The International Yoga Day, 2015–2021: Growing pains, pseudoscience and the Vedic lifestyle’s pure land

Patrick McCartney
8 min readJun 27, 2021

Patrick McCartney 1500 words

Patrick is an anthropologist trained in archaeology, linguistics, and philology, as well as sociology, political science, and computational social science. He is interested in the marketing of memory and the construction of community, particularly how it is expressed through the commodification of culture within the transnational wellness tourism industry.

Since the first International Day of Yoga in 2015, the annual themes have been the following: 2015 “Yoga for Harmony & Peace,” 2016 “Connect to Youth,” 2017 “Yoga Health,” 2018 “Yoga for Peace,” 2019 “Climate Action,” 2020 “Yoga at Home and Yoga with Family,” and 2021 “Yoga for Wellness.” Multiple claims are made through these themes. For instance, in 2015, it was claimed that:

Genuine yoga is about personal growth, knowledge, searching for truth and enlightenment. The origin in time of the kundalini yoga, for example, is practically unknown and it is considered as old as civilization Earth. […] Yoga is SCIENCE.

This statement, like many within a yoga frame, is an article of faith. Writing in capitals does not make anything scientific, least of all yoga. In this context, what is even meant by “science” or “yoga”? Are we to assume the terms of reference are established and agreed upon? This is an enduring issue for Yogaland (the global consumerscape where all things yoga is imagined, produced, and consumed). Yoga’s moralizing discourse is located within a globalized cosmology.

This is influenced by what Caroline Pennock and Amanda Power explain as the unavoidable tensions between the global-modern sentiment and the archaic-backward sentiment. Part of this tension is due to Yoga’s reliance on Sanskrit, which even though it services timeless, re-orientalized mystery, much is undermined by a reliance on pseudoscientism. The perceived symmetry of Yoga’s utopian aspiration seamlessly blends into a totalizing secular political theology. This diffuses well beyond the confines of a local Hindu ethno-nationalism through digitized mediation, moving from sacred sites through websites, expanding the imagined boundaries of now digitally distributed sacred territory finding purchase among both the Hindu diaspora and transnational consumers of yoga.

It is worth going backwards in time to 2014, when the United Nations General…