Is Western Yoga Cultural Appropriation?

More postmodernist neo-Marxist PC bullshit:

Is Western Yoga Cultural Appropriation?

According to the Yoga Journal’s 2016 Yoga in America study, more than 36 million people in the U.S. regularly practice yoga — many, if not the majority of them, white. In a recent article, two academics from Michigan warn that this commercialization of an ancient Indian practice amounts to cultural appropriation, stating that it’s “a continuation of white supremacy and colonialism, maintaining the pattern of white people consuming the stuff of culture that is convenient and portable, while ignoring the well-being and liberation of Indian people.”

Yoga first arrived in America in 1893 with a visit from guru Swami Vivekananda, and was eventually adopted at a scale nobody could have predicted. The past decade in particular has spawned every imaginable iteration of the practice, from candle lit hip hop yoga to mountainside “snowga.” Neighborhood studios are full of young white women, many of whom, it’s fair to assume, practice yoga primarily for the lauded health benefits.

While you’ll usually hear sanskrit names for at least some of the poses, it’s more rare for the teacher to include a lecture on the Yoga Sutras (the definitive yogic text, outlining guidelines for a meaningful life) or provide more than the most basic cultural context to the poses. And therein lies the problem, say Shreena Gandhi, a religious studies professor at University of Michigan State, and her associate Lillie Wolff: “When ‘Western’ yoga teachers train other practitioners to relate to yoga only on a physical level, without exploring the history, roots, complexity, and philosophy, they are perpetuating the re-colonization of it by diluting its true depth and meaning.”

Instructors do understand the spiritual and cultural lineage of the practice — the average 200 hour yoga teacher training program in America includes lessons on the 5,000 year history of yoga — but if the majority of your students have shown up to get a workout and de-stress, maybe it’s easier to tell them something that vaguely alludes to new age spirituality, like “set an intention for your practice”, than to launch into a speech about the eight limbs of yoga. But despite the challenges, instructors and studios should do their part to make the class pass crowd aware of yoga’s origins, say Gandhi and Wolff: “First, they can be aware of the history, roots, and magnitude of the practice and give credit where credit is due. Humility, respect, and reverence go a long way. More yoga teachers and studio owners need to create space for conversations about cultural appropriation and cultural accountability.”

The pair are right to assume that the majority of western yogis were drawn to the practice for health purposes — yoga asana (the physical poses) happens to have benefits that span everything from increased flexibility and strength to lower blood pressure — but their reasons for showing up to the mat inevitably change over time. As their affinity for the practice increases, so does their curiosity, which is perhaps why so many feel called to sign up for yoga teacher training — for every qualified teacher there are two currently studying for their certificate.

In writing their article, Gandhi and Wolff are not trying to dissuade white yogis from practicing, but they are asking for this typically compassionate, environmentally and socially mobilized community to be better: “Despite our best values and intentions as individuals, our actions (and inaction) are inherently connected with a system of power, privilege, and oppression. If we want to honor the full yoga tradition and live into our values of love, unity, and fairness, we must examine the ways we are upholding ‘business as usual’.”

It’s clear that in their headlong rush and rage to condemn “western appropriation” of yoga and to push for the preservation of some fanciful and ill-defined notion of yoga’s purity, these academics have considered neither that ideas—and cultural ideas in particular—evolve, nor have they thought about how such evolution of ideas occurs. Westerners could just as well level the same charge against Indians for perverting their religion or their culinary practices, yet one doesn’t hear a peep along such lines.

Those failures alone already disqualify their blusterous rant from being taken seriously.


Westerners could just as well level the same charge against Indians for perverting their religion or their culinary practices, yet one doesn’t hear a peep along such lines.

Non-westerners have appropriated just about everything from westerners: clothes, cars, cricket, legal systems, democracy, you name it. Nobody complains about it.

I think this “cultural appropriation” thing comes from the same kind of mind space as the notion that only whites can even in principle be racist, or only men can discriminate based on gender, etc. What they really want is that non-westerners have the right to appropriate anything they want, but westerners not. So a Native American may wear a business suit, but a white bloke is not allowed to wear Native American dress, etc.

I have noted that here in South Africa, the people who complain so bitterly about colonialism have no problem at all with such colonial conveniences as cell phones and fancy cars.


Sigh. Agree with much of the above, but moreover, the same kind of bullshit I’ve seen in martial arts classes too: Where people conflate a physical practise that has practical benefits, with some wowie-zowie moral code thet quickly spills over into spiritual babblings, cultural baggage, etc…

I had a sensei once who would routinely stop the class and wax lyrical for 30 minutes on the finer points of being a better person. Which is not a bad thing, I guess, but I am kinda paying you to keep me fit and teach me to hit stuff, not so much for your opinions on philosophy.

And even IN the practical realm the religiosity of martial arts can be maddening. Ask any practitioner and they’ll gleefully explain to you why the teachings of their ancient master is better than the teachings of that other ancient master… or how so-and-so dojo is less pure because THEY don’t have a head-of-style that is direct lineage to some geezer from the Meiji era… blah blah blah.

This is how I ended up studing various martial arts instead of mastering one to a painful level of “perfection”. This is fighting, it’s rough and tumble. It is not a realm of perfection… forget what you saw in that kung-fu movie: This is dirty stuff.

This is also why in modern MMA fights Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is very prominent: They took a pure style and adapted it with other methods and IMPROVED on it without regard for “purity” and the old. Something few other things ever do so…

MY POINT IS: Embrace and extend, appropriate and then merge, improve on and remix… this is a GOOD thing and improves life for everyone. It’s kinda like how mixed-breed dogs are healthier than “pure bred” ones. Even though the human inclination is to prefer the latter to the former.