Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Yoga

Nadia Gilani
Yoga has become exclusive, elitist and at anywhere up to £20 a class, expensive.

Yoga is high on the agenda in terms of what it means to live well these days. Once an underground pastime held in church halls and community centres, yoga studios are now jostling for space on high streets, roof-tops and at festivals across the world.  

Yoga might save your mind, body and spirit, but not until it’s taken all your money. It’s become exclusive, elitist and, at anywhere up to £20 a class, expensive. But this modern yoga isn’t quite what it was meant to be when the practice first emerged in ancient India around 5,000 years ago. The old yoga was intended to be a method for self-inquiry and meditation. Yet, the new practice we have today appears to have become a trendy, self-serving, fitness-focussed activity. 

On social media, yoga is presented as a panacea to all ills, but this hasn’t been the case for me over the decades since I first stepped on a mat in a creaky east London gym in 1996. None of my teenage peers had heard of it back then – it was regarded as a strange thing to do.   

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Since then, I’ve witnessed how a relatively unpopular (in the West) practice, has transformed into a multimillion-dollar, wellness espousing industry, that’s led yoga astray. You know a culture is in trouble when it has become dominated by (white) people who have boiled it down to a handful of clichés, obscuring most of what it is meant to be about.

Yoga these days has trappings: plant-based diets, strappy crop-tops, and yoga-as-soft-porn via bikini bodies doing handstands on beaches. It’s intensely painful for me to see yoga – a practice that is deeply personal for me...

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