The true nature of yoga and the wellness industry | Letters

Christine Schmid writes about how classes saved her from burnout during a stressful period of her life, while Joelle Tamraz explains how yoga continues to evolve

My introduction to yoga in my late 20s helped me to manage my life path to this day as I approach 77 (I teach yoga – its appropriation by the white wellness industry is a form of colonialism, but we can move on, 3 January). Marrying, moving to South Africa and starting a business unfamiliar to me caused high stress levels. With luck I was recommended to an ashram offering classes. That 75 minutes of calm, yoga postures and gentle music just once a week saved me from burnout.

The philosophy of yoga by Swami Venkatesananda and Swami Sivananda taught to the founder members exemplified original integral yoga. Volunteers are always on hand to make sandwiches for the undernourished, and teachers regularly go into informal settlements to demonstrate breathing exercises and basic yogic asanas to help asthmatics and generally show a way to better health with movement. They also run a programme for disadvantaged children. Today, having moved away from Cape Town, I have still been able to find a teacher from that original ashram. They have teachers and students from every background. To me, the teachings signified the true nature of yoga and the eight limbs.
Christine Schmid
Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

• Your article makes the valid point that yoga should be more widely accessible across social groups. However, the yoga of ancient texts resembles the yoga widely practised today in name only. The classical yoga of Patanjali, which is mentioned in the article, makes little reference to physical poses, let alone stretching sequences.

Modern yoga, commonly understood as a physical stretching practice synchronised with breathing, arose in India just over a century ago from a combination of local and foreign influences. Its history has been documented in great detail by the scholar Mark Singleton in his book Yogabody, and summarised in a shorter Yoga Journal article.

Yoga, whether ancient or modern, is not one codified practice and will continue to evolve within the lucrative wellness business. Making wellness more accessible is a worthwhile goal, but before we speak about appropriation, we should be clear about what exactly is being appropriated.
Joelle Tamraz
Guildford, Surrey

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The day my yoga descended into giggles | Letters
Letters: I corpsed, not in shavasana, but in a gut-splitting, helpless, giggling fit, writes Fi Oakes


09, Jan, 2018 @7:26 PM

Article image
Boom in wellness at festivals as young people swap hedonism for yoga
Focus on meditation and chanting from Glastonbury to Latitude coincides with rise in number of young teetotallers

Sarah Marsh and Shanti Giovannetti-Singh

02, Aug, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
I teach yoga – its appropriation by the white wellness industry is a form of colonialism, but we can move on | Nadia Gilani
All of us in the business can help to make yoga more accessible to those who need it, says yoga teacher Nadia Gilani

Nadia Gilani

03, Jan, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry
Practitioners fear Indian culture has been ‘suppressed by colonisation’ while some question accessibility

Nadia Khomami

12, Dec, 2022 @5:15 PM

Extreme wellbeing: Yoga

Fitting a yoga class into a busy day is one thing. But if you really want to stretch yourself, says Caroline Roux, you need to clear some time.

06, Nov, 2004 @1:02 AM

Shorts: Yoga show

Shorts: The future's bright | Slim pickings

Sam Murphy

05, May, 2006 @11:51 PM

Article image
Food yoga

There's a theory around that yogic meditation can heighten the experience of eating and drinking. Can one truly be a yogi and a foodie?

Tim Hayward

28, Jan, 2010 @10:00 AM

Emma Mitchell: Pregnancy yoga

Natural health therapist Emma Mitchell answers your questions.

Emma Mitchell

24, Dec, 2005 @1:20 AM

Article image
Yoga rocks!

Put off by naff 'celebrity' workouts? Leonie Cooper, music lover and exercise-phobe, tries out two new fitness DVDs with a difference ...

Leonie Cooper

18, Dec, 2007 @10:09 AM

Article image
UK's first yoga union fights for fairer share of £900m-a-year industry
Teachers insist it is not unyogic to challenge downward dog eat dog world of low pay and harassment

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

04, Feb, 2021 @5:23 PM