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Yoga Beyond Borders: Understanding its Cultural Context

Cultural appropriation in yoga is possible only when there has been borrowing it without understanding its significance and appropriateness in the culture of its origin. Here we will explain and recognize its origin and value fully in the Indian context to understand yoga properly.
01:37 PM May 07, 2024 IST | Lifestyle Desk
yoga beyond borders  understanding its cultural context

What is Yoga?

To best understand cultural appropriation of yoga, we must first fully understand and imbibe it in our systems that yoga is every inch a part of Indian tradition. In fact, it’s a 5000-year-old tradition and discipline that was born in the Indus Valley Civilization. And now what exactly is yoga? It has been described as a spiritual practice, a way of living, a practice of self-study and management of the mind. It is just totally another thing. It is a way of thinking, speaking, being and even more.

Today this way of thinking, speaking and being has gained immense mileage in the Western world especially. It would be wrong to say that it has not gained popularity in India as well. In the bygone decades, such a valuable part of our culture has been totally ignored. To be honest what we know of yoga today is not what it actually is being portrayed as. Yoga in modern times has become a style symbol, a symbol of high-class, good-looking clothes and aesthetics. But what everyone overlooks is the fact that it is way deeper than that.

Cultural Appropriation of Yoga

What does the term ‘cultural appropriation’ ring in your mind? Say, for instance, yoga is part of the Indian tradition. It has been taken up and imbibed into the system of the Western world. It is considered as taken up from a minority culture and accepted by the entire world without any contextual regard, reverence, respect or even acknowledgement of the culture that it has been picked up from. This is cultural appropriation. The thing called ‘yoga’ has been picked up by the global community in its entirety. That means they have seamlessly adopted its symbols, scripts, fashion, practices, music, art and everything associated with it.

This phenomenon was possible with yoga because India for centuries has been colonised by every possible community existing under the sun. Beginning from the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Mughals and finally to the British has remained a captive under their rule. It is easy to understand why this was possible.

Also Read- Everyday Yoga: Building A Home Foundation

Appropriators of Yoga

Now we are familiar with the term ‘appropriation of yoga’, but now we must understand who is appropriating yoga. The answer very easily is:

  • Yoga teacher trainings
  • Yoga studios
  • Yoga teachers
  • Yoga students
  • Yoga-related businesses

However, you can be sure that most of them are unaware that they are doing it.

The Aspects of Yoga That are Appropriated

Yoga, over the decade, has been terribly misunderstood and misused by people all over the world. But what specifically has been misused? Here is a small list of all that has been misunderstood:

  • Yoga as a fixation and fetish by the Western world.
  • The term ‘yogi’ has been used to describe any and everyone who practices yoga when in reality it would be appropriate to use it on anyone who breathes, lives, sleeps and eats yoga. In fact, that person practices all the limbs of yoga. In India this term is bestowed on someone in recognition of their work as a spiritual teacher.
  • The word ‘namaste’ is used to start and end a yoga class. In India it is just a form of greeting which means ‘I bow to you.’ It is a form of respect shown to people in senior positions or Gods and Goddesses.
  • Sacred symbols and deities are being used as décor when in actuality Indian culture shows immense respect to them.
  • Music is being used while practicing by the Western world when it is done in silence to take the practicing person deep into themselves.
  • Yoga has been commodified and turned into a huge revenue earner today. In the US alone it is a multibillion dollar industry.

Also read- Balance And Beyond: Yoga Essentials For Athletes

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