Decolonizing yoga

I recently took a decolonizing yoga workshop. I’m so, so glad I did it and it totally changed my perspective on yoga.

Before the workshop, I used doyogawithme all the time, and now afterwards, there a couple things that don’t sit quite right with me. One, that it seems that the teachers are predominately white and there are not very many South Asian teachers or teachers of color.

The second, is that I want to avoid appropriation in my asana practice. There are a lot of ways to try to avoid this, but one simple one is to stop saying Namaste at the end of the practice. It’s harmful to use Namaste as a “goodbye” or an end to practice because it’s appropriation/misuse. I am a white woman so i don’t want to try to explain it, so I’ll link an explanation below:

More on namaste

I’d love to open up a conversation around this topic - as I said I am white and not at all an expert, but I think it’s so important to at least talk about and definitely consult with South Asian teachers about.

For example, this is who I took the decolonizing yoga workshop with. - anusha @shantiwithin

4 Likes

Hi Isabelle,
I appreciate your care and consideration on this topic. I’ve been participating in some discussions with teachers in Yoga Alliance (a primary, global governing body for yoga) about this issue, and I have a different point of view. I don’t share the opinion that the yoga we practice today is a result of colonization. I’m open to hearing why someone would think so, but as far as I understand it, the yogis who brought the yoga tradition with North America and Europe did so by choice and were compensated for their efforts. The expansion of yoga into North America has served to bring yoga to a global stage, which has led to a rich exchange of ideas as well as a new stream of commerce for India. I’ve been to India a couple times, and understand that namaste is a pretty casual greeting that basically means hi. As a teacher, I say namaste and I use sanskrit words because to not do so would be to disregard the tradition that I have been taught (my teachers were directly taught by Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Desikachar, among others. I did ask my Punjabi friend what she thought about namaste, and she doesn’t mind people saying it, but wishes we pronounced it better.) But - bad pronunciation aside - the intention of namaste is elevating and worth sharing. The reason there aren’t a lot of teachers of color or south asian descent is because DoYogaWithMe is located in Victoria, British Columbia and uses local teachers. (Just like a yoga studio in Thailand would have predominantly Thai teachers, etc.). I’m a white woman from the US and Canada, and I’m very clear that the yoga that I practice is not the same as yoga in India; how can it be? We have a completely different cultural and spiritual context. But the yoga tradition itself is incredibly complex and contains wildly different viewpoints and practices, so - as long as we stay awake and don’t pretend to be something we’re not - I think we can all share our knowledge in the interest of furthering the common human condition. I look forward to hearing what others are thinking on this subject~

5 Likes

Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing. Since you note being open to other perspectives, I would encourage you to read the links I posted before (I’ll link them all below - there are so many resources but I’ll just post some I’m aware of).

I think the overarching problem is assuming our individual experiences reflect reality. For example, you mention your experience in India and one of your friend’s opinions. That is not enough to reflect the truth - that is just your experience. When we come from a place of privilege, we have to recognize our individual experience is not at all representative of the whole and to make our utmost priority to listen to marginalized voices.

To address the point about BC being predominately white, I would ask the question, do the demographics of your website reflect the demographics of BC, proportionately? And, the more important question in my eyes, is - is your target audience people in BC? If not, why do your teachers only reflect BC’s demographic population? If you want to reach a wider audience of people who do not look like those in BC and make them feel seen, it would be a great idea to increase the diversity of your teachers. Regardless I’d say it’s just a great idea.

One important takeaway I had from my Decolonizing yoga workshop learning was that Yoga as a whole is a indigenous / religious practice that has been commodified and appropriated. It may be more important to call a lot of what we do “mindful movement” rather than yoga so as not to desecrate some peoples’ sacred practice of Yoga. But again I am not an expert on the matter and would encourage further reading and learning for you, myself and every white person, really.

There is a difference between appropriating and appreciating. I think it is possible to practice yoga without appropriation but we (as white people) need to be very mindful.

These resources have helped me learn a lot so far - there are many more out there on decolonizing yoga:

Yoga, Colonialism, and India

(it will only let me post a couple links in a post so i will put more links in other posts)

3 Likes

How Namaste Flew away from us

Is Western Yoga Cultural Appropriation? Yes, but That Doesn’t Mean White People Can’t Practice It

2 Likes

We Need to Talk about the Rise of White Supremacy in Yoga

Yoga is dead podcast - highly recommended listening ! love this so much

2 Likes

Culture is global and as far as I’m concerned people should be free to follow any cultural movement they feel affinity towards.
I don’t feel offended if a non-European person plays baroque music because why shouldn’t they ? it’s beautiful and we all need a bit of beauty in our life !
Maybe we should all try to find fewer ways to be offended - particularly when no offence is meant.
Namaste :slight_smile:

5 Likes

It’s clear neither of the other responders have read any of the attached articles or done any self inquiry or critical thought on this topic. I find that sad. But I’m not remotely surprised. It comes from a place of privilege.

