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How can we avoid Cultural Appropriation as students & teachers of yoga?

(Image description: Amazon product: bathroom mats featuring Hindu God, Ganesha)

“Cultural appropriation takes place when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way.” - Britannica

Why is this appropriation problematic?:

  • Appropriation is a form of colonialism where powerful oppressors harmed indigenous cultures

  • When culture is taken out of context and changed it becomes harmful to the minority group

Centuries of violent colonization from a variety of groups has led to the destruction and persecution of Hindus, Yogis and the loss of indigenous wisdom. In fact, at one time, during British occupation, yoga and ayurveda were banned practices in India.

These days, elements of yoga Hinduism and ayurveda are used outside of their original context by groups who have historically oppressed those they are taking from. The dominant culture that takes often lacks the cultural context to understand, use and respect the elements of culture. Sometimes to:

  • Monetize or profit from a culture

  • Re-define a new fashion or accessory

  • Partake in something exotic

Cultural items, symbols, deities, language can become exoticized and or exploited by the dominant group

When iconography is taken out of its cultural context or the religious or cultural belief it is divorced from its context and makes it kitsch, it cheapens it and is deeply disrespectful to the people who wish to preserve their traditions.

(Image description: lululemon underwear using “namaste” play on words)

When those with power and privilege help themselves to another culture’s object for play or profit without any of the oppression, or racism or pain that the source culture experienced. This is further oppression.

So how do those outside South Asian cultures avoid cultural appropriation in yoga?


Marginalized folks often speak about the harm and impact in their communities. Don’t argue, reject or oppose or become defensive. This is called fragility. Don't be a devil's advocate. Listen deeply. Hear the pain that’s being shared even if it is uncomfortable for you. There is only growth through discomfort. Tapas - is the yoga of being unconservative and uncomfortable and pushing beyond norms.