I recently stumbled over this article when my boyfriend pointed out to me the link to “The Sydney Morning Herald”.
I am intrigued by the idea. In all the years of yoga teachings, I heard so many opinions on this subject. I am very curious what your views are.
Here are my 2 cents on it:
White, Black, Coffe Colored we all say NAMASTE :))
I also believe that the modern girl living in Australia fails to understand that:
The world we live in 2018 is not the world we used to live 1000 + years ago. We are breathing and surviving a globalized world where all cultures are mingled, they borrow from each other and they also butcher other cultures.
If it takes a yoga class to make someone move away from the hard daily work, house chores, stress, and worries so when they leave the room they are happy and they feel good then say a NAMASTE at the end of the class. As a teacher is all you can do guide them through some postures, make sure that you remind them THERE IS MORE TO YOGA THAT THE PHYSICAL PRACTICE AND A NAMASTE AT THE END, that they can always deepen their knowledge to absorb whatever else they need that the class is missing.
I am looking forward to your opinions on this.
The yoga class felt strange, as if I had somehow gone there in a misguided attempt to connect with what I thought was a part of my identity. Instead, as the class went on, I felt like an imposter. When the 45 minutes were up, I eagerly tried to scuttle away when I heard the instructor say ‘nam-aasss-tay’.
The word was familiar to me. I’m a Hindi speaking Hindu girl from Mumbai. Namaste is my way of greeting Hindi speaking elders in my hometown Melbourne or a way of saying hello to most people back in India. But hearing namaste chanted by the white yoga instructor to a predominantly white class was unsettling. Really? If the yoga class itself wasn’t white-centric enough, she really had to place the appropriative cherry on top.
First disclaimer. I’m not a yogi. I don’t practise yoga to feel #blessed or to find my inner chakra. This is primarily because, as a brown girl raised Hindu, to me practising yoga is much more than regularly attending $20 classes wearing trendy activewear.
Yoga in Hindu traditions is more than physical exercise. It is a multifaceted philosophy, medicine system and way of life. The asanas, or ‘poses’, that people perform when they go to their local class are one part of several other practices – including mediation, abstention and liberation – that are considered as a philosophical school in Hinduism.
That isn’t to say somehow that yoga belongs only to Hindus or to all Hindus. There are many caste and class-based critiques of yoga in India and Indian diasporas which say that yoga has often been used as a tool by communities with existing power to project a certain image of what it means to be Indian or Hindu at the expense of minority and oppressed voices.
These arguments aside – it is undeniable that yoga has Hindu roots.
The practice of yoga in western countries for white audiences began in the 1960s when Indian yoga gurus sold yoga as a way to fill a perceived gap in their audience’s spirituality.
Chiraag Bhaktha, a.k.a Pardon My Hindi, documented a history of yoga products and advertisements from the 1960s to ’80s in his installation ‘#whitepeopledoingyoga‘, which exemplified the ‘white-fication’ of yoga through images of Executive Yoga, Unisex Yoga and even Christian Yoga.
Yoga, a spiritual practice with Hindu roots, has since been distorted into something more palatable for white audiences – a way to exercise and connect with one’s spirituality. Whether marketed as an exercise class or a way to connect with your spiritual self, the commodification of yoga in a way that is entirely dismissive or ignorant of its roots or connections to an existing religion is appropriation at its worst. Bhaktha puts it simply in his artist statement:
“The act of selectively choosing what works in popular Western contexts, while ignoring aspects of yoga’s core philosophy and historic practice is telling. It shows an ironic attachment of one’s ego to a desire for ownership over an ancient practice of material denouncement that emerged from an altogether different, South Asian tradition.”
Though, to this Hindu girl who migrated to Australia in the 1990s, the appropriation of yoga by western audiences goes further. It exists alongside a wider ignorance about Hinduism and South Asian culture which, when you’ve spent a fair amount of your formative years being othered, can hit home hard.
In many western countries, Hinduism is treated as a mystic and ancient tradition and India as magical – ignoring the fact that Hinduism is a living, breathing contemporary religion practised by millions of people in their everyday lives around the world, including a huge Indian diaspora in Australia.
The history of colonisation in India means that the practice of yoga in countries with colonial ties, like Australia, can never truly be a friendly exchange. In fact, during their colonial rule, the British banned certain practices of yoga which they perceived as threatening and ‘less acceptable’ Hindu practices. As a policy of conciliation towards some aspects of Indian culture was pursued by the British in the later years of their rule, the Brits promoted a re-appropriated more physical ‘modern’ yoga which is more akin to the postural yoga taught in many classes in Australia today.
Given most classes are taught by white women, and most ads you see for yoga classes or yoga wear feature white women, white women have become the embodiment of yoga in Australia. As a Hindu woman, this places me as the “other” in a culture that is mine.
As South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) put it brilliantly in their short film ‘We are not Exotic, We are Exhausted’, such portrayals of yoga can be ostracising and excluding to South Asians who are trying to navigate a dual Western and South Asian identity, especially in the context of people regularly confusing Hindu and Hindi, white people wearing bindis to bush doofs and t-shirts with images of Ganesh and Shiva on them. It also furthers the economic exploitation of the colonised by the colonisers – landing the profits from a practice that has been appropriated from the colonised in the pockets of the colonisers.
Sure, there are yoga teachers in western societies who have studied Hindu teachings in their certified yoga teacher courses. Critically analysing your yoga practice isn’t undermining the years these yogis might have spent dedicated to learning this form of exercise, art, lifestyle – whatever it may mean to them. It’s about questioning whether your practice of yoga is claiming space away from people of colour to whom yoga is more than a part of their daily routine – it’s a part of their cultural and religious identity.
It’s about considering whether you can practise yoga without spiritually harvesting a culture and religion that is not yours when you have no deeper understanding, or desire to understand, the historical and social roots of the culture yoga comes from.
And it’s about considering whether your casually saying a few namastes at the end of your yoga class feeds into the commodification of Hindu spirituality that then makes it OK for people to Instagram memes such as ‘Namaste away from me’, to publish a yoga book as a white woman called ‘Namaslay‘, and to make people of South Asian and Hindu identity feel exoticised and misunderstood.”