Why aren’t there more Indians at yoga class and more yogis in Temples?


Source: londonforfun.com I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Indian or Hindu person at a yoga class, sacred meditation or alternative festival. I hope my generalisation of Indian people isn’t offensive, what I mean is people of the Hindu faith, who perform pujas, celebrate divali, worship the Gods and have been raised in the Hindu faith.

My family have Hindu roots from my maternal grandfather, and whilst I haven’t been brought up in a Hindu or Indian culture (and I couldn’t look less Indian if I tried, thank you Irish/Eastern European genes for thwarting any hopes I might have of getting a tan!), it has always been there lurking in the background.

We go to our local Temple on occasion, and thinking about it now, my brother and I are the only ‘white’ people I remember seeing there. And now I’m wondering why there aren’t more white yogis there. The Temple that I’m thinking of is really nice, it’s quite majestic, it celebrates all the Hindu celebrations, seva is an active part of it, it has really good literature about Hinduism, there are Swamis who live there. It’s a proper Temple, if you catch my drift.

The Hindus who go there all seem to be ‘on their path’, they practice Bhakti Yoga, they read the Gita, I’m guessing some do yoga. But they seem to do it in private. There’s no chatting, no ‘what’s your practice?’, ‘have you seen this Guru, or been to that place?’. It’s a very quiet, devotional affair.

I’ve noticed a similar thing at Amma’s Darshan in London. Given that London, where I live and have seen her, is pretty multicultural to say the least, and has its fair share of yogis, yoga studios and alternative therapies, there is quite a mixture of people who go to see Amma.

The yogis, or Western devotees, can be spotted a mile off. Hippie pants, white clothes, malas, bindis. The standard new-age gear. The Indians and Hindus look much less obvious. Some of them wear saris, but I think that’s just how they dress, they’d wear a sari to go to the shops too. And the rest just wear their normal clothes, coming straight from school or work.

It doesn’t seem to be such a big deal to them, they get their ticket, they hang around, get their hug. And that’s it. There’s no ‘blissing out’, no trying to milk the moment, no need to talk about what they’ve experienced.

Given that yogis and Hindus apparently worship the same Gods, see the same people, read the same texts, I’m wondering why there isn’t more cross over in terms of locations and interests.

The same applies to the Hindus I knew at school. I went to the local State School, which was represented by just about every race, religion, country and language that you can think of. My own social group had a mix of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Hindus and Atheists, who all got on and believed what they believed without any issues (ahem, World take note, Hendon School in North London could be your global getting along without problems model!). There was never any talk of ‘paths’, or doing it right, no one discussed meditation or prayer at break time, we just lived our lives and did our ‘thing’ in a our free time.

The point that I’m stumbling towards, is if that 950 million Hindus can follow Hinduism with love and devotion, follow their Yoga path, pray, meditate and celebrate the Gods without needing a facebook page or studio in which to pray and practice, are we making a bit of a meal out of it?

To me, there seems to be quite a gulf between Western yogis who tour the world in search of Masters, spend a substantial amount of time and money on retreats, books, courses and classes, and live a ‘yogi lifestyle’, and the average Hindu who has Hinduism intertwining itself with their daily life. The Hindus I know seem to have Hinduism running their lives, whereas the yogis I know seem to have altered and changed their lives in order to follow the teachings.

Maybe the Hindus I’ve met aren’t into Enlightenment, perhaps they do a puja to Laksmi to help their business rather to clear karma, which could be compared to praying to Jesus for the same outcome. Maybe Western yogis do live a life closer to that prescribed by the ancient greats.

But I am wondering how much the yogi and the Hindu actually have in common. I’ve only ever been to one yoga class, at my local gym. In my defence, the class wasn’t particularly about consciousness or the Self, but I’m ashamed to say that a large part of what put me off was elderly Indian women being about a million times more flexible than me. But they did it in a very modest, way. No snazzy mats or clothes, just baggy clothes that allowed the body to move.

Has the Western mind hijacked Hinduism, and turned it into a social group, with leaders and followers, haves and have-nots?

I’d be interested to see how a devout Hindu and a devout yogi would get on. Would the Hindu think that the yogi was too snazzy and took themselves too seriously? Would the yogi think that the Hindu lacked devotion and commitment?

I really don’t know, this is more a wondering out loud kinda thing, rather than one with definitive answers, but I’m very interested to hear what you think. What’s the difference between a Hindu and a yogi? What do they have in common? And why don’t we see them together more often?!


