The cosmopolitan guru
DOI link for The cosmopolitan guru
The cosmopolitan guru book
The town of Rishikesh, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, is over 200 kilometers from Delhi, a half-day journey by train or road. And yet, despite this distance from a major international airport, the town has become known in recent decades as the yoga capital of the world. Its attraction for Westerners has increased along with the expansion of new forms of spirituality that emphasize personal experience over the conformity to external obligations often associated with ‘religion’ (Heelas and Woodhead 2005). Strauss (2005) has observed that yoga is a metonym for spirituality writ large and that its contemporary meanings and practice reflect modern transnational processes. Moreover, most Indians and non-Indians imagine spirituality as a quintessentially Indian trait and the country’s gift to the West (Strauss 2005: 8–11). As the practice of yoga has become increasingly hybridized, transnational, and commodified, its definition has become contested. Even as yoga is transformed into aerobic workout, dance, and stress relief therapy, it has retained some association with India and its religious traditions. The nature of this association has resulted in a battle over the origins and ownership of yoga postures and techniques, one involving the Government of India, the Hindu America Foundation and those seeking US patents on yoga techniques they claim to have invented. The conservative Hindu America Foundation has launched a Take Back Yoga campaign to demand that yoga’s debt to Hinduism be acknowledged by practitioners (New York Times Nov. 27, 2010), while the Government of India has initiated a project to document yoga techniques and postures in order to prevent the granting of international patents on traditional knowledge. 2 The cultural politics of yoga have intensified as its practice is embraced, transformed and appropriated.