If you practice yoga in black panties and bra, is it still yoga? How about if you perform several vinyasas in front of a camera, just avoiding a full-on crotch shot, and they post it on the corporate site for Equinox fitness gyms? Is that yoga?
It’s not yoga, says Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu America Foundation to the Washington Post, whose Lisa Miller asks rather grandly, Who Owns Yoga?
I would suggest, writes Miller, that this tension in the West between “corrupt” and “pure” religion is perennial, going back at least to the era before Jesus, when Jewish sects were at war over who, exactly, was sufficiently holy to perform the sacred duties at God’s Temple in Jerusalem.
So that’s why they put Jesus in a loincloth?
I would suggest that it’s simpler than that: sex sells gym memberships. Just the way a link to the Equinox video at the head of Miller’s article sells readers. But don’t confuse body envy and endorphin high with religious yearning.
“It’s hard to whitewash an entire genre of yoga,” New York City yoga teacher Eddie Stern tells Miller. “The people who are going to a gym yoga class are going because they hear the word ‘yoga.’ They’re not going to spinning, or aerobics.” In other words, they’re looking for something. “And what we have is really, really good, and powerful and deep. Really, really deep.”
It’s part of what almost 20 years ago Robert Bellah in Habits of the Heart called “Sheila-ism” from a woman, Sheila, who made up her own religion with little pieces of whatever came her way. French sociologist Danielle Hervieu-Leger calls it bricolage, French for “do-it-yourself.
Sometimes beautiful bodies, and the desire to have one, turn out to be merely the lamb chop in the window of religious experience.