The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “union." The practice is so much more than poses that demonstrate almost impossible flexibility. Yoga has roots in Indian philosophy and spirituality, and it's important to acknowledge and honor where it comes from or we run the risk of unknowingly participating in cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation happens when a dominant group uses the objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn't respect its original meaning, give credit to the source, reinforces stereotypes, or contributes to oppression. In many ways, one could argue that the way yoga is practiced in mainstream Western society is basically cultural appropriation.
Yoga is More Than a Fitness Tool
In the West, yoga has been mainly viewed as a form of exercise. Many of us, including me, found yoga this way. The physical component however, is just a small fraction of yoga in its entirety. And I wasn't aware of the depth of a yoga practice for years when I first started practicing.
By digging deeper in my exploration of yoga, I have found that it encourages me to look inward as a way to calm my mind, focus on the present moment, learn more about myself, and become a more compassionate human being. Through meditation, breathwork (pranayama), and learning about and practicing the ethical principles (the Yamas and Niyamas), I am more aware of the ways that I contributed to the dismantling of yoga as a whole. It is now my responsibility to demonstrate to the world that a yogic way of life is way more than a fitness regime.
Yoga is Not a Commodity
In the U.S. alone, the yoga industry had revenues of $11 Billion in 2020. Yoga has become a profitable business, but we need to be aware of spaces or people that treat it solely as a trend to be bought and sold. Treating yoga as a commodity diminishes its richness. An authentic yoga practice embraces our wholeness recognizing that we are part of an interconnected collective of other beings. The accumulation of wealth in some cases tends to marginalize those who don't have it.
Very few people become yoga teachers because of the prospect of making a lot of money. I was drawn to it because of the lightness and interconnectedness I feel when I practice, and I want to share it with others. It is now my role to balance teaching this ancient discipline with getting paid. I'm aware that a lot of yoga teachers struggle with this paradox, and I am like them, still learning.
Yoga's Language and Objects are Not Malleable
I am part of the system I was born into and raised in. I have learned that in many situations, those systems can be used to oppress marginalized or groups outside of the dominant groups. When I purchase items that take the language or objects of yoga and turn them into something else, far from the original intention, I am inadvertently participating in cultural appropriation.
I am now asking myself deeper questions like:
This calls to mind a quote by Maya Angelou that has stayed with me every since I heard it: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better do better."
Yoga is about expanding awareness to discover who you truly are in this world and the impact that we all have on each other, and as I learn to live this way, this is how I am honoring the practice of yoga.
Peace, love & yoga,