Just a few weeks ago, due to the efforts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a new entry was made in the Guinness Book of World Records: the world’s Largest Yoga Session, a 35,985-person class that took place in New Delhi as the poster-child for the first globally recognized, U.N.-sanctioned International Day of Yoga.
As one would expect, the idea was quickly and enthusiastically embraced by the West as several US cities tagged along, providing their own free public events in places like New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and Houston.
But then there’s Russia. Some people there don’t like yoga.
In fact, they dislike it so much that since June 21st the Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk has moved to prohibit municipal buildings from hosting yoga classes in order to, according to letters sent to several studios, “…prevent the spread of new religious cults and movements.”
According to Nizhnevartovsk officials, Hatha yoga is “inextricably linked to religious practices” and has “an occult character” and practices of such nature have no place in a city within a country that has a president who is determined to return to strong conservative values and a more loyal devotion to Orthodox Christianity.
This would not go over well in Canada.
In fact, if the government here even suggested something like this, yogi riots would be unleashed with thousands of people in $90 bras whispering mild profanities and bouncing cork bricks off of government windows.
Now, in fairness to the Ruskies, the real practice of yoga is not just about weird lunges and limbering up after a night of boozing. Yoga, an inherently spiritual practice (that’s pretty much what the word “yoga” means), is fundamentally about a holistic lifestyle encouraging not only physical strength, but psychological purity through meditation, spiritual connection, and if you inspect its Indian heritage, a type of patriotism through a unique form of wellness.
But with all due acknowledgement of its history, people have taken a pretty respectful buffet approach to the practice and have shaped yoga into a secular, healthy, all-welcoming trend of challenging but effective self-improvement. So why the hell does anyone have a problem with that?
There are some places, like Austin, that appreciate its value so much that every year since 1999 they hold the Austin Free Day of Yoga during which all the major studios in downtown Austin provide free yoga classes all day and all night.
Hoping that every city is one day that enlightened might be a peyote dream, but banning it? In 2015?
Talk about bad karma…