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Sociology of Religion, Yoga Ethics, Westernization of Yoga, Self-care, Fictitious Commodities


Yoga has the potential to bring a healing paradigm into the world and re-awaken the practitioner’s infinite capacity for love and compassion. Unfortunately, Western yoga carries many stereotypes in opposition to this understanding. In the US, yoga is more closely associated with fitness, whiteness, wealth, and youth than it is connected to a deeply complex spiritual tradition that has spanned centuries. The Westernization and industrialization of yoga has the potential to be spiritually harmful to practitioners who participate in yoga as a product to be consumed, rather than a practice to be engaged in. In addition to the Western values of fitness and health that have been attached to modern yoga practice, the yoga tradition has been brought into the formal structure and cultural trend of “self-improvement” as a tangible form of self-care. For the purposes of this paper, I refer to “self-care” as the practical application of caring for oneself in multiple dimensions: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Self-care, like yoga, has been commodified and become a global multi-billion-dollar industry. In this paper, I explore the social and ethical problems associated with selling yoga as a product of consumer culture, as it pertains to the branding of yoga as a form of individually focused self-care. Through a deeper understanding of the commodification of yoga in the US, I argue that the Western appropriation of the eight-limbed path of yoga, as well as the imposition of Western ideals of beauty, thinness, and health, are harmful to both the yoga tradition and to those who practice yoga.