Yoga belongs to India, so hands off

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the University of Ottawa last November, a yoga class was cancelled due to concerns that it was culturally appropriated from India — a culture that “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy.” At first, the story seems ridiculous and inconvenient. How did a simple yoga class become a political issue?

However, when you consider the debate on cultural appropriation, the issue becomes much larger than a yoga class. Cultural appropriation occurs when one culture takes and uses elements interpreted as a way of diminish the elements of distinct cultural identity. In this particular case, reimagining an originally Indian practice as a Western activity mirrors the colonialist idea that certain groups of people can take whatever they want from others without permission.

So, am I supporting colonialism by taking a yoga class? It is wrong to explore cultures outside my own? No. I am not accusing anybody of being a thief. I am not calling you a racist. I am saying, however, that people should take more seriously the cultural origins of whatever they do. People should think more about the sacred activities they engage in beyond the idea that “they are fun.”

If you are not going to respect the people that created a cultural practice, do not bother participating in it. A simple yoga class may mean much more to you than to another person. These classes are symbols of a culture that belongs to someone else. Your lack of understanding does not give you the right to forego empathy, compassion, and respect, and to me it does not matter if the activity is as benign as a yoga class or as serious as a traditional headdress.

People should think more about the sacred activities they engage in beyond the idea that they are fun.

At the end of the day, we have to come to terms with the fact the yoga belongs to India. It should therefore be practiced according to the rules and regulations set by India. You cannot claim rights to something that does not belong to you.

I have read many online comments that claim these views as too politically correct or restrictive. Unfortunately, minority groups have been increasingly painted as the villain in these situations for being ‘annoying’ and ‘overly sensitive,’ so I’ll offer up an alternative reason for this saturation of political correctness: nobody truly listens to each other.

Minority groups try to be understood while dominant groups accuse them of oversensitivity. We are not connecting. We do not understand one another. It is ridiculous that some people believe they have all the answers and cannot be bothered to learn more.

I do not have all the answers. You do not have all the answers. No particular culture has all the answers. We owe it to each other to listen and try to empathize with the other. If we do not find a way to communicate, we will continue to hurt one another.

I’m incredibly disappointed that yoga has been culturally appropriated due in part to this lack of communication between cultures, and I’m happy to see University of Ottawa take action against this. While it may take a while, I’d like to see some more public respect for the traditional roots of this sacred activity that has been ransacked by Western ideals.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Your point of view is like saying an East Indian couldn’t teach Jazz because he’s not from New Orleans, or St. Louis. Your idea of respect is disrespectful, negatively nationalist, and possibly racist.

  2. Cultural cross-pollination and the independent development of cultural ideas in different areas is a critical means to step beyond colonialism. While sensitivity is important (adopting a cultural practice for the sake of merely ‘playing the other’ is an issue), recognizing the motivations of the so-called “appropriation” (in this case, rather than merely an exotic dilution, the primary motive is health and fitness) is equally important in ensuring a healthy exchange of ideas. The alternative is an absolute restriction of any cultural practice’s innovation, development, or comment outside its originating region, and that’s just nationalism.

  3. This is political correctness run amok! If I cook a blintz, I do not have to learn Judaism. If I play the blues, I do not have to study black history. Indians do not own yoga. It is their cultural gift to the world. There is no copyright on the practice of yoga, just like there is no copyright on playing hockey or performing martial arts. These things have all been entered into the realm of humanity and now belong to everyone. These cultural gifts may also change and sometimes lose meanings or have new or different interpretations. That’s just the way it goes. For an Indian to hold claim on something like this because they disapprove of the way someone else practices it, is a racist point of view.

    • honestly, the real underlying problem is ANY yoga teacher overstating expertise… People claiming they can do practices that are occult/esoteric/praan vestaan but really not having the egotistical self transcendence to do it!? Extremely dangerous. It’s ok to practice yoga on a superficial level I think, but it is good to be aware of the existence of a comprehensive science/philosophy/Dharma from which the practices came, and to represent them well as teachers.

  4. “In this case” you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about if you think my class being stopped was anything other than racist censorship. stop trying to hijack my narrative for your dubious crap! I am a genuine practitioner and this has nothing to do with race, so why don’t you check your arrogance!!!

  5. “No particular culture has all the answers” … i think if you understood Yoga culture a little better, you wouldn’t say that. What makes you expert to comment on Yoga, CA, or anything for that matter?

  6. Anyone who is not African American should be banned from… playing jazz music. Cultural appropriation! And don’t get me started on rap “music” or country and western. There is a lot of cultural appropriation going on and it has to stop!