Close your eyes and think of a person who practices yoga – what image comes to your mind?
I would guess that you're picturing an attractive, non-disabled white woman wearing lululemon leggings with an outrageously expensive yoga mat. Unfortunately, in the UK and much of the Western world this tends to be the case, but it shouldn’t be. Despite the way yoga is marketed, yoga is not about how many handstands you can do. Yoga is not about what leggings you’re wearing. Yoga is not about what mat you have. Yoga is not about how flexible you are. Yoga is not solely about what you can do on the mat.
The essence of yoga has been stripped away and what remains is a fancy exercise class that overly sexualises our bodies. It’s become a way to increase flexibility, lose weight and show off. Whilst yoga is a great form of self-care and reduces stress, it is so much more than that.
Yoga is for every skin-colour, every gender, every size, every sexuality, every social class, every body type. Yoga spaces should be a welcoming space for everyone and anyone.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice originating in India thousands of years ago. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to join. Many people believe yoga is about the union or joining of the mind, body and soul. Whilst this is partly true – it is actually about the union of the mind, body and soul (atma) with the higher consciousness (parmatma) or the universe. It is essentially about recognising yourself and everything around you as one. It’s a spiritual practice of introspection that is certainly not easy! It takes a lot of work and requires masses of unlearning and relearning. It is a complicated and deeply personal journey. Hec, nothing worth doing is ever easy!
Many yoga teachers are blissfully unaware of the history and philosophy surrounding the practice and many of those who are aware choose to ignore it, focusing their teaching on the easier part – the physical postures. Yet, there are eight limbs of yoga and asana (physical postures) is just one of those limbs. The purpose of asana is to make your body strong and flexible in order to sit in a still and steady posture for a prolonged period of time as you meditate. To the teachers who choose to focus solely on the asana part of yoga and only teach the physical postures with a little bit of breath work – you are culturally appropriating. In my opinion, if you wish to focus on the asanas then don’t call yourself a yoga teacher. Call yourself an asana teacher. Call the class a mindful movement class. Anything. Just don’t sell the physical part of yoga as the whole practice. You are cheating yourself and your students.
As yoga teachers we owe it to our students to teach them what we know. To give them the opportunity to learn the philosophy, the wisdom and the history behind the practice that so many of us love. To empower them to take yoga off the mat and incorporate it into their daily lives. The best teachers are those who are students, who are always learning and deepening their knowledge. We owe it to ourselves and our students to continue to learn.
So it’s time for us all – teachers and students – to look inside ourselves and consider why we are doing what we are doing and now that we know better, to do better.
Join my online yoga classes to practice with me an authentic way as you learn how to take yoga off the mat. If you feel called to learn more about cultural appropriation in yoga listen to the podcast episode I was featured on.
I truly hope you found this post insightful and learnt something new! Stay tuned for more posts about what yoga is and how you can incorporate its wisdom into your life.
With love and gratitude,