I’m a white woman who maintains a biweekly yoga practice, and to be honest, I feel pretty uncomfortable about it.
As with many things, the traditional practices of yoga and meditation have been fiercely appropriated by Western culture, and so I ask myself: By paying an exorbitant amount of money to be taught yoga by another (typically) white (typically) woman, am I contributing to the colonisation and commodification of this sacred and spiritual practice?
I constantly question whether I know enough about the origins of the yoga I practise, which admittedly I do not. From a few hours of self-directed research I like to think I have a better understanding than your average Lululemon-adorned suburban yoga mum, but there’s always more to learn.
I question whether I should give up yoga altogether, but I’m not sure what that would actually achieve. It’s one of the few nice things I spend money on for myself, that actually makes me feel good. So, as I ponder my moral dilemma, I present to you a few of the better pieces of advice I have read on how to decolonise your yoga practice.
Acknowledge where the practice of yoga comes from
Those who practice yoga in Western cultures can mitigate the harm of their behavior by being aware of the roots of the practice, and by giving credit where credit is due, Julia Gibran, a Toronto yoga teacher of Indian descent, tells VICE.
"We need to ask ourselves… How can I be really respectful and say, '"This is a different culture's science, so how has that been taken and shifted and grown?"' It's about creating forums where people discuss anti-oppression and appropriation," Gibran says in the article.
Neglecting to recognize the origins of what you’re practising is a classic sign of cultural appropriation, says Maisha Z. Johnson in this article published by Everyday Feminism. Johnson explains that much of yoga is about humility; acknowledging and respecting those who have come before you and the people and readings they learnt from.
Explore, learn and cite correct cultural references within and about your practice
As practitioners of yoga, Susanna Barkataki wants to see more of us citing cultural references “as we attempt to understand and connect with the complexity, culture and history from which this tradition comes.”
In this article for Huffpost, Barkataki, an M.Ed. E-RYT-certified yoga teacher and educator, says as an Indian woman living in the US, she feels uncomfortable in many yoga spaces. “At times, such as when I take a $25 yoga class by a well-known teacher who wants to expose us to the culture by chanting ‘Om’ to start class, and her studio hangs the Om symbol in the wrong direction, my culture is being stripped of its meaning and sold back to me in forms that feel humiliating at best and dehumanizing at worst.”
Be aware of what the symbols on your yoga apparel actually mean
“I like your “om” shirt—can you tell me about the 2,500-year history behind it?” asks Rina Deshpande, an RYT-500-certified yoga teacher, researcher and writer based in New York City.
In this article for Self Magazine, Deshpande says when choosing yoga apparel, it’s important to consider what the deity or printed symbols represent. Similarly, if you’re bringing spiritual objects related to the practice of yoga into your home, make sure you understand what they mean and position them correctly.
As with all things – before taking, using, or practising something from a culture that does not belong to you, be sure to educate yourself about and respect the history of that object or practice. Need help? Read this.Support Villainesse