Given that we see yoga practically everywhere we turn, from strip-mall yoga studios to advertisements for the Gap, one might assume a blanket acceptance of yoga as an acceptable consumer choice. Yet, a growing movement courts fear of the popularization of yoga, warning that yoga is essentially Hindu.
Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) was a nineteenth-century Hindu reformer, missionary to the United States, and Indian nationalist who constructed and disseminated a system of modern yoga, which he called raja yoga. Yoga insiders and certain scholars of the history of yoga have frequently identified him as the “creator” or “father” of modern yoga, but that is just not accurate.
Nearly all of us who live in urban areas across the world know someone who “does yoga” as it is colloquially put. And should we choose to do it ourselves, we need not travel farther than a neighborhood strip mall to purchase a yoga mat or attend a yoga class.
Many outsiders to contemporary popularized yoga profoundly trivialize it by reducing it to a mere commodity of global market capitalism and to impotent borrowings from or “rebrandings” of traditional, authentic religious products. In other words, according to this account, popularized yoga can be reduced to mere commodities meant to fulfill utilitarian needs or meet hedonistic desires.