New Yoga Superpower?

The New Yoga Superpower certainly makes for an eye-grabbing, somewhat provocative headline for an article. It could also make the traditional ashrams in India either squirm or see how to make the most of it. The country referred to as the “The New Yoga Superpower” is China. It is an interesting article. This is what came to my mind after reading it.

Centuries ago, many Chinese scholars came to study at the famous Nalanda University (perhaps the world’s first university) in what is now Bihar. There was an exchange of information along the Silk Route. Perhaps some of those non-threatening exchanges can be revived.

The author of the article, Daniel Simpson, estimates that there are 10 million Chinese practicing yoga versus 16 million in the United States. A 2010 article in The Washington Post placed the number in the United States at 30 million. This is a huge difference in numbers and they could be hard to estimate.  In over a billion people in China, 10 million is a small figure. The fact that they want “American Yoga” says a lot.

First, it confirms that yoga now has numerous “denominations” (if there was any doubt) and American Yoga is distinctly different from traditional yoga. The American denomination is more about the physical and less about the mental, emotional, spiritual as in traditional yoga.

Second, the Chinese are as insecure about the United States as the United States is about China. To the Chinese, American Yoga is associated with success and is an aspirational product along with Gucci, Lexus, Hermes, etc. It is about a slim, sculpted yoga look that is the look of “success.” So it is symbolic of the life of “having arrived financially” and not yoga as a way of living and thinking. But as they hopefully get deeper, the depth of yoga will be experienced. The Chinese may have a natural affinity for the wisdom of yoga philosophy as the Eastern philosphies have much in common.

Third, no matter what “yoga” people choose to practice, the term “superpower” in yoga is just another oxymoron, one amongst many now. The only superpower is the ability to control one’s own vagrant and distracted mind–not anyone else, or any country. Those other powers have been the beginning of a down fall as we are reminded in the old saying, Pride comes before a fall. Yoga has always strongly cautioned about those “superpowers.”

Fourth, many Chinese will benefit from the traditional yoga that is now being taught by masters such as Iyengar. Because of their own Chinese traditions and culture, the people in China will be able to intuitively get the heart of the traditional yogas which is much harder for the people in West. It gives them a spiritual path that is not religious and therefore not censored by the state. It offers them a way to deal with their tremendous stress and social upheaval.

Fifth, perhaps this will lead to better understanding between the people of China and India. Yoga can be an outstanding soft diplomacy.

Lastly, yoga can be expected to be shaped into a Chinese way just as it has been molded and adapted by Americans to suit them–just like there is American Chinese food, American-style pasta, pizza, Tex-Mex, etc. In India, there is Indian Chinese food, Indian/American pasta, Indian Mex, etc.

Yoga’s purpose is to bring harmony and unity within one’s self and within families, communities, and nations–the individual microcosm is a single unit of the extended macrocosm. So peace and harmony have to happen at the individual level. There is potential to extend global peace if it is done with the right attitude. 

The superpower is yoga, not a single individual, organization, or country.

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