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Appreciation Not Appropriation

Navigating Cultural Respect in Yoga

Yoga is a vibrant and rich practice, that extends far beyond the physical aesthetic aspects we see on social media, we find a richness of culture and tradition spanning generations. However, in our exploration of this ancient discipline, it's crucial to tread mindfully, ensuring that our engagement is rooted in appreciation, not appropriation.

What is Cultural Appropriation:

Cultural appropriation occurs when elements of one culture are borrowed or adopted by another without proper understanding or respect. In the context of yoga, where diverse traditions converge, it's imperative to acknowledge the origins and significance of the practices.

Yoga's Cultural Roots:

Yoga, originating in ancient India, is deeply intertwined with Hinduism and other Eastern philosophies. As practitioners, embracing yoga involves understanding and respecting the cultural and spiritual contexts from which it emerged. This knowledge enhances our connection to the practice, fostering a more profound and authentic experience.

Cultivating Appreciation:

Appreciation involves an active effort to learn about the cultural roots of yoga. It's about acknowledging the wisdom embedded in the teachings, understanding the significance of practices like meditation and pranayama, and recognising the diverse styles that have evolved over the centuries.

Respecting Sacred Symbols:

Yoga often incorporates sacred symbols and imagery. Whether it's the Om symbol or depictions of deities, it's crucial to approach these with reverence. Educating ourselves about their meanings and significance ensures that our use of these symbols is rooted in respect, not mere aesthetic appeal. For example, it is disrespectful to place a statue of a deity in a walkway where you leave shoes or a bathroom. Before you purchase a statue of a deity perhaps ask why you are making this choice.

Mindful Language Use:

Language plays a powerful role in shaping our perception. Using Sanskrit terms or yogic philosophy requires a mindful approach. Educate yourself on the meanings behind these words, ensuring that their usage reflects an authentic understanding rather than a superficial trend.

For example, the word Namaste or namaskar (often used to end a yoga class) (think Surya namaskar, which is a salute to the sun, surya = sun namaskar =salute) is used by Indian and Nepalese people as a form of respectful greeting. So when you think about it, it's sort of funny that Western yoga has adopted it as a way to finish a class.

Susanna Barkataki has an inspiring book called Embrace Yoga's Roots where she goes into wonderful detail on more examples like this. I highly recommend following her and reading her book.

Fostering Inclusivity:

Appreciation extends beyond cultural understanding; it involves fostering inclusivity. In our yoga spaces, creating an environment that welcomes practitioners from diverse backgrounds contributes to the heart of yoga. Though there are a lot of great steps being taken in this area there is still a lot of work to be done to create spaces that feel more welcoming for all bodies.

Ultimately, the path of appreciation not appropriation invites us into a journey of self-reflection. It encourages us to question our motivations, deepen our understanding, and honour the roots of the practices that bring so much richness to our lives.

This is a very brief overview of a complex and nuanced topic, but hopefully, it will inspire you so that the next time you roll out your mat and embark on the transformative journey of yoga, you do so with your heart open to appreciation, mind eager to learn, and a commitment to cultivating a yoga practice that respects and celebrates its diverse cultural heritage. After all, in the essence of yoga, unity is found in diversity.


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