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Do You Really Know the True Meaning of Yoga? Thoughts from a British Indian Yogi

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Puravi Joshi

Puravi Joshi

“I like your ‘om’ tattoo—can you tell me about the 5,000-year history behind it?”

I was on my yoga teacher training in Costa Rica when I noticed a fellow trainee with a massive “om” tattoo on his back and asked him that question. His response? “It’s just a yoga thing.”

I could tell that my fellow yoga trainee had absolutely no intention of offending me—but he did. As a British Indian, I replied, “Actually, it’s not a yoga thing; it’s a Hindu thing.”

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“Oh, I had no idea,” he said to me, innocently. “I just thought it was a yoga thing.”

Without even realizing it, this man—who didn’t know the meaning of the om tattoo on his back—was yet another example of how yoga is often marketed, and misunderstood, in the Western world.

See also Why Hindu Mythology Is Still Relevant in Yoga

Why True Yoga Isn’t Just a Workout

Yoga is estimated to be at least 5,000 years old, originating in the Indus Valley Civilization in India. But if you google “yoga,” or scroll through yoga-related hashtags, you probably won’t see an Indian person. You’ll most likely see flexible (almost always white) women practicing postures—the more physically demanding, the better—in expensive yoga pants on beaches or in chic workout studios.

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