From spirituality to productivity: has yoga changed posture?

Zineb Fahsi is a “critical” yoga teacher, and author of the book “Yoga, new spirit of capitalism” at Textuel. She also has a background in political science. For her essay, she analyzed and studied the ancestral, historical and oriental doctrines of yoga to arrive at this trajectory and this reflection. Yoga, today, would have become a transmission belt for certain injunctions of neoliberal ideology. For her, materialist yoga did not finally arrive all at once in the 21st century, but it comes from a transformation, a reading, and a misinterpretation that dates from the 19th century.

According to her, the practice of yoga can be an attempt to answer existential questions. She brings promises of a better life, as she explained on the show

A new world : “I think that today, for many people, there is this famous quest for meaning – to push open doors a little – and for transcendence, which will go through practices that will focus a lot on consumption. We will consume certain well-being practices, certain objects, or certain goods, to access a better life. So it no longer goes through a religious or spiritual practice, but through an accumulation of practices that are a little disconnected from each other.”

A new world

She explains how we got there: “This transformation of yoga begins in the 19th century with the encounter with modernity, or in any case the advent of the modern era. And it will continue with the encounter with Western esotericisms at the beginning of the 19th century. It will be transformed in contact with physical culture, in contact with fitness, and much later, with the counter-culture of Silicon Valley. When we make the history of contemporary and modern yoga, we realize that we are making the history of our world. And that’s what’s fascinating about studying this practice.”

Yoga, improvement of the individual and productivity

The Indian thinker Vivekananda (1863-1902) was the first to participate in this import of yoga in particular. So, at the end of the 19th century, in the United States, he sold this practice of yoga and reconciled it with the idea of ​​improving the individual.

Zineb Fahsi: “Vivekananda arrived at the end of the 19th century in the United States, and he was going to emphasize a very meditative yoga. So we were not yet in an athletic, postural yoga, but he was going to be influenced by nascent psychology, and by Western esotericisms. to reformulate yoga no longer as a practice of exiting the cycle of rebirths – which it was in India before the modern era – into a practice of self-improvement, or at least expansion of one’s full potential. But at the time, it remained something very marginal. We are really in marginal spheres of Western society and not at all in the general discourse that we can have today on self-improvement.

Yoga will also become a new-age philosophy in the counterculture. In 1969, the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, India, the self-proclaimed capital of yoga. And then there is this psychologizing turn where yoga becomes at the service of the human psyche and creativity. For Zineb Fahsi, there lies the first major misinterpretation, as she explains: “Yoga will lean on a whole bunch of Indian philosophies, but all of which will advocate leaving ordinary existence because basically, ordinary, human existence is considered unhappy, or suffering, in essence. So we are not at all in a perspective of improving one’s life here below.

Arriving in the West, we will have a transformation with the idea that yoga will help us improve our life here below, improve our existence. In the 1960s-70s, we are going to have this instrumentalization of so-called oriental practices at the service of the expansion of creativity, at the service of a new society which would be outside the conformist molds of the time. So it would be a counter-cultural practice initially, which will then be recovered by the company in the service of productivity.

Yoga teacher and journalist Camille Teste explained in her book Politicizing well-being (Binge editions, 2023) that there is a certain perversity in letting workers think that their suffering is a psychological issue, purely individual and has nothing to do with their working conditions: “Companies make people forget that this suffering can be due to exogenous causes involving in particular power relations in the company – in short, that they very often relate to a collective and political issue. […] What they are left with is coaching, sophrology, and yoga, to support their mediocre working conditions and the suffering induced by ever more competition. Tools that companies, proud of being truly committed to the mental health of their employees, are delighted to offer them.”

Politicizing well-being

What Zineb Fahsi wanted to show in his book is that this spirit which is conveyed by yoga as the expectation of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being, would above all be a matter of personal effort, of one’s own will: “It actually depoliticizes the question of well-being and it puts a bit of the burden on the individuals. Instead of asking the question of a structural questioning of the system that provides suffering in which we live, which we should rather question.

This practice can pose major problems, as she explains: “This promise of happiness, it also attracts a whole lot of people who will give themselves body and soul to these practices, sometimes at the risk of stopping their treatment for example, or isolating themselves from their family, or a whole bunch of other problematic things. “

For Zineb Fahsi, as for Camille Teste, it is possible to politicize well-being and distance yoga from performance for a practice that allows you to reclaim your body, explore and ultimately do yourself good. As Zineb says in Fahsi in

A New World : “We can try to move away or escape from these injunctions of society by practicing yoga, in any case by trying to create spaces of resistance, or on the margins.”

Ideas for a new world

The Walk of History

From spirituality to productivity: has yoga changed posture?