Spiritual Mansplaining – Part 2

Remember, this post is not about hating men.




 “To the straight, white men in the room, the story is as you have told it. 
Power belongs to you. 
And if you can’t handle criticism, deal with your own tension without violence,
you have to wonder if you’re up to the task of being in charge.”
~ Hannah Gadsby
(Strikethrough added by me because this global crisis
is not
confined to orientation or melanin.)


We need to briefly touch upon the presence of religious extremism because those campaigning for an exclusionary Hindu India, rather than an inclusive secular India, are staunch supporters of patriarchy, casteism, and anti-Muslim/Christian sentiments backed by their religious beliefs.  So, who are these people and why should they matter to you?

Not knowing the history of a belief system or culture, especially its political history, leaves people vulnerable to manipulation and recruitment by fundamentalists, believing whatever distorted facts are on offer.

  • How many of us would be courageous enough, be knowledgeable enough, to disagree with a presenter proclaiming India is a Hindu nation and as western yoga practitioners, we have an obligation to uphold Hindu practices?

Now, I get it.  You’re feeling mellow, don’t want any trouble, maybe you’re just there for the kirtan, but never forget – silence is complicity – and Satya and Svadhyaya are waiting for you at home.

Let me offer these basics –

  • The India constitution which was enacted in 1949.
  • In 1976 the 42nd Amendment officially added “secular” to the preamble making it, “we, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic to secure to all its citizens..”
  • Some may look side-eyed at the 27 years that passed, but it’s important to note in 1947, Gandhi addressed the All India Congress Committee with this, “India has been and is a country with a fundamental unity and the aim of the Congress has been to develop this great country as a whole, as a democratic secular State, where all citizens enjoy full rights and are equally entitled to the protection of the State, irrespective of the religion to which they belong. The Constituent Assembly has accepted this as the basic principle of the Constitution. This lays on very Indian the obligation to honour it.”
    Honour being the key word. 
  • One example of the necessity for separating faith from State is the 1978 Shah Bano case.

If we are going to mingle within the realms of yoga there are some lurking influences we need to be familiar with because it is conceivable you or someone you know has inadvertently parroted propaganda from or even donated money to one of the following:

–  an ideology that seeks to rigidly define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values and conflates a religious, cultural, and national identity; implying the only true Indian is a Hindu Indian

“The Hindutva movement has been described as a variant of ‘right-wing extremism’ and as ‘almost fascist in the classical sense’, adhering to a concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony.  Some analysts dispute the ‘fascist’ label, and suggest Hindutva is an extreme form of ‘conservatism’ or ‘ethnic absolutism’.

Hindutva was mainstreamed into Indian politics with Narenda Modi’s election as Prime Minister in 2014.”  A member of the BJP, he instituted International Day of Yoga in 2015.

Let’s ask ourselves why a politician like Modi would do that, and do we want to align with those principles?

Hindu Rashtra
–  “a country where the rules, regulations and legal proceedings are based on the principles of Hindu beliefs and Scriptures.”


BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)

The BJP’s origins lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party which was formed in 1951.  In 1977, the Jana Sangh merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party which eventually dissolved in 1980.  In that same year, members of the former Jana Sangh reconvened to form the BJP.

This political party expresses a commitment to Hindutva, and its policies have historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions occasionally resulting in making news headlines.

Opposing Yoga?  Leave India or drown in the sea, says BJP MP Yogi Adityanath

Indian Science Congress Speakers Say Newton Was Wrong, Ancient Demon-King Had Planes 


RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)

–  a Hindu supremacist organisation founded in 1925 that wants India to be defined as a Hindu nation.

Along with many of his party leaders, PM Modi is a lifelong member of the RSS.  This exclusively male, paramilitary organisation is inspired by European ethnonationalism and fascism.  It prides itself on proclaiming racial and cultural superiority, promoting patriarchy, and supporting casteism.

The man who murdered Gandhi, Nathuram Godse, was a member.


HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh)

A worldwide branch of the RSS, it was established in the U.K. in 1966 and has had its charitable status disputed frequently.  Its fund-raising arm, Sewa International, is responsible for supporting RSS projects with millions of pounds donated by the British public.

COVID Relief Donations Are Supporting a Project to ‘Hinduize’ India: Why are Twitter, Microsoft, and Google promoting a charity with ties to right-wing nationalism?


National Council of Hindu Temples in the U.K.

Established in 1978, it oversees over 200 temples across the country.

–  In 2017, the council invited militant extremist, Tapan Ghosh, to give a keynote address at an event in the Commons.  During his visit, Ghosh also met with Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League.  Ghosh was known to have called on the United Nations to control the birth rate of Muslims, and for Muslims to be forced to convert when moving to a western country.  In 2016, Ghosh Tweeted, “all Muslims are jihadis”.

