Tag Archives: Nadia Gilani

‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry | Yoga | The Guardian

An op-ed piece in The Guardian states that what passes for Yoga in the west nowadays has become “divorced … from its 5000 year old roots.” Author of new book The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why it Needs to Save Itself, Nadia Gilani, states:

“The lack of people of colour in the industry is a massive problem,” Gilani said. “There is a big issue with diversity, in terms of both teachers and those who practice it. What especially annoys me is when Sanskrit words like ‘namaste’ get emblazoned on T-shirts, images of Hindu gods are turned into tattoos, or ‘om’ symbols are printed on yoga mats. It’s cultural appropriation and it’s offensive.”

I dislike using the vocabulary of political correctness, but I find myself agreeing with Ms Gilani’s sentiment entirely. The issues are, however, complex.

A quarter of a century ago, I attended the British Wheel of Yoga’s annual conference, and if I were to profile its attendees I would characterise them as predominantly white. I can only remember one teacher of Indian ethnicity and he had lived and worked in Britain for most of his life. I also noted that in a bid to host it somewhere that was peaceful and quiet, they had held it in the middle of the countryside, where it was a devil to get to via public transport (hence discriminating in favour of car owners, and against pedestrians).

Moreover, many of the teachers at the time appeared to have been ex-hippies who had hit the trail in the late sixties or early seventies, and found themselves – both geographically and spiritually – in India, where they trained under admittedly authentic native teachers such as BKS Iyengar, Satyananda Saraswati, and others. Iyengar, incidentally, himself a devout Vaishnavite Hindu, always struck me as a man at pains to emphasise how his modern system of Hatha Yoga fitted in with the classical tradition as exemplified by Patanjali, and his Indian heritage – despite the fact that he was perfectly willing to teach Westerners.

However, the most disturbing trend in Yoga at the time came not from the British Wheel, but from America, where feminists openly discussed in the pages of yoga magazines (this of course was in the days before the Internet) how they refused to acknowledge the importance of the Bhagavad Gita, because they believed its description of a battle was Patriarchal. In other words, no true woman would use such violent imagery, hence they did not accept it.

I believe that this is the real root of the modern decline in respect for meditation and spirituality in Yoga in the West. It may be politically incorrect to culturally appropriate the ancient heritage, but this has come about because there was a perception that the ancient heritage was itself politically incorrect!

Plus of course, stripping Yoga of its spiritual associations helps to commodify it. The fifth of the Yamas, according to Patanjali, is Aparigraha or lack of attachment to material goods, so it would be inevitable for Patanjali to be excluded from Yoga in order to make it more materialistic.


‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry

‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry | Yoga | The Guardian

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