Stop! White People Are Doing Yoga, and They’re Doing it Wrong!

Western liberalism is tying itself in weird little knots. To some, white people doing yoga is now ‘appropriation’.

Updated21 Jun 2016, 01:45 PM IST
3 min read

It’s International Yoga Day, what fun!

But wait, not so fast. If you’re a white person or Westerner, you can stop participating right now. You see, if you don’t personally hail from the land of mangoes and Kama Sutra, if you haven’t felt your pores betray you and pour sweat down your every crevice in the Indian heat, if you haven’t grown up with parents so strict you find yourself fantasising about being adopted by Pahlaj Nihalani, then you are just not allowed to enjoy the fruits of Indian intellectual labour. That would be cultural appropriation, and you don’t want that, do you?

In certain Western liberal circles, yoga and other aspects of non-Western cultures have become a battleground for the PC brigade.

In Ottawa, Canada, for example, free yoga classes were cancelled because of concerns that they would be ‘appropriating’ the culture of a people who have been colonised and oppressed.

This is stupid, because if those damn Canadians knew anything about us, they’d know that we would never support turning down free things. Bakwas.

To make a serious point though, the Prime Minister, on this Day of International Yoga, made a speech in which he not only extolled its health benefits, but also gave the world permission to practise it without worrying about its religious or spiritual connotations.

“It is for believers, and non-believers,” he said.

Well, coming from the head of a nationalist party, that pretty much settles that. Yoga away, all ye whitefolk, yoga away.

How Very Dare You, Whitey?

But let’s talk about the bigger problem – this idea that certain cultural practices are out of bounds for certain other cultures. This has a logical progression, and where it leads is not pretty.

Where do we get off? If a little white girl can’t dress up as Pocahontas, can a little black girl dress up as Elsa? If a white person can’t dress up as a Mexican muchacho, can a brown person not dress up as an American cowboy? Anyone can dress up as Jesus, but white women can’t wear bindis? Must all of us stay within our rigid ethnic lines, or is it just the whiteys, in atonement for colonial sins?

At the moment, university campuses in the United States – the erstwhile upholders of free speech and expression – are awash with offence over a number of things: wearing the grass skirts of Pacific Islander dancers as costumes, dressing up in Native American headdresses to music festivals (which got banned at certain gigs), and yes, practising yoga while not being aware of any deeper meaning beyond striking a pose.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/<a href="">AlessandraAmbrosio</a>)
(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/AlessandraAmbrosio)

In short, members of a ‘majority culture’ must not use aspects of a ‘minority culture’ for their own purposes, because that devalues them. But the problem is, everyone who uses anything from another culture, or even their own culture, is in one way or another using it for their own purposes.

Because yes, yoga has become commercialised in many a Western country, but guess who’s been making buttloads of money off of this commercialisation, both abroad and at home? Our very own yogis and gurus, who amass crazy wealth by selling their versions of our culture to the masses.

I find it difficult to believe, moreover, that our proud and long-standing heritage could be at all diminished by others partaking of it – Western culture is, after all, a blip on historical timescales compared to how long yoga has been around, and I don’t think their interpretation is going to supplant ours anytime soon.

The world is a brighter, more colourful place if people from different cultures freely and enthusiastically pick up things from each other, mix and match, and derive their own meaning from it.

Even if they do it wrong.

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Published: 21 Jun 2016, 01:42 PM IST

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