern societies. During the late 19th and early 20th century, a new era of open consciousness towards Eastern religions commenced in the United States (Prothero, 167).
John Bodley argues that primitive cultures “are totally different from our own” and that they “represent an almost total contrast in adaptive strategy to our own unproven cultural experiment” (Beyond Counterculture 81). That being said, is it okay to “adapt” yoga from Eastern cultures and alter it, disregarding the religious scriptures and Vedas that surrounds it in India. Primitive religions and worldviews include ideas that express the interdependence and identity of these people with the natural world (Beyond Counterculture 81). Consumerist societies have modernized/white-breaded traditional yoga.
In Nepal, men become Sadhus to devote themselves to achieving moksha or liberation through the practice of yoga as an act of penitence. This same practice is being used by corporations who have altered it into something profitable. There are yoga mats, towels, and clothes which have no traditional significance behind it. In my following posts, I will have had gathered information and personal experiences from people who have traveled to India and have seen the yoga culture and compare it to that of here.
Today, nearly 20 million practitioners exercise yoga in America (Gregoire). Which is hard to believe since yoga did not virtually exist in our part of the world. The earliest use of the term yoga is found in India’s origin scriptures, the Vedas. These Vedic readings define “yoga” as a chariot. This later becomes incorporated into the war ideology in ancient India’s epic, the Mahabharata. This Sanskrit verse illustrates tales of heroic chariot warriors who ride on celestial yogas in order to cross between heaven and earth. Furthermore, the interpretation of the word yoga is taken to be understood as the connection between the self and body to the relationship between a rider and his chariot in the scripture, Kathak Upanisad (Prothero, 140).
The Hindu epic Bhagavad-Gita became possibly one of the first teachings to use the term yoga. This becoming systematic function will later be acknowledged by Hinduism as the universal goal of the religion, which is to break away from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara) and ultimately achieve samsara (moksha). Ultimately, yoga was practiced by exclusive male yogis/gurus in search of spiritual growth. Hindus developed three very different types of yogas, “the first developed by the priest and is described by the Vedas (Sanskrit text) is Karma Yoga which is the discipline of action. The second, and written down in the philosophical scripture of the Upanishad, Jana Yoga which is the discipline of wisdom. The third is, Bhakti Yoga is also known as the discipline of devotion” (Prothero, 157).
Yoga may be rooted in ancient India but has morphed into something new in North America today. Traveling from a far distance the traditional religious background surrounding yoga is being overlooked by advanced capitalist nations; who use it as a form of exercise and fashion. What I’m asking is, to what extent is it okay for another nation to exploit another country’s culture?
America was first introduced to yoga by Indian Hindu Monks; generating a sudden increase of interest. This welcoming many other Yogis and Swamis from India to share their knowledge behind the mysticism of yoga. Spiritual teacher and author of American Vedas, Philip Goldberg tells The Huffington Post. “Ever since the ideas of yoga came here in book form and then the gurus started to arrive, it’s all been a question of how do you adapt these ancient teachings and practices, modernize them and bring them to a new culture, without distorting or corrupting them, or diluting their effect? That’s really the key issue here” (Gregoire).
World traveler Arundhati Baitmangalkar, writes in his blog the differences between yoga in the U.S. and India, “Coming from a traditional yoga background, I often found myself annoyed and upset, but soon learned to ignore the eccentric ideas that have borrowed the name of yoga” (Baitmangalkar). Consequently, of course, a cultures conception on a tool will be altered when practiced in a different culture. Modern yoga teachers can now go to school and learn from other “certified” yoga practitioners. This leading to people not feeling like they’re “getting what they paid for” several westerners will travel to India in search of authenticity. Granted, that they are willing to pay big bucks, Indian gurus will take advantage of the situation and rather than show them the traditional sacred meaning of yoga, these gurus often teach various life lessons on humanity and equality to relate to their western customers. Americans are comfortable with yoga as a non-religious physical endeavor. Hence avoiding all sacred traditional text and customs.
Arundhati Baitmangalkar accepts the different variety of yoga in the west because at the end of it all “The paths we take towards yoga are many, but in the end, they all unite. No path is higher or inferior to another” (Baitmangalkar). Here in the west, yoga presently connotes a form of physical exercise. This is more correctly called Hatha Yoga or the ‘yoga of compulsion’. Which compels the body to obey you. We need to evolve with the world as it has with us.
Many Americans, mostly those who seek stress relief or exercise have incorporated yoga into their daily lives. Now available on hundreds of yoga websites, DVD’s, books, and even schools on the different “poses” of yoga has brought it to the next level of commercializing it. Is it okay for people to profit off of this? It not only ends there but the fashion that also goes behind it. Yoga clothing has over populated the realm of relaxation. Baitmangalkar says, “In India, people show up in very casual comfortable everyday clothes for a class. They do not spend a lot of money accessorizing themselves to look good in class. After all, yoga is about detaching from the body and senses” (Baitmangalkar). There is no necessary form of clothing needed for practicing yoga.
The transformation of yoga throughout the world has brought great change to the way we shape our life. India’s evolution from Chiefdom to State has changed the culturally unified population into a highly stratified system (Krissman Wk 3) making it highly complicated to address not only social issues like the environment, poverty, unemployment etc.. but also its ancient history and yoga culture. Americans now use yoga as a way to transform their lives whether it be spiritual enlightenment or in search of physical activity. Knowing the origins allows people to coexist with the cultural evolution that’s happening in our world.
To end in short, I will conclude my blog post by summarizing the overall analysis on two different yoga cultures that is separated by religion and sea. Media has played a role in where they have manipulates their audience by romanticizing and horrifying Eastern Societies for what they truly are, a coexisting diverse community. Origins of religions are unknown, but theories about functions, cult evolution, and effects of religious practices (CA2). The process of researching and writing my blog post throughout the semester has helped me build my own hypothesis on religion that has led me to believe that being illiterate towards the religious culture that surrounds our world, will forever be a bearer between ignorance and tolerance. One of the biggest dangers in identifying to a particular institution, such as Catholic or Mormon, is that it can both “unite and divide a culture, just language, race, and nationality” (Krissman Wk 11). I kept asking myself what it would be like if it were my religious practices that were being appropriated into an exercise and fashion. Origins of religions are unknown, but theories about functions, cult evolution, and effects of religious practices (CA2). Not only that but the constant marginalization and generalization these common practitioners subside under.
In the end, my overall goal is to share this knowledge and hope that my readers have learned something and can use this information to bring awareness to the world. As I have about the dangers of drawing certain aspects of traditions can lead to cultural appropriation. We need to honor peoples self-identification and respect peoples cultural traditions.