September is National Yoga Month. As yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry, there are plenty of ways in which this month can be celebrated. Lately, however, it seems that a lot of yoga practice in the U.S. has been seen as potential cultural appropriation. This has become a hot topic recently between yogis all over the U.S. How are we appreciating yoga and its culture without appropriating it? How are you honoring yoga in all it’s forms? Is it possible that where you practice yoga is sterilizing the culture of yoga?
If you’re thinking it can be difficult to understand what is appreciation and what is appropriate, you’re not wrong and you are not alone. It’s difficult to understand where the line is.
Many yogis are discussing this exact topic. In order to stop cultural appropriation, we need to acknowledge the roots and origins in India. We need to acknowledge the cultural and religious ties yoga has to South Asian countries. Understanding these connections can help one appreciate and practice yoga more authentically. By incorporating cultural appreciation by opening up to understanding and learning, we can prevent the cycle of appropriation from continuing.
Here are a few questions to ask about your local yoga studio:
- Are people of Indian heritage represented?
- Are cultural or religious symbols displayed appropriately?
- Do teachers use Sanskrit as a way of growing the yoga practice or as a way to divide teachers from students?
- Are the lineages of the yoga teachers identified and honored?
- Do students and teachers wear clothing that display gods and goddesses in areas of the body that are considered disrespectful or harmful to the culture and religion?
- Is the yoga studio accessible to all levels and abilities?
- Does your studio work to create community and inclusivity?
- Do the yoga classes focus only on physical asana?
- Does the studio’s yoga teacher training go over cultural history?
- Is the studio purposely avoiding using Sanskrit or any South Asian representation?
These are very important topics to consider when practicing yoga, at home using YouTube or at a studio. While we can make yoga available and accessible to all, it’s important to honor the roots. While yoga itself is not a religion, it has many ties to Indian religions and culture. By honoring all that yoga has to offer, not just physical but full body, mind and spirit, we can truly appreciate yoga. By honoring the history of yoga, we can better understand where it came from and why it has been so popular for generations.
So next time you go to a yoga studio or click on your favorite YouTube yoga video, take a look around and observe what may or may not be appreciation and appropriation.