Yoga, Appropriation, and Me

Early last year I was asked if I would ever take yoga teacher training and I said yes because I enjoy teaching and this, in particular, is something that has interested me for ages. Then I sat down to think about the meaning behind teaching. The definition of teaching is "ideas or principles taught by an authority". In my mind to teach something I must be an authority in it. When I worked at the bank, I was an authority on the computer system and trained others how to best use it. But yoga is something completely different. Yoga, though a huge part of my world, is not something I know a huge amount of. Sure I know about the poses and how to work my way in and out of most of them. Beyond the poses, my knowledge of yoga was nonexistent. 

At first I figured that must mean I need to learn all about the body. From the anatomy to the psychology. I dove into one book that spewed terms with very little care and found myself frustrated. Then one day as I stretched out in a class a teacher began to read from a book and I was fascinated. The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele introduced me to a whole side of yoga that I hadn't known was missing, the spiritual side. Now I am not a spiritual person, I'm an atheist through and through, however seeing that there was a spiritual side of yoga I wasn't aware of, I began to wonder what else I was missing and started digging. I discovered that the practice has a massive and beautiful history. It's full of culture, meaning, and things that I haven't really been aware of. But I also discovered yoga appropriation and that discovery made me uncomfortable. 

If this is the first time you are hearing the word appropriation, it means "the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission". In the case of yoga we (as in white people) took the poses of yoga and westernized it. To put it bluntly, I am stealing a culture's art, history, and beliefs every time I practice. When I was asked again about teacher training I said no and went on to talk about cultural appropriation, the amount of white teachers, and lack of history awareness. The person I was speaking to had no idea what I meant and I didn't know where to begin. At the time explaining the thoughts was impossible for me because I barely understood what it was I meant. 

This has lead me down an interesting path. It started with me seeking out people to help put my mind to rest. To confirm that it was okay for me to continue practicing the way I was. It didn't work that way and for that I am thankful. From reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo to finding Layla Saad. I am growing and discovering things I never expected. Layla Saad in July put forth a challenge on Instagram called You & White Supremacy and I decided to participate. For next few Mondays you will see my responses to the questions she asked and I hope that you will take a look at your own ideas. There is so much out there that I have not known and I no longer want to participate in the harm of others.

As for how I feel about yoga and my appropriation of it. I chose to google Yoga and Cultural Appropriation and educate myself directly on the matter from the people who experience the appropriation. I highly recommend checking out the links below if you are interested. For me, I have found that all the things I read, share one thing in common. The ask of white practitioners to be humble, respectful, and commit to learning about the history, colonization, and the 8 limbs of yoga. So that is what I am working towards. 

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?
Do you practice yoga and if so, have you ever thought about it in this light?

To the so many white people who practice yoga, please don’t stop, but please do take a moment to look outside of yourself and understand how the history of yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to some of the larger forces of white supremacy.
— Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff
Yoga is for everyone, no matter what you look like. But yoga is also far more than a trendy physical practice.
— Rina Deshpande