Yoga: A Positively Un-Indian Experience The practice of yoga, which began about 5,000 years ago in India, has become a booming industry in the U.S., with more than 15 million followers. But for commentator Sandip Roy, there is nothing distinctly Indian about his experience at a San Francisco yoga class.

Yoga: A Positively Un-Indian Experience

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With the New Year coming, you may be thinking about a resolution; more exercise, maybe doing a little yoga.

Our commentator Sandip Roy will not be joining you.

Mr. SANDIP ROY (Host, "New America Now," KALW): True confession: I am an Indian who doesn't do yoga. I wouldn't know a downward dog if it bit me. But because I'm Indian, people don't even ask if I know yoga. They ask: What kind of yoga did you grow up with: Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram?

Actually, most Indians I know don't do yoga, either. My friend Rajasvini Bhansali is an exception, and she's often the only Indian in class.

Ms. RAJASVINI BHANSALI: The instructor pointed to me in the middle of the class...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BHANSALI: ...and talked about how Indians are better oriented towards doing squats. And I realized he was holding me up as an example of how us primitive people are just better squatters, and therefore have looser hips.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROY: I always thought I wasn't thick-skinned enough to survive yoga class. Then I heard the Hindu American Foundation had launched a campaign to Take Back Yoga and reclaim its Hindu roots. I was alarmed. What if they really took it back and I wasn't ready? I decided to fix my yoga deficit disorder.

(Soundbite of yoga class)

Mr. ROY: So I show up at my first yoga class in San Francisco. It's steamy hot. There are over 100 people - and sure enough, my friends and I are the only four Indians.

The instructor is from Tennessee: blond, shirtless, and a bit of a yoga rock star. There are disco balls on the ceiling and huge posters of Krishna on the wall. I am just amazed at all the stuff - yoga tops, bottoms, blankets, mats.

My vision of a yogi was a guy in the forest, sitting on a piece of tree bark, or in the deluxe version, a deerskin. He didn't have a yoga mat carrier.

(Soundbite of chanting and singing)

Mr. ROY: I survive the yoga class without embarrassing 5,000 years of Indian culture. It doesn't feel very Indian. My friend, Naveen Chandra, calls it Bionic Disco Yoga. But he thinks yoga's Hindu roots are still there.

Mr. NAVEEN CHANDRA: The vast majority of yoga teachers have studied Hinduism more than I have, or my parents have. And I'm learning more about the meanings of the shlokas and the intention of Hinduism, than I ever knew as a kid growing up being taught Hinduism from my community.

Mr. ROY: Even back in India, yoga has not been such a big deal. Kate Churchill, director of the documentary "Enlighten Up!," interviewed yoga pioneer Pattabhi Jois at his school in south India.

Ms. KATE CHURCHILL (Director, "Enlighten Up!"): And we might as well have been at the Puck Building in New York, or something. I mean there were over a hundred Westerners and there wasn't a single Indian, Sandip. I mean we were looking around and saying like, well, where are the Indians?

Mr. ROY: But things are starting to change. The Indian government is filming hundreds of yoga poses so no one tries to patent them. People are practicing yoga at call centers and other workplaces.

Ms. CHURCHILL: We saw in large cities like Mumbai, for example, that there are power yoga studios cropping up, because Madonna does yoga. It has nothing to do with Indians. Whereas, if you go to a power yoga studio here in the U.S., you know, they'll say what you're doing is a 5,000-year-old ancient practice.

Mr. ROY: I hear they come to your homes now in India to teach you yoga -private lessons, and it's the real thing. They learned it from American DVDs.

Unidentified Man: Back to neutral, double pigeon. Keep your left shin on the bottom...

WERTHEIMER: Commentator Sandip Roy is host of "New America Now" on KALW in San Francisco. You can comment on his essay at the opinion page at

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