The not so united states of Yogaland: Post-nationalism, environmentalism, and #yoga’s sustainable development

Patrick McCartney
2 min readJun 21, 2021

This is title and abstract of my forthcoming book chapter. You can download a free copy of the PDF, here.

The primary field of enquiry is the transnational USD 4.75 trillion-dollar wellness (tourism) industry. Today, Yoga is instrumentalized in service of the soft power ambitions of the Indian state. “Yogaland,” is an allegorical toponym used to refer to the transnational consumption-scape where Yoga is consumed. The topic is “Yoga nationalism,” which explicates the Yoga hybrid heuristically referred to as Applied + Yoga. This refers to the sentiment that Yoga can solve the “climate crisis.” The reason for this is that many global yogins consider their ancient counterparts to have supposedly gained spiritual powers through performing austerities in forests. This apparently makes them the “tree hugging” type and is often provided as “proof” that a contemporary Yoga lifestyle is, in fact, more sustainable than other options. Close reading of primary sources, however, demonstrates the role ascetics played at the frontier of state-sponsored settler colonial expansion of the “Vedic nation,” some two millennia ago. It is difficult to agree that forest-dwelling yogins are commensurable with or valued an environmentalist-like ethic. Today, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, presupposes that a Yoga lifestyle offers the only comprehensive lifestyle capable of solving the “climate crisis.” Though, it is unclear what Modi, or anyone for that matter, imagines this lifestyle to substantively be and how it can practicably achieve the outcomes claimed, which include leading humanity to a sustainable utopic future. How, then, might we assess the sustainability ranking of Modi’s Yoga lifestyle? Extending beyond social media campaigns — like #Yoga4ClimateChange and #Yoga4SDGs — we consider many moving parts, which Modi’s Yoga lifestyle needs to address to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s Agenda 2030. Till now, Modi has not offered any hard evidence to support this policy proposal. It does seem to be a clever way to brand the nation. A key finding is the coherence between state and non-state actors, both consumers and producers alike, who trade in essentialized narratives regarding the overdetermined, ancient, Sanskritized origins, history, and development of Yoga and Buddhism, in China, Japan, as well as India, which demonstrates much about Yoga’s nationalism, past, present, and future.

Keywords: Yoga, nationalism, wellness tourism, sustainable development, India, China, Yoga hybrids, nation building