"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
Yoga, originating from the Indian subcontinent, is one practice that has been widely embraced globally. However, it's crucial to approach yoga with respect and understanding, ensuring that our practice doesn't cross the line into cultural appropriation.
Be a Student
Both at heart and in practice, always approach yoga as a student. Immerse yourself in the practice you love and strive to deepen your understanding of it. Study with a knowledgeable guide and stay with that teacher for a while. Be humble in your study. As students, we aim to learn, grow, open and deepen - this is cultural “appreciation”.
Study Decolonization & Anti-Racism
If we don't understand the impact of colonialism and power structures, it's tricky to comprehend the concerns around appropriation. Learn from experts: read their books, take their courses, and invest in decolonized resources. This will help build a foundation of respect and understanding in your yoga practice.
Don't “Take & Change”
Reflect on the desire to “make it your own”. When teachers rename, rebrand, oversimplify, or pull out of context (like goat, beer, or naked yoga), it's problematic. Taking something, particularly if you are from a dominant group, without context or authority is a hallmark of appropriation. Especially if there is profit (financial or otherwise). Instead, strive to maintain the integrity and authenticity of yoga practices as much as possible.
Seek Indigenous Stewards (And Give Back)
Learn from indigenous practitioners. Invest in South Asian teachers. Our stories and perspective in yoga include a unique “felt” sense. We are also often undervalued and underrepresented in yoga spaces.
Of course, there are fabulous teachers from all walks of life, but it's important to also center those from the Indian subcontinent who have been intentionally and systematically excluded from their own practices.
There is harm and pain in seeing your own culture sold back to you while “experts” critique your knowledge of your own culture, language, and traditions (this happens regularly among “experts” in the field). I feel this harm in my body.
When people share the pain and harm in their communities, can we just listen? Can we hear those stories without being a “devil's advocate”? Can we listen without the knee-jerk reaction to defend or argue? Hold space and listen to those who share - it's often very difficult to share painful experiences of harm and intergenerational trauma.
I believe we can get there!
Visit aartiyoga.com for more insights and guidance on practicing yoga respectfully and authentically.