–  In 2019, the Council supported the claims the Labour Party was anti-Semitic, adding that it was also ‘anti-Hindu’.  It messaged members encouraging them to vote Tory as the Labour Party had condemned Modi’s policies in Kashmir and was therefore ‘anti-India’.

In our attempts to be culturally aware we may fixate upon respecting Hindu practices as a way to express our appreciation of South Asia, but India is more than just Hinduism, more than just a few marketable goddesses and gods we use as decor to mystify our studios.  When we focus on upholding Brahminic Hinduism alone, we are playing into the hands of the nationalistic Hindutva.  If we choose to blindly follow the pious dictates, we need to accept full responsibility for our actions.  It’s not cultural admiration.  It’s buying into propaganda some of which results in the pain and suffering of others, whether or not that is our intention.

“The current insistence on a glorified Indian past where the upper caste woman enjoyed rights is created only through exclusion of lower caste women and the demonisation of Muslims.
These are not ‘neutral facts’ of history but strategic views meant to feed
into the narrative of
hate and exclusion against Dalits, Muslims and women.”
Umara Zainab

  • Would you recognise jingoistic tactics if they were masquerading as ways to respect cultural and spiritual traditions?
  • Has the movement to address cultural appropriation been usurped by fanatics and now become fertile ground for surreptitious recruitment using coercive control?


“Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities,
yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god

by a faithful wife.”
~ The Laws of Manu

We talk about the importance of honouring other cultures, other belief systems, but what about honouring our own?  What began as cultivating respect for other cultures has morphed into abuse-enabling, codependent, people-pleasing.

Misogyny is not my culture.  No, I will not venerate any religion rooted in patriarchy that requires I become a sycophantic because of my gender, that tells me I am forbidden from entering hallowed sanctuaries or preparing food during my menstrual cycle because I am “unclean”, that diminishes and marginalises me when I become a widow, that tells me I will never be truly enlightened because only men can access that loftiness.

We must be careful not to mistake honouring another culture with preserving oppression and persecution.  Before we encourage people to uphold a culture’s spiritual practices, first we must study and understand them, evaluating what kind of future the traditions will impose upon everyone, not just the privileged.  Archaic, patriarchal customs should be numbered amongst those we are wise enough to no longer support because we recognise they are the antithesis of cultivating a better world for all.  Not every global tradition should be held sacrosanct in perpetuity.  To name just a few –

Within India:

  • child brides
  • gun jiti (virginity testing)
  • menstruation isolation
  • nose-cutting
  • honour killings
  • sati (widow immolation)

Outside India:

  • female genital mutilation
  • foot-binding
  • leblouh (force-feeding)
  • breast ironing (using hot stones or iron rods)
  • ikipalin (finger amputation)
  • kusasa fumbi (virginal and widow sexual cleansing)
  • neck rings

(Take a moment to discover which of these practices are still in effect.  Don’t overlook their usage in the west or in rural locations, and research which governments offer discounts.)

It is imperative to remember, conformity does not always equate consent.  Consider that women exhausted, overwhelmed, and diminished by decades – generations – of patriarchy are easier to make compliant, easier to make complicit.  There are numbers of women who will unwittingly support their own oppression if only in exchange for some mutilated form of ‘peace’.

  • Why would we invite our sisters to honour a patriarchal belief system that tells them they deserve to suffer, that they are polluted and despised by the gods, that it is better for them to kill themselves than live free and independent?
  • Why is it when listing the social “-ism’s” that need removing from yoga, sexism is often overlooked, even scoffed at and dismissed?
  • Why do women rarely defend the suggestion of including sexism as something to abolish from yoga, especially if it means speaking out at a large gathering?



“Surely, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women.  When she has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period, therefore, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex.  Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her.
If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists
and overpower her,
saying: ‘I take away the splendour from you
with my virility and splendour.’”
~ Brhadarankyaka Upanishad

There are some who point out the few positive stanzas in the ancient texts about women as justification for incorporating the religious rites into their practice.  Those few scraps of self-worth should be good enough, right?  Remember, these teachings were intended for high caste men.  If you cannot count yourself amongst them, all those verses you cling to about enlightenment and cosmic connection were never intended for you.  At least not until you’re reborn as a man. 

When we partake in the religious aspects of a yoga class, acquiescing to the comfort of other practitioners in studios, one feels a sense of belonging which soothes our primate brain so loathe to be ostracised from the troop.  We may try to rationalise our behaviour, but fundamentally our survival instinct has been triggered.  If you conform so that others are comfortable, you’re in.  If not, you’re out; alone and exposed, albeit in (not so) subtle ways – you might receive scornful looks during a lunch break, you might be excluded from joining others for a walk, voicing your opinion might mean others don’t talk to you or even move to the opposite side of the room away from you, perhaps peers befriend each other but not you.  All the saccharine talk about Ahimsa and Aparigraha mysteriously disappear when social controls are in place.

