“Namaste, brother” says Chaitanya, a pudgy, rosy-cheeked man from Charlotte, North Carolina, smiling broadly at me and my friend Alison. He wears a sleeveless orange tank top and white cotton balloon pants. He tells us the moniker was bestowed on him after an elaborate naming ceremony conducted on the banks of the holy river Ganges, in the north Indian city of Rishikesh. He paid 10,000 rupees to a Hindu priest for the conversion from Keith to Chaitanya. “Only a $150 for a whole new life man! It’s a steal if you think about it.”
Convergence of an existing ‘fitness fad’ amongst India’s aspirational middle class with the #HumFitTohIndiaFit social media campaign as a precursor to the International Yoga Day, has helped to convert an exclusionary and violent somatic nationalism of the RSS into a secular principle. This appeals greatly to the Indian middle-class. It allows India Inc. to feel the rush of patriotic sentiment without having to get its hands dirty in a refurbished akhada. It allows those of us who live in comfortable high-rises with attached gyms and swimming pools to smell our own sweat and feel incredibly proud for having performed an immensely patriotic act.
This is lifestyle patriotism of the most insidious variety. It turns citizens into consumers, yoga into a collapsed 5-minute workout video, and the very real issue of both individual health as well as the health of a vast citizenry into nothing more than a social media gimmick.
It was that day I realized that unknowingly I was subscribing and preaching the very form of yoga I find so repelling; and that is yoga which is rigid and fixed. Comfortable in my usual routine, I had forgotten that one of the most essential trait to be a yoga teacher, is the ability to mould the ancient practice in a form that will benefit all, be free of judgment, religion and politics.