2 Likes

Here in BC, Yoga Outreach also does some great trauma-informed practice that takes into account Western use and white supremacy https://www.yogaoutreach.com/

1 Like

Hello everyone.

I really appreciate that this conversation is happening on our website - and I particularly appreciate the tone. I find ,on many platforms, difficult conversations devolve into abuse and anger very quickly and this can be a highly charged topic, especially at this time.

This is a very important topic to me and our team. I realize that we (DoYogaWithMe) have not posted anything publicly on this topic, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t care. We have, in fact, been crafting many drafts of a blog article that we planned to publish before Christmas, but the process has been more challenging than anticipated.

Part of the challenge has been doing what we can to fully understand the issue. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts so far, everyone, particularly @isabella0215. I read most of the articles you shared and checked out the podcast (although - and I apologize for the dark humor - the Yoga is Dead podcast itself seems to be dead, since the last episode was a year ago). Ha ha. I know, not funny. :slight_smile:

The articles were all very helpful for me, particularly Yoga, Colonialism, and India. I have been to India myself and remember it being difficult not to join those who were on a spiritual journey - exposing themselves to India’s suffering in order to advance their own spiritual growth. Yoga is rife with this kind of intention and language.

The blog article I mentioned above has been difficult mainly because I feel like we have a lot to learn. What continues to suprise (and disturb) me is the institutionalized and systemic racism that has become a part of me and my interactions with my fellow teachers and yoga friends, without knowing it. I’m suspicious that as I read more on this topic, I will discover more within myself and our culture.

To fill you in a bit on our company, DoYogaWithMe operates in Victoria, British Columbia. British Columbia has a visible minority and Aboriginal population of 36.2%. Victoria has a population of 85,792 people, of which 15,510 are visible minorities or Aboriginal, representing 18%. Of our 29 teachers, four are people of color (one more BIPOC teacher is joining us this month), making up 14%. We clearly can do more to represent the diversity in our own community, but we struggle to increase our percentage of BIPOC teachers due to their low representation, especially within our yoga community. However, I fully agree with you @isabella0215 that it would be in our best interest to try to represent the cultural diversity of the U.S. and the world in which we live, since our student community is global. We started to become better aware of this a few months ago and have been reaching out to BIPOC teachers in cities nearby, like Vancouver.

I’ll end this post here for now, with the hope that those who have already contributed, and others, will continue to share their thoughts and knowledge on this topic. I’m open to a discussion and hope that we can all maintain a spirit of openness, vulnerability, curiosity and growth.

Thanks,

David
DoYogaWithMe Founder

2 Likes

It’s also important to be able to realize that not everyone may be as “woke” as others because we ALL come from different walks of life. Patience and the ability to not judge others is equally important. Yoga provides so many benefits for so many from all walks of life.

2 Likes

Yoga is a true gift to mankind, and its universal message transcends every culture, language, or skin colour. In my opinion, focusing on these external aspects is like looking at the finger instead of the moon.

I don’t care about the messenger, I care about the message.

2 Likes

Thank you, Isabella, for your links to the articles on yoga and colonialization. I am an Asian-American, now living in Germany, and I grapple with racial identity and bi-racial identity with my kids each day, as well as three cultures. When I was growing up in NYC, I lived with African-American-Filipino, Jewish and WASP families before going to boarding school. To get into the private school system in NYC and MA, I went to a predominantly African-American, Latino and Asian immigrant program of supplementary education to the public school system to get scholarships into private schools. I am well aware and sensitive to education being predominantly Western, male and military history dominant - and as a double minority, I have finally learned to explain my story as – I know that I am an equal human as others, but sometimes, physically or racially or mentally, do not feel that way. Yoga has brought me another culture to explore, and somehow, also a tie to Zen Buddhism, to add to my Christian and Confucian upbringing. I am aware that my knowledge and experience of other cultures is borrowed, whether Western or Eastern, depending on what my privilege and status in a certain context is. I am grateful for your bringing up the topic of colonialism as a societal remnant, whether in or outside of yoga. And I am also grateful for Rachel and David’s opinions, as they have been teachers for me to explore with them on DYWM but also outside, as in Rachel’s videos of the Bhagavad Gita and history of yoga. (By the way, I can recommend Stephen Mitchell’s translation, as he is a poet and translator, who says upfront that his Sanskrit is rudimentary, but he expresses language so beautifully, whether Rilke in German or the Tao te ching in Chinese and the Iliad in ancient Greek.) I also have read Fiji’s essay on her style of yoga on Rachel’s website and also shared with my 13yr old budding violinist daughter, who enjoys several teachers at DYWM, the video of Guy on his website, of doing asanas to Bach. I hope that you will spread your message of awareness and also embody and exude the multitudes of disciplines, arts and cultures in your helpful ways. Thanks for the discussion!

1 Like