The truth is that the majority of ancient guidelines for and about women regardless of creed are far from positive, and if we talk about yoga beyond the mat, what do those teachings actually look like once we leave the studio?  How do they play out in our homes, our relationships, in our access to autonomy and opportunities?  If you have not experienced first-hand how the beliefs and traditions around women impact their day-to-day lives within an Asian family, in the communities, a simple introduction is watching ‘The Great Indian Kitchen‘.  Don’t assume the effects of these customs are limited to those of Indian descent.  They impact anyone who marries into an Asian family.

“Hinduism is founded on caste hierarchy, which is perpetuated by caste endogamy.  And so this religious norm of excluding all those we call Other penetrates the most intimate corners of our lives, and erupts as violence against women and Dalits in the public sphere. 
Hinduism has the subjugation of women and Dalits at its core.”
~ Wandana Sonalkar

  • If Asian women are discussing the problems of Brahminical patriarchy, why aren’t we all?



“In societies of whatever description, however narrowly or broadly defined, women as a class are the dulled conformists, the orthodox believers, the obedient followers, the disciples of unwavering faith.  To waver, whatever the creed of the men around them, is tantamount to rebellion; it is dangerous.  Most women, holding on for dear life, do not dare abandon blind faith.”

“… woman acquiesces to male authority in order to gain some protection from male violence.  She conforms, in order to be as safe as she can be.”
~ Andrea Dworkin

It perplexes me how women who pride themselves on being radically independent, who identify as gender renegades, who boast of smiting misogyny in their wake, would so casually baptise themselves in the waters of patriarchy by upholding and safeguarding the theological practices of yoga.  Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are three unyielding, unapologetic institutions of patriarchy.  No amount of incense can mask that miasma.  You can hammer away on a Tibetan bowl all you want, ladies, but you’re still spiritually and morally deficient according to the ancient texts and traditions.

Allow me to clarify, this post is not a beacon to promote uterus or goddess worship, and certainly not one that is still just another consort in the end.  Denouncing patriarchy within yoga is not about swapping one dogma for another.  While I fully appreciate feminine divinity can sometimes be used as a counterbalance to an overwhelmingly male-dominated focus, as Riane Eisler stated, “the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy.  The opposite of patriarchy is partnership.”

Nor is this a call for people to end or condemn all religious rites within the context of yoga.  I happen to admire a few, very carefully selected teachers who do choose to follow the spiritual practices, though they are rare in their diligence not to impose their beliefs on others.  They have consistently remained respectful and inclusive of those who reject the religious teachings, and yes, a few are men.  They set a precedent it is entirely feasible for believers and non-believers to practice amicably on adjacent mats.  Yet another form of accessible yoga.

No, this is a call for yoga colleagues to accept and respect their peers who choose not to participate in patriarchal spiritual practices rather than to admonish or cajole them.  One cannot convert to Hinduism and many practitioners are disinterested in simulations.  Just as there are atheists numbered amongst Asian communities, and plenty who regard yoga as a peculiar alternative lifestyle, so too should we concede our personal choices are not appropriate for everyone.  If we empower our students to be who they are, we should extend that same courtesy to our associates without self-righteousness.

This post is also a rallying cry to approach the teachings with as much scepticism and caution as one would in deciding to take up any new belief system.  I especially encourage women to read the texts with an analytical perspective, learn about the history, politics, misogyny, and casteism behind and beyond the teachings, and to consider what applying the customs actually looks like in the real world outside of the sanitised ashrams and studio walls.

  • Have you visited your local Hindu temple?
  • Have you participated in a traditional community puja?
  • Have you spent extended time in the homes of Asian families beyond the idyllic confines of the middle class?
  • Have you observed them without rose-coloured glasses?

It’s time to understand the magnitude of consequences when we venerate the patriarchal aspects within yoga.

No, this is not a post about hating men. 

This post is about the normalisation and sanctity of hating women. 

It’s about questioning why we still expect men to define what spirituality should look like for everyone.  They have no deeper insight into the sacred realms than women.  Yet history attests men have wielded relentless, violent tactics for millennia to convince women otherwise, diminishing – even removing – accounts of female (spiritual) authority across the globe.  The onus then lies with us and the men who are engaged allies.  When too few women effectively examine the past and empower themselves by it, the resulting ignorance helps to facilitate institutional abuse.


“There are plenty of reasons to dislike men, if you think about it. 
Reasons backed up by facts.

Why do men hate women?
During the thousands of years that men have benefited
from their dominant social position, what did we do – what have we done
to deserve their violence?
~Pauline Harmange  




Why I am Not a Hindu Woman‘ by Wandana Sonalkar

What do Indian Women have to say about Religion?

Women and Religion in India‘ a documentary by Disha Arora

Period-shaming Indian college forces students to strip to underwear

The West’s dangerous dalliance with Hindu extremists needs to come out of the shadows

There’s a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about

Female Inequality in Buddhism