I might get in trouble for posting this, but I was wondering about this while at work today. There’s an article
that’s been going around about a white woman being uncomfortable about having a heavier black woman in her yoga class… It’s incredibly problematic, and the author was called out in …
What has happened to yoga is the clearest example of complete and total cultural appropriation, i.e. cultural THEFT, cultural cannibalism, cultural annihilation. It has been ripped out of my culture, and there is nothing peaceful, innocent or unproblematic in the way Western people practise it. With NO exceptions. The practice of “Western yoga” is a violent, imperialist, racist act. Yoga is an Indian/Hindu/South Asian practice and it belongs to Indians/Hindus/South Asians. This is the truth, and if you are afraid of getting into trouble for mentioning it, that is something that should bring home to you the violent nature of imperialism.
90% of “yoga” discourse does not mention the South Asian origins of yoga, and in fact actively tries to suppress this information. If it is mentioned at all, it is only mentioned to give an “exotic” flavour to the boring, bastardised, appropriative and meaningless exercise regimen Western people market as yoga.
More than 90% of “yoga” classes/websites/paraphernalia are marketed towards Western people, taught by Western people and feature Western people in their advertising. I can’t remember the last time I saw a South Asian face in yoga advertising (not that that would make it better). Western people are even trying to spread the appropriative practice among other Third World people, as if it’s theirs to disseminate. These are my thoughts on that: http://theastrolibrarian.tumblr.com/post/74740425207/blackmagicalgirlmisandry-blackyogis
Google won’t help you find out the truth, because as I said, 90% of sources on yoga are non-South Asian (primarily Western) sources. If you want to find the truth, make sure the sources you use are South Asian. I don’t believe any of the sources you linked were written by South Asians. Google can’t teach you about my culture. Only people from a particular culture can speak with validity and expertise about that culture.
Your first tumblr source says in its first line: “This is a complicated question as Yoga, like Buddhism, when practiced as intended, is not culturally bounded.”
This is absolutely wrong. ALL cultural practices are culturally bounded. The bindi is culturally bounded, the sari is culturally bounded, Hinduism is culturally bounded, every single aspect of my culture is culturally bounded. The cultural boundedness is in fact what makes them “cultural” practices, rather than “universal” ones. NONE of my cultural practices are for sale. None of them are up for grabs by the same colonisers who have spent centuries destroying my country, my people and my culture.
There is such a thing as cultural heritage. Western colonisers stole cultural artefacts and manuscripts from the countries that they looted and raped for centuries; these artefacts (many of them sacred idols and precious objects) and manuscripts (many of them historical documents) are STILL in their libraries and museums, ignoring the fact that our governments and people have been demanding their return. What’s happening to yoga is the same thing - pure and simple theft of our cultural heritage. The concept of heritage means that it IS exclusive, and it IS bounded. Yoga and Indian culture, as well as Indian manuscripts and cultural artefacts, belong to our children. Our ancestors created and sustained these beautiful traditions to pass on to their descendants, not so that they could be stolen and commodified by the descendants of people who oppressed them. We have been protesting, and we will continue to protest when our children are robbed of their heritage.
(Yoga is primarily a Hindu practice, but it has grown to become a pan-South Asian practice, so it’s not limited to Hindus. It definitely IS out of bounds for people who have disrespected it, and Western people have shown over and over that they cannot respect it - or us.)
And unlike your first tumblr source maintains, Western people combining the physical and mental aspects of “yoga” does not make it any less appropriative. Yoga has physical, mental and CULTURAL aspects. That means that South Asian ownership of yoga must be respected, and it can only be practised on our terms.
Meanwhile, Western people are trying to PATENT what they call their own forms of yoga. Non-South Asian people are teaching yoga. Like Western chefs teaching Indian cuisine, like Western people performing Indian dances, like Western henna “artists” teaching “their” art, pretending expertise in another cultural tradition (and selling your ‘expert’ services) is the the clearest and most disgusting form of appropriation.
This divorcing of yoga from its cultural context is an attempt at divorcing the beautiful aspects of my culture from the people. Western people won’t stop until they can finally say that it belongs to them, that they invented it.
It’s part of an entire movement of cultural appropriation that includes things like “The Colour Run”, which is an attempt at divorcing the beautiful traditions of Holi from its cultural/religious context and appropriating this festival.
I could go on and on but I don’t have the energy. The bitter truth is that Western people are so incredibly racist that they can’t ever appreciate the beauty of Indian culture in its cultural context, amongst the people who invented it. They know it’s beautiful, but they can’t fathom how those dirty brown people ever came up with it. They have to commodify it and pretend they invented it and never, ever mention that it has any connection to us in order to enjoy it. Well, their “enjoyment” of an aspect of MY culture IS appropriation, and my culture does belong to me. They are consuming the Other in order to destroy it.
What Western people are doing is NOT yoga, and never will be. Yoga is an integral part of my culture and my people and my identity, and my culture is an integral part of yoga. Without one, you can’t have the other.
Edit: If you want to ask “is this appropriation?” in the future, I suggest you ask thisisnotindia.tumblr.com or youarenotdesi.tumblr.com