Could It Be That... Society

Is yoga being sexualised?

If you look at yoga search trends over the past five years in India, on Google Trends, (a dynamic matrix that tell us, in data terms, what people searched for online) the first three results were in Hindi. “Sexy yoga”, “Yoga sexy video”, and “yoga sex video” showed what Google calls “breakout” numbers, meaning it shot up by over 5000% compared to the previous five years.

The next 21 top search results revolved around the various yoga days and people looking for yoga centres in their vicinity. At the 25th position, came “yoga divas”. How did yoga make the shift from spiritual practice to soft porn?

For starters, yoga has gone mainstream world over, and once something is seen as a potential money-spinner, capitalism will turn its greedy eye to it. Yoga was tagged onto the sports-meets-fashion industry, and marketing departments turned it into the ‘aspirational glamour’ segment, where young, slim, white women curved themselves into a vrischikasana, balancing themselves on their arms like it was the most natural thing to do. Women’s magazines promoted it as a means to sexual nirvana.

Much like the expensive, finished cotton clothes that we imported into India during British rule, made from the raw material we had supplied, we brought back yoga, in tights and sports bras — as a fitness habit and a weight-loss promise, abandoning the spiritual reason for its being. Entrepreneurial Indian women benefitted — they had the eyeballs of many like them who wanted to learn yoga. Buoyed by the nascent but quickly growing amateur sports industry, where runners were told to “also do yoga” and Yoga Day began to be promoted, it became a parallel business. The growth of social media influencers fuelled the ‘market’, where styling became all-important: soft light, an excellent background, beautiful bodies and clothes.

In their earlier avatar until about 10 years ago, yoga instructors in India, much like beauticians, would go from house to house, or building to building, teaching people how to go through a set of asanas. Now, this world was open to upper-middle-class women (men too, though like in the modelling world more women benefitted). Along with a knowledge of yoga, they also had urbanisation, education, feminism on their side, to be able to carve out a sometimes rough path for others after — yoga had, even 50 years ago, been male dominated. The rough path included nasty, sometimes lewd comments.

The nature of what can trigger sexual desire is nuanced, but there is something to be said about a) just seeing more women in a space they weren’t dominating, b) seeing the beauty of the human form suddenly ‘out there’ on social media, when we don’t see it in real life — on a road or even in most gyms. It is a reaction to a change in the culture of fitness; a generation of women now learning not just to accept, but to celebrate their bodies.

This search for yoga videos that titillate then, is a phase, until India gets used to seeing women revel in a sport in clothes that are comfortable and that show the form, as is often needed for yoga teachers. Until then, we’ll keep seeing searches that deflect from the practice, and focus on quite something else.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 9:24:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/why-is-yoga-being-sexualised/article32315984.ece

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