The odd relationship: Yoga and a consumer culture

At  the inaugural international conference on yoga for holistic health in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned against turning yoga into a commodity.  He stated: “Turning yoga into a business will do immense damage to it. Yoga is not a commodity, yoga is not a brand. It belongs to the whole world…there should not come a day when we see boards and banners proclaiming — ‘This is where real yoga is taught’.

There is valid reasoning behind the Prime Minister’s caution;  Yogic philosophy does not teach materialism in the form of economic growth or how to gain monetary profit. Neither does it state to  provide or purchase accessories such as; props, fashionable clothing, mats, luxury retreats and workshops. Nor  do we even need to contract to a  studio membership so that we may live & practice yoga. In fact,  the very nature of yoga philosophy rejects these pillars of consumer culture. Yet  the unfolding of Yoga in the West  continues to be largely influenced by and  thriving as a commodity of the financial capitalist system.

Yoga is now coined as an industry, an economy driven by capital. From this perspective Yogic philosophy has  been usurped by materialistic principles that at the core create division & inequality.  Which put profit before people, nature, wisdom, spirituality & culture. These principles are the complete antithesis  of the ethics of living yoga. Perhaps this is what PM Narendra Modi was alluding to.

Yoga as an Industry has seen that, in true capitalist form it is mostly corporations that are getting really rich off yoga. However,  the hypocrisy of the yoga industry trend comes down to the  consumer, in this case spending momentum spurred by the eager Yoga student.

The mighty consumer,  the habitual spender that keeps  the entire  capitalist system propped up, whom without, consumptive capitalist culture would cease to exist.  It is both complex & intriguing that yoga consumers in the US alone fuel an estimated 27 billion dollar market. Yet the living ethics of Yoga teach austerity, non-possessiveness, restraint, self-discipline, non-excess.

A contentious &  obvious contradiction, which suggests that many  on the Yoga path  are  missing the point….

Yoga will never be a panacea  or cure for consumer  lifestyle, nor will it be ethical as long as it is tiered to the same thinking and systems that are materially minded only. Systems designed purposely to create competition, division, inequality, hoarding, slavery & poverty and the many  other social problems & contradictions which exist within a materialist consumer society.

Due to  the ethical origins of yoga philosophy, those on the Yogic path may find themselves in a contrived position. A position which sees many  profiting or consuming  through  yoga, in a way which    precariously enables  economic systems & types of thinking,  designed to oppress (bandha).  Ideologies that swing away from spirtiual liberation (moksha)  non-excess, austerity or non-possessiveness and are  ironically, often the very  reasons  people  seek yoga in the first place.

Yoga as industry  infiltrated by the ultimate consumer machine; advertising. The senses relentlessly exposed to  impressions through every available marketing medium, feed story’s such as:  “we are not good enough,  we need to be fixed”.

As a result, Yoga  & Meditation  have  become the ultimate poster  child for a multi billion dollar natural health industry, appealing to all; oppressed and elite, under and over worked. Presented as the antidote to  imbalance,  over-stimulation, undernourished & disconnect from nature.  All consequences of societies valuing  economic materialism first.

The promise of Yoga, Meditation or Guru have been repackaged and sold back  to us as ways to alleviate the inflicted suffering of materialism, by the same thinking that creates it in the first place. The premium price tag now paid to attend a class or workshop and the demand for teaching training, driven  by the consumer appetite for  the magical yoga & meditation cure alongside designer & luxury yoga anything sees many Yoga  providers, studio owners & teachers teetering or over the edge of economic servitude  & profit before people, compelled to offer yoga as a business, because that is what is expected in a material culture.

How  are  we profiting from yoga? Is it in way that is  aligned with the ethics of living yoga? These are questions we should be asking ourselves while embarking on the yogic path within a capitalist culture.  Do we operate in a way that is aligned with the principles of  capitalism, masked as yoga? Are we offering yoga services to pay down compounding interest on a student loan which supports  the  global  banking and debt money system?  Are we taking more financially & ecologically than we really need? Are we using yoga to seek ownership,  consume or possess more than what is required to live?

In effect; how  and what does it take to  earn a livelihood from yoga? Is it ethical to do so without falling into a contradiction of the philosophy to which we teach or follow.

The boundaries can get blurry, as  we tell ourselves it is necessary and aligned  to make  a profitable living from yoga within a culture that is efficient at selling us more than we actually need.  Or to profit from something that is inherently good & peaceful is  karmic-ally sweet, in a culture that is oppressive & dysfunctional.     However in our doing so, are we simply  continuing to  support economic & societal systems that could be changed. Does this behavior damage the essence of yoga?

Yoga is a true panacea in a  consumer culture for people who can distinguish between; providing yoga services or practicing  as a mask to obtain spiritual fulfillment through profit and those who consciously follow an authentic marriage of spirituality & livelihood.

If we act on the the premise that yoga is the antithesis of consumer capitalism,  if we are acting from our true spiritual selves;  do we really need to offer or attend a  luxury retreat in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica  or Bali? How do the Tamil and Balinese people truly feel about yoga mass-tourism? Is it essential that  we expend large sums of money to lease a  studio or pay for a  membership?  Who and what are we really  supporting when  we do so?  What are we supporting when we buy designer yoga clothing,  do we really  need this market? How does the reality of  owning  a yoga studio actually stand up to the ethics of  the  Yama’s & Niyama’s?

If all Yoga/meditation providers & students in the world,  were to ‘truth-fully discern’ in the way that the ethics of these philosophies suggest. Would Yoga be an industry or used for commodity?

Yoga is in fact  priceless. it is for all of humanity and the world. Not something to be bought and sold as commodity.  It’s essence, if offered with integrity, can offer creative solutions that free us from the systems of oppression,  those qualities that the fierce goddess  Devi Kali  cuts  with her sword, her necklace of skulls  the gruesome symbol for freedom from sense slavery among other things.

As  students  of the Yogic path we have a responsibility to  honour its  wisdom & knowledge.  All students have the ability to  develop spiritual magnetism & nectar from a devoted, sacred, personal & disciplined practice. Who,  in return offer this nectar back into the world, in ways which foster new paths & paradigms of thinking for equality, healthier & harmonious communities and create a prospering, ethical way of life.

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