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Hinduism in the West and Transformation of Yoga Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021


In a modern globalized world, cultures inherently interact and intertwine leading to transition and sharing of ideologies among individuals. In turn, this leads to particular cultural shifts and changes in practice as different populations begin to adopt radically foreign traditions. This case study will examine the ancient Hindu practice of Yoga and the cultural appropriation and integration of mass adoption in the West.

Religious Encounter Issue

The religious encounter issue examined in this case study is appropriation and transition of the Hindu religious and cultural practice of yoga for mass adoption in the West. Yoga in its original form is a deeply spiritual practice that was only reserved for individuals that had the appropriate status and training to do so. However, it was in India itself that Hindus enabled the tradition of yoga for mass use, not so much for religious purposes but rather its potential physical and mental health benefits. Eventually, the practice made its way West, becoming a more versatile, openly available, and commercialized aspect that drifted far from its religious roots (Orr n.d.).

Yoga has a rich history of transitioning to the West, being identified in the nineteenth century by Western scholars. Initially, it drew interest due to its philosophical foundations. In the 1950s, it was popularized by scholarly literature examining yoga’s aspects of spiritual freedom, which could be used to divert from the pressure of a capitalist society. When the 1960s and 1970s liberalization and social progress movements began to occur in the United States signifying a shift in the status quo of conservative traditional socio-economic structures and identity of crisis, yoga became appealing. In concurrence, with an increase in media and communication technologies, cultural restrictions and boundaries began to fall, allowing the exchange of Eastern ideologies. Yoga became a practice that many sought out to use as a method to manage societal pressures, personal fears, and in the attempt to find a personal identity (Misiak n.d.). However, in this religious encounter, there is still ongoing concern regarding whether Christians should be practicing yoga and if the Western adaptation of it has severely distorted the orthodox traditions of the original practice.

First Voice

The first voice is an interview with professor Leslie Orr examining the origins and impact of contemporary “New Yoga.” She provides the history of yoga transitioning to the one described above. The primary conclusion is that modern yoga is a physical, and possibly spiritual practice, but it does not necessarily refer back to the elements of Hinduism. This movement has its basis in India itself, and as a result of intercultural exchange has led to the intersection of ideologies, particularly in North America in the 20th century. The exchange of ideas and influences goes both ways in the modern day in this New Age culture. As a result of this, there is an increasing interest from scholarly and public audiences seeking out more information on yoga due to its popularity (Orr n.d.). This voice is important in outlining the issue from an individual and socio-cultural scholarly perspective. Orr offers a thorough explanation and relates it to the discussion in a comprehensible manner.

Second Voice

The second voice is a scholarly article by Suzanne Newcombe which attempts to track the development of modern yoga and determine its outreach in the Western world. The yoga semi-secular practice as part of the physical activity is vastly different from the historical spiritual practice. Newcombe notes how drastically changed in the modern-day, becoming a rigorous academic and fitness routine rather than the spiritual connection to a deity that the original practice was meant to achieve. Contemporary yoga is a transnational phenomenon that is a consolidation of embodied practices and a diversity of ideologies regarding their meaning.

The significance of yoga in the modern perception is a personal somatic experience, therefore, it may be attributed to rising in mysticism which contributes to self-empowerment and liberation. Modern yoga is inherently is an important transnational cultural exchange, often cited as the Easternization of Western culture, but its simplified commercial forms have also been popularized in India. Yoga is becoming a global consumer movement in the contemporary world, affecting a wide variety of disciplines, economic factors, and social perceptions (Newcombe 2009). This voice offers the academic perspective on the development and influences of yoga which contributes to the discussion of religious encounters from an anthropological perspective.

Third Voice

The third voice is an article by Sarah Ratchford in the popular culture and media magazine Vice, discussing the yoga practice controversy. She notes that although yoga has become increasingly popular, modern awareness and political correctness have led to many challenges in the concept of yoga in the West. Particularly, as cultural appropriation; therefore, making it inappropriate for Westerners to engage in such activity. This has been demonstrated in many places, especially by yoga classes being canceled due to cultural sensitivity (Ratchford 2015).

The absurdity of the issue is disturbing, but this article greatly contributes to the discussion of cultural appropriation. It allows considering the perspectives of colored individuals, particularly yoga instructors, which welcome the popularity and Westernization of yoga. Primarily, because the yoga practice is meant to help deal with stress and anxiety, and it can have profound impacts on individual and population behavior. While many Westerners focus simply on the physical aspects, the popularity of yoga has led to many wanting to explore the spiritual side, which also brings up the topic of appropriation where it can be discussed in a safe space. Yoga allows people to be more sensual, accepting, mindful, and other aspects which have their basis in religion but ultimately narrow down to psychological behavior (Ratchford 2015). This perspective is important to the discussion as it focuses on the positive aspects of yoga in the socio-cultural contexts and the impact it has. Even in an environment of political correctness and controversy, it is vital to consider the opinions of those who are the affected minority.

Personal Position

There have been severe criticisms of yoga in the West, particularly for close-minded ultra-conservatism. For example, Pat Robertson infamously stated that yoga practices are a “Hindu trap” that is meant as a prayer to the Hindu deity and is inherently anti-Christian. This promotes xenophobic, inaccurate, and homogenizing perceptions of yoga with the purpose to limit such healthy and beneficial inter-cultural exchanges (Jain 2015). On the other hand, socio-political movements in India, led by Prime Minister Modi have attempted to “reclaim” yoga for the Hinduist (the primary religion in India) culture. The political motives are to make yoga an inherent part of national Hindu identity to the point of indoctrination, which many people both in India and in the West view as dangerous and a political device. Opponents of yoga consistently refer to its Hinduism origins and highlight incompatibility and potential for conflict of values with Western Christianity (Jain 2014).

The three voices analyzed as part of this case study all suggest that the transition of yoga to the West is an important example of transnational intercultural exchange. It is the personal opinion of the author of this report that although it could be viewed as cultural appropriation, in this context, it is not wrong for non-Hindus to practice it. With the initiatives from many Hindus themselves, yoga is no longer a religious practice, but more a personal spiritual and physical wellness activity. Any religious undertones only serve as context and supporting material rather than the Hindu practice which yoga once was. Inherently, faith does not depend on one’s practices, particularly if ones like yoga are done with other intents. The author believes that in the instances of conflicting religious encounters, it is important to be accepting and open-minded, viewing yoga as a fulfilling intercultural experience.


Yoga is an ancient Hinduism religious tradition that has transitioned to the West to become a commercial and health practice. This occurred naturally through the intercultural exchange, but there are some concerns regarding the religious and cultural encounters. The concerns are that this transition of yoga is a cultural appropriation that has distorted the original tradition and whether non-Hinduism followers should be participating in it considering its religious roots. It can be concluded that yoga integration into Western culture is a natural occurrence in a globalized world and its mass commercialization is meant to make it more available and does not justify the concerns.


Jain, Andrea R. 2014. Rewire News, Web.

Jain, Andrea R. 2015. Rewire News, Web.

Misiak, Anna. n.d. Yoga International. Web.

Newcombe, Suzanne. 2009. “The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field” Religious Compass 3(6): 9861002-23. Web.

Orr, Leslie. “A Profile of Yoga: Contact, Adaptation, and controversy in the West with Leslie Orr and Laurie Lamoureux Scholes. ” Personal interview. Canada, n.d.

Ratchford, Sarah. 2015. Vice, Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Hinduism in the West and Transformation of Yoga." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hinduism-in-the-west-and-transformation-of-yoga/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Hinduism in the West and Transformation of Yoga'. 8 July.

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