About Jade Doherty

Oh my, 'about mes' are harder than they look! Hello, I'm Jade. Having been intrigued by this whole blog thing for a while I thought I'd give it a go. You can expect some sarcasm, mixed with some self-depreciation and, if we're lucky, topped off some interesting things to ponder. As my interests are pretty eclectic, it's likely that this blog will be too. My main interests are self inquiry, reading, Philosophy, watching crime TV shows that make me feel clever, football, looking at pretty pictures. Oh who am I kidding, my main interest is myself! So this blog will be about me, although I'm sure I'll find more subtle and refined ways to be self-indulgent! As a retired over-achiever, I'm trying to find what I enjoy, rather than what I'm good at. So far this includes drinking copious amounts of tea, having a laugh and writing. So get comfy, make yourself at home, and enjoy perusing my musings! xx

6 responses »

  1. I like this inquiry! As a studio owner and yoga student myself, I have always been interested in a quiet ongoing practice either at home or at a studio that I know has teachers who are dedicated to the same. I like to have the choice of practicing at home and sometimes I like to be surrounded by others doing yoga, not being “yogis” as you have defined.

    I think that you may have hit the nail on the head in saying that Hindus would think that Western yogis are too caught up in the superficial aspect of practice and not really understanding their yoga as a daily discipline that could lead to a life of quiet devotion and kindness to others.

    We like to say at our studio we are the yoga studio for people who DON’T do yoga. We offer programs that help people to access insight in regard personal growth, at their own timing, with no allegiance to us, but to themselves and their own development.

    Personally, I have always wanted to lead a quiet life surrounded by family and friends, teaching yoga and being in contact with people. I feel most alive and at my best when I am around others because I can get off myself and into a kind of awareness that fosters kindness as a practice. I don’t want to say too much more for fear of sounding like the folks you mention above but I think you understand what I am saying. Thanks for your insights and I look forward to reading more!

    • Hi Alice,

      Your yoga studio sounds lovely! That’s funny, a yoga studio for people who don’t so yoga!

      Oh please don’t be scared of sounding like someone I’m talking about! I think it’s great to have people around you, who are doing a similar thing to you! I’m so happy to have the people in my life who I feel I share something with. Plus, I don’t have to like everything that someone says or thinks!

      I really liked it every time you said ‘quiet’, there’s something so nice about quietly going about one’s business, with out making a song and dance about it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, I look forward to writing (and reading) more too!

      Jade xx

  2. I would just chalk it up to cultural differences. Not many Indians living in India practice asana; not many Western ‘yogis’ perform pujas. We just have a different way of praying and connecting with the Divine.
    Also, being a Hindu and being a yogi are two completely different things. There’s no reason a yogi should be Hindu, and vice-versa. Some of the greatest yogis of ancient times were Buddhists, after all. Religion is a cultural and social phenomenon whereas the discipline of yoga (in the most general sense, i.e. the path towards union of the limited self with the Unlimited Self) is a personal practice that a person of any background can undertake.

    Cheers! 🙂

    PS: Great headshot!
    PPS: What’s a boozal?

    • Hi Louise,

      True what you said about cultural differences. Guess the West has a different way of doing things! I do find it kinda funny how ‘we’ve’ created so much hype around yoga, when it’s been happening for thousands of years.

      But yeah, I a lot of it must be to do with the culture. We (be ‘we’ I mean EVERYONE in the West, not a stereotype at all, hehe) do like to do things out in the open, whereas Indians (again, BIG generalisation) do stuff more privately.

      Totally agree that it’s a path that anyone can take. I’m starting to get into the stuff that Jesus said about that, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you stuff. The union of the self with the self seems to be the kkey teachings of all religions.

      Thanks for your comment
      Jade xx

      ps. Thanks!
      pps. I’m a boozal! It’s a childhood nickname, but has kinda stuck. Sometimes I just feel like a boozal! I mean, it’s a really ancient, esoteric term for someone who drinks tea and self-inquires!

  3. i stumbled upon your blog and i love the topics you bring up. Topics that many of my “yogi” friends do not have the courage, or background, to discuss.

    In accordance with Louise, there is a difference between yogis and hindus, whereas yoga is just an all encompassing path to enlightenment (I know yogis who are Christian, Buddhist, some even strict Catholic!) and Hinduism is a more specific path.

    I also agree that yogis in the West has made the whole thing way too materialist and focused on the asana practice, which is only a small portion of the world that is yoga.

    That being said, we have to meet people where they are. If we were to take yoga straight from the caves in India to New York City, I doubt we would gather a large crowd. The ancient practice has molded into our current crazy society and although some might think of it as a shame, there is a beauty in that as well. At least now more people are becoming aware of what yoga is. and if they have true curiosity they WILL eventually find the inner depths of the practice.

    Anyway, i’m excited to follow your blog!!

    • Thanks Thais! I shall do my best to be a blog worthy of stumbing upon!

      Ever so true what you say about loin cloths in NYC, I guess things change to work in the enviroment that they’re in, and getting people through the door will eventually lead to something more.

      Jade xxx

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