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Culture in writing–valuing or exploiting?

7 September, 2015
English: Silhouette of a yoga practitioner.

Silhouette of yoga practitioner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yoga fiction? I’d never heard the term until I read an article in the online mag, Conversation, titled ‘The Difficult Position of Yoga Fiction’.

It started me thinking of how I’ve never included yoga experiences in my own writing. And that’s odd, because I’ve been an off-and-on yoga practitioner for much of my life and identify with it.

I started when I was a young contract teacher working in Far North Queensland, Australia. My yoga instructor was the 70s-something wife of a sugar cane farmer. Her incredible physical flexibility inspired me. She taught yoga at the community centre in a small town dominated by a sugar refinery. I worked at my practice, despite the challenges on doing yoga in the tropics. During the annual Wet, the heavy downpour on the centre’s tin roof made it impossible to hear my instructor. The intense humidity brought out all sorts of creepy-crawlies. I worked through the asanas, pleasantly high from the fumes of the lcoils lit to keep the mozzies at bay.

I have practised yoga in many locations–a uni town in Oregon, Sydney’s Chinatown, a church hall in an Italian Catholic suburb, a primary school gymnasium, a loft studio in a mountain town, a fitness centre dominated by gym junkies.

Along the way, I tried to learn acceptance. The big challenge came at a weekend yoga retreat. The space was double-booked, so my yoga companions and I found ourselves sharing the property with a group of non-yogic, cigarette(?)-smoking, hard-drinking Trotskyites. We endured their loud, boozy parties at night. The were still sleeping in the early morning when we did our pre-dawn sun salues and chants.

Along my yoga path, I’ve tried different styles. The most bizarre was a form of ‘strong’ yoga. The instructor Said that achieving the right mind control would mean that someone could run over me in their car, and I would survive, no injuries. (I passed on that one.)

Given the yoga thread in my life, why have I never used it in my writing? Perhaps it’s because I’ve never read much literature that includes yoga. I enjoyed one yoga memoir (yogoir), Claire Dederer’s Poser: My life in twenty-three yoga poses.  The book links each chapter to a yogic pose, which collects to an aspect of her life. And I skimmed Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous book, Eat, Pray, Love, but I couldn’t get into it.

The Conversation article questions if the influx of yoga literature is a ‘good thing’. Yoga fiction is apparently now a major category in English-language literature, so large that it has sub-divisions— yoga comedies, yoga murder mysteries, and yoga chick lit.

However, the article comments that yoga is not a culture-free commodity, something for writers to insert into their story, nothing more than a exotic literary prop to spice up a character or a setting.

It’s similar to the ubiquitous kangaroo showing up in Aussie Outback movies. Or African jungle scenes, where the call of the Aussie kookaburra is spliced in as a bit of culture-aural exotica.

The Red Kangaroo is the largest macropod and i...

Red Kangaroo, which appears on Australia’s Coat of Arms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If writers focus on yoga’s trivial elements, readers may never be aware of the centuries of tradition that underpin the discipline. Even the sense that yoga has a rich background may disappear. No wonder that India has now appointed its first national minister of yoga.

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