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Being knotty's not nice

Lululemon's success, with or without transparency, is just an indicator of how prevalent the ancient Indian practice of yoga is in North America. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Apr 05, 2013 21:31 IST

This week I visited the friendly neighbourhood Lululemon Athletica store. For the uninitiated, Lululemon is a $1.4 billion yogawear behemoth in North America with nearly 200 outlets in the United States and Canada.

Since the concept of apparel dedicated to yoga is mostly alien to India, I sought to get an idea of how much such clothing would cost. So, for a men's Agility pant or a women's Astro pant, the price tag displayed nearly $100.

In other words, much moolah. If you're a woman, or a cross-dressing man, you can even purchase special yoga thongs, interestingly called the Mula Bandhawear, among a wealth of other accessories.

One item that was missing from the racks was Lululemon's bestselling black Luon yoga pants. These were recently recalled following the discovery that the material was see-through. Its losses could total over $60 million.

Though Christine Day, CEO of the Vancouver-based company, did helpfully explain to concerned investors that: "We just want to reiterate our commitment to being completely transparent."

Lululemon's success, with or without such transparency, is just an indicator of how prevalent the ancient Indian practice of yoga is in North America.

In fact, even the White House had a yoga garden as part of its annual Easter celebrations, which led to predictable conservative contortions, and arguments that being knotty is not nice.

In California, some parents have sued a local school board for "indoctrinating" children by teaching them yoga

Ironically, as the case was being heard, the presiding judge, who turned out to be a practitioner himself, was sort of bewildered at the implied claim that yoga was a sneaky form of Hindu evangelism.

As this exchange shows:

Lawyer: "Have you been taught the sun salutation?"
Judge: "What?"
Lawyer: "Have you done the lotus position?"
Judge: "What's that?"

The school board defended itself saying it got instructors to secularise names for poses, calling them doing the airplane or alligator, or even naming one after an ape, which should have been called the Gorillasana.

The judge in San Diego follows Bikram Yoga, named after Bikram Chaudhry, described by Yoga Journal as yoga's "bad boy".

Chaudhry, who has attempted to copyright a series of asanas in the past and faces recent charges of sexual harassment, is the founder of what is probably yoga's biggest American brand.

However, there are more varieties of yoga practised here than there are celebrity meltdowns making the front pages of tabloids. Over 6% of Americans stretch themselves, and their budgets, at studios teaching more popular forms like Iyengar, Hatha, Jivamukti, Vinyasa, Kundalini or Anusara yoga.

For those wanting to work out on the wild side, there's Power, Naked, Integral, AntiGravity, Circus, Stripper Pole, TriBalance, Chair, Tantrum, Harmonica, or Karaoke yoga, as well as Joga or yoga for jocks. Not surprisingly, there's even Doga, or yoga for dogs, in which, presumably, the Dogis find their own bliss.

These varieties reflect an American yen for fusion, and the mix can often be as rich as the butter chicken hotdog that will be part of the menu at Toronto FC's home field this summer.

Every summer solstice, New York's Times Square is taken over by new age, new world yogis, complete with gift bags, giveaways of mats, even a fashion show. Given that it's 2013, there's even an Instagram contest for stay-at-home yogis, its own version of the flash mob.

Toronto has already had its spring yoga conference, which included in its schedule animated ahimsa, and featured Thai yoga massage and Yin yoga. Once autumn arrives, the Smithsonian museum will launch its exhibit on Yoga: The Art of Transformation, in Washington.

And at winter time, there's always the option of Snowga, which combines yoga and skiing.

It seems that yoga has found its om in these parts. Yoga is pretty much an integral part of the American fabric, even if that may be sheer when bought from Lululemon.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Apr 05, 2013 21:27 IST