Cultural appropriation is rife in the wellness industry from Ayurveda to Shamanism to Yoga and the hundreds of ancient indigenous practices in between. You just have to spend a few minutes scrolling through Instagram and you'll see it in action: the use of Hindu deities or Buddha as decoration; clothing or yoga mats with the Om symbol on; people wearing bindis to festivals; the burning of sage; people doing gymnastics on their mat and calling it yoga... the list goes on.
More and more people are starting to wake up to this and want to do better but don't always know where or how to start. Now, I don't claim to be an expert which has stopped me from writing or commenting on this topic for a while. As did my fear of offending others, especially my fellow white friends in the yoga and wellness space. However, as someone from the culture where yoga comes from, as a qualified yoga teacher, as someone who has studied and continues to study yogic texts, I believe that it's important for me to encourage the conversation. Let me begin by saying, you don't have to be brown to teach or practice yoga. Rather, you need to honour the roots of yoga, understand its history and teach it in an all encompassing way. And if that's not for you then don't call yourself a yoga teacher. Simple. Call what you teach mindful movement, a fitness class or something else.
So where to begin with this vast topic? Here are 5 ways you can appreciate and not appropriate yoga:
Honour the roots of yoga - its thousands of years old and is a way of life. It's not something you do on your mat for a couple of hours a week. Take the time to learn about the origin and history of yoga.
Study yogic philosophy - whilst western yoga practitioners tend to focus on asana (postures), yoga actually has eight limbs, of which asana is just one. So most people only practice one-eighth of yoga.
Use Sanskrit with respect - Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world. Take time to understand the meaning of the words you use and to pronounce them correctly.
Call out cultural appropriation when you see it - whether that's in yoga classes, yoga studios, from companies who sell yoga clothing & equipment or somewhere else. Sometimes people don't realise they are culturally appropriating and other times they know but since no one questions it they continue. Either way, having a conversation with someone can encourage change.
Give back to the communities you take knowledge from - I believe that we should give back to the communities that we take knowledge, resources or labour from. For anyone benefiting or profiting from yoga, the knowledge used comes from India so we should be giving back to the communities there. At My Wellness Company, we donate10% of our profits to the women's empowerment programme at Govardhan Eco-Village in Maharashtra, India. You can learn more here.
It is an ongoing process of unlearning and relearning which can be uncomfortable and difficult. No one said it would be easy. But to make meaningful change, this work is imperative. And once we know better, we can do better.
Learn more about this topic over on my IG or listen to me speak about it on these podcasts. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any tips you have on how we can appreciation and not appropriate - please do message me on IG or via email.
With love and gratitude,