November Yoga News Roundup — Is Yoga Cultural Theft?

Cultural Theft

Buy! Buy! Buy! Black Friday! Pre-Christmas offers! The hysterical consumer frenzy begins as the month of November draws to a close. So let’s take a minute to look back at the month just gone and enjoy it for what it was: not Christmas.

Yoga and Cultural Appropriation: Is Yoga Cultural Theft?

The withdrawal of a free yoga class instigated by the concerned student union at the University of Ottowa in Canada has sparked a huge debate into the politics of yoga. Their reasons for cancelling are that they want to hold consultations on how to ‘make it more culturally sensitive.’

How much or how little cultural reference is included in yoga classes has been a hot topic in the world of yoga for decades. Some classes include chanting in Sanskrit, chakra work and meditation, others just focus on the physical stretches.

There’s an argument that this move is taking political correctness too far. We’re the human race, and sharing and stealing each others’ good ideas is what we do to advance as a species. You could apply the culturally insensitive appropriation idea to any number of sports and activities. For example, is it culturally insensitive for Indians to play cricket because they didn’t happen to come up with the idea?

The issue is the residual guilt left over from our colonising past. But the great gurus of the 20th century, for example, B. K. S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois came to the West to offer the gift of yoga of their own free will. They saw that it was beneficial to the whole of human kind and not just to the few, as B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Yoga is for all of us. To limit yoga to national or cultural boundaries is the denial of universal consciousness.”

An article on the same topic in the Guardian argues for everyone’s right to practice yoga in any way they wish. Yoga is an ancient wisdom, which, like all knowledge, cannot be copywritten or owned. She makes the case that “yoga, like flour and eggs, can be what you make it.”

However, there is an argument for mindfulness and respect for the culture that yoga originated from during the practice of yoga. As the students argue: “Many of these cultures are cultures that have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy, and we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves and while practising yoga.”

Is Yoga Part of the ‘Cult’ of Wellness?

Are we taking the ‘cult of wellness’ too far? This month Brigid Delaney in the Guardian argues that the lifestyle practised by some young people is a paradox.

On the one hand, they are super clean-living, drinking green smoothies, de-toxing and doing their yoga-teacher training – just for fun. On the other hand, some of these high-profile individuals are also getting high on coke and having wild nights out. Check out the Bondi Hipsters for their satirical take on the lifestyle.

A real-life example of this is Lisa Stickbridge, a blogger living in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and convicted cocaine trafficker, who complained about the conditions in prison at a hearing.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “the self-styled lifestyle blogger also said prison food made her hair fall out, gave her migraines and mood swings all brought on by her many dietary intolerances.”

See Also: Orthorexia Nervosa: Why being super-healthy could be super-harmful

No One Looks Good Upside-Down

Amateur photographer, Jonah Sargent, has started a photo series on Instagram called ‘Faces of Yoga’ to show that we’re all odd-looking when our features are gravity-challenged, or our bodies are contorted into unfamiliar positions.

Jonah says on his Instagram page, “When I first started yoga I was constantly distracted by how I looked and felt during class and I think that’s why a lot of people don’t try it – people are worried they’ll look or feel stupid.”

It’s very easy to compare yourself to the effortless yoginis and become discouraged. But as Sargent says, “In the era of Instagram profiles devoted to sexy yoga poses on beaches, it’s important to remember that we all look bad when we do yoga, so we should immerse ourselves in it and forget the rest.”

Sargent’s next project is to raise enough funds to make a coffee table book of his pictures on Kickstarter, maybe just in time for Christmas…

See Also: #DigitalAgeYogi — Has Social Media Changed Our Practice?

Yoga Teacher is the Best Career

Of course, most of you reading this piece are biased, but it’s nice to get some confirmation of what we already believe. Yoga teaching really is the best career.

A Cambridge student who graduated with a triple first chose heart over head when she turned down an investment banking job to become a yoga teacher. Rosie Sargeant accepted an offer from a major investment banking firm while studying Medieval Languages at Churchill College, as it seemed like the sensible thing to do.

However, the 23-year-old had also qualified as a yoga instructor in her final year, and was given the opportunity to work as an assistant manager and teacher for a yoga studio.

“I was looking at the light on the horizon and I started to think, actually, I love yoga,” she explained. She left the investment banking firm, and took the yoga studio job. So it might not be all about making stacks of money, but doing what you love.

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