Yoga and Cultural Appropriation

My Stories

Yoga is the realm in which I see Cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation crashing the most. It is becoming more and more difficult to look the other way without realising how Western Cultures have appropriated and misrepresented this ancient Indian practice. Let’s start by something: Yoga is not fitness. One not does yoga to become prettier, skinnier, stronger, even healthier. That is not what Yoga is aimed for.

Yoga is a spiritual practice. Yoga is aimed to teach positions to prepare for long meditation in usually uncomfortable circumstances. Yoga is a path in which you control and train your body and silence your mind so you can evolve and reach higher spiritual levels, so you can connect with your own self, and with the universe. But here —on the other side of the world—, Yoga has become a different thing. Some —companies, yoga studios, teachers— have taking words, symbols and art and have made profits with them. Others —students, admirers—have not acknowledged the meaning and origins of yoga, making us guilty of cultural appropriation as well.  As an example, the word ‘Om’ has several spiritual implications that should not be taken lightly. The word ‘Namaste’, also sacred, has been misunderstood as a greeting, while in reality it is a salutation to an elder, someone more spiritually evolved, or a deity. It means ‘The Divinity in me greets the Divinity in you’ and it should not be used unconsciously and to greet friends, not even your yoga teacher. I am even seeing influencers at the moment accusing others of cultural appropriation while trying to sell their own yoga practices as ‘sustainable’ and ‘culturally conscious’.

I was personally trying to avoid facing this issue until it became unbearable. I do Yoga as well. I live in a mostly white town in the west of France. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find a professor of Asian background. There are good teachers though, with studies and experience. However the last couple of times I have encounter misunderstanding and ignorance on why we are there. The Sun Salutation, one of the most deep-grounded, meaningful yoga positions, was vandalised and teased by the students. They were tired, it was difficult, they had pain in their joints. One of them even said ‘the sun have left us anyway’, and all her friends laughed. The teacher explained the benefits for their bodies. We kept going, only one, two, three times. After more protests we changed positions. We finished the class. I approached the teacher at the end and asked her to keep practicing the Sun Salutation. I was actually looking for an immediate connection that would let me know she was valuing this sacred practice. I was looking for a positive answer in which she was going to approach the issue separately with the students to make them understand its beauty and sacredness. She was not as beaten as I was. She took this lightly, she was not culturally conscious.

All of this left me thinking that we need to look for ways in which we could do cultural appreciation instead of cultural appropriation, because to appreciate is to acknowledge, to respect, to see the others perspective, to value. I am planning to continue doing this myself, in my own spiritual practice. In my own rituals —some of them come from Latin-American indigenous people—. To never forget to thank our ancestors, our elders, and to always be worth of my spiritual learning. To never charge money when people come to me looking for answers —as now has become a regular practice to do the Circles of Women and charging good amount of money for it— In my opinion this is nothing more than taking advantage of people who is in search of a Higher Self. I am sure Yoga and Meditation are meant to be shared. But with respect, to be used and practiced wisely, with humbleness. I acknowledge my ancestors, I acknowledge my spiritual masters. I ask for permission to use these practices to evolve spiritually and remember who I am. I ask for forgiveness if I misuse or misguide my own spiritual search.



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