Why I Stopped Teaching Yoga – My journey into spiritual, political accountability

Over the past few months people have been asking me, “why did you stop writing?”. “Are you teaching anymore?” I got an email from a stranger who asked, “Where did you go?” It’s taken me months to untangle the threads that wove this transformation together.  Like most transformations, it runs deep.

After much soul searching, traveling and reflection I can not-so-cautiously say, I don’t teach yoga anymore – and to be honest, there’s not many people who I think should. At least not in the way most of us do now.

314750_10150318345863544_1387160463_n

I took this photo at my teacher training.

I did my teacher training in 2011. Since becoming an “accredited yoga teacher”, I’ve taught classes in several studios; co-created a social justice based yoga collective that offered yoga on a sliding scale to folks who otherwise might not access it; taught anti-oppression workshops in yoga studios across north America; met and worked with some incredibly inspiring teachers; wrote a reasonably successful blog; had my writing published on many websites – I even planned to open a healing space in my hometown, the un-ceded Coast Salish territories of so-called Vancouver British Columbia.

Through out all of this, I have always had nagging doubts – doubts that became increasingly challenging to ignore. And like Alice, down the rabbit hole, when I followed the tug of those doubts, I came out the other side a truly different person, with some radically different goals in life.

When I first started blogging it didn’t take me long to write a piece that went viral. One of the teachers I most admired was even suggested to me as friend on facebook, because our mutual friend (a prominent yoga blogger) wanted my work to be on his radar. This same piece was shared by one of the political organizers I most admire in Vancouver. It was pretty mind-blowing to me.  For such a new teacher, this success definitely came as a surprise. I wanted to write because I wanted to articulate the ideas that were floating around in my head. I didn’t necessarily expect them to be useful or impactful to anyone other than me. It seemed though, that folks who care about yoga and social justice were looking for someone who could articulate the discomfort they felt. Many people told me they found my voice valuable and needed. I felt useful and that felt really good.

This elation quickly faded though, when I started to receive criticisms from folks of colour. I received these critiques both online and in school. At first and still to this day, they arrived in lesser frequency than the waves and waves of compliments I was receiving. But here’s the problem – most of those compliments were from white people. White people, who like me, were not aware (aka. blinded by our privilege) to some glaringly obvious problems in my work. My analysis often failed to meaningfully address colonization and my participation in that oppressive system as a culturally appropriating, white yoga teacher.

When these critiques started coming in I will admit I felt very hurt and this lead me to become defensive. I looked for reasons to dismiss the critiques because they felt painful to look at and inconvenient to consider or process deeply. I was, as most white folks (especially white women) are when we get called out, so wrapped up in how much it hurt to be told I was failing and fucking up – that I used my pain as a reason not to look at my mistakes with the empathy, patience and clarity they needed.

One day, crying in my front yard to one of my best friends I told him, “I just don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m doing the best I can and I just can’t let go of how much this hurts. What should I do?” In his painfully typical, sage and patient way he suggested, “maybe you should focus less on how much this hurts and more on what it was that you did wrong. What was it that you did that made these critiques start coming? Try to shift some of your focus that way and see what answers come.”

Hearing that made me realize what a tremendous (and typical) mistake I was making. I was focusing more on my own pain, privileging my emotional response over the critiques of the very people who I was oppressing. I took some deep breathes, worked to settle my discomfort and started to focus on the work of understanding the critiques.

I started to ask questions. I sent some of the online critiques to other yoga teachers. People whose politics I respected. One after the other, they all told me some variation of, “these people are reacting from a very emotional place. You do good work, just focus on that and keep doing it.” I was literally being told that I should ignore the critiques. That I should “let it go”. And I was told this over and over again no matter who I asked. And as much as this was something a part of me really, really wanted to be able to do, I just couldn’t. I knew I needed to get to the bottom of what these critiques were pointing out.

Eventually in my process of asking everyone I could find whose opinions I respected, I eventually asked a mentor of mine – this time not a yoga teacher, but a well loved and deeply respected facilitator. They kindly and patiently pointed out to me: you’re like the Jackson Katz of yoga. You’re saying things that folks of colour have been saying for a long time. And sure, some white folks are listening to you and that’s good, but it’s reinforcing of your privilege that they are listening to you, when these critiques already existed (and they didn’t say this to me at the time, but really, other people had articulated these ideas a lot better than I had) – and you, a pretty white yoga teacher needed to say them for them to be heard or seen as valuable. Maybe you need to shift your work towards uplifting the voices of people who are already making these critiques? See where that takes you.

The time this person took to offer me this explanation, I realize, was a gift. A really beautiful, valuable challenging gift. Finally, someone was helping me focus more on what I had done wrong, rather than encouraging me to ignore the critiques and just move blindly forward. From there I decided to stop blogging, focus on teaching and facilitating and see what I could learn from stepping out of the online spot-light. Since then I’ve reached some radically different conclusion in terms of how I feel about yoga – which I want to share with all of you.

Before I share what I’ve learned I want to make clear what my intention is in with writing this piece. I’m not trying to attack anyone or take away from the good work people are doing. What I’m suggesting is a re-frame. I’m hoping, that maybe what I’ve written here will spur you to action, but I’m also aware that it might make you feel a lot of emotions, especially if you are a white yoga teacher. It might make you feel angry, sad, hopeless or defensive, but whatever you feel I hope we can share in the journey of diving into deeper accountability together. My hope is that this offering will encourage discussion, bravery, reflection and critique – not tear anyone apart.

296502_10150318345183544_1037012454_n

Photo I took of the temple and shoes at my teacher training.

I would encourage you to keep in mind that the ideas I’m about to share with you literally took me years to shape in my own head. All the ideas presented here are gestures to some of the meaningful learning I’ve done since I stopped blogging. Lots of conversations, so much reading, travelling, self inquiry and facing some big fears. As such, this blog, while longer than average, is literally just scratching the surface. If you have follow up questions I would encourage you to do some of your own research. Talk to people and ask questions till you get answers that feel right to you. Answers that feel real and bold and brave. And if you need – I would be happy to refer you to resources. What I can’t do, is explain all the ideas presented here in endless detail. It’s a blog piece – I’m inviting you to do some of your own research, reach your own conclusions. See where it takes you.

I also want to make clear that I do and always will, value my yoga practice. It has been in many ways a life raft for me through some of the hardest challenges and deepest healing that I’ve experienced in my life. No matter what happens in the future I know that what I have learned from yoga will always be with me. Being able to feel my body, ground into connection with the earth, introduce breath to places that are tight and hiding, sit through pain and discomfort without immediately reacting – all of these things are lessons that I attribute to my having had practiced yoga for the last ten years of my life. All that said, I can’t take part in yoga the way we share it in the west anymore. It took me along time to admit this to myself and make the necessary changes this realization entails, but what I know in my heart, my mind and my gut is that what we are doing in western yoga is an entitled, willfully ignorant act of theft.

The truth is, I feel, that we are appropriating and destroying the practice that we rely on and love so much.  Recently I watched a video produced by SAAPYA titled “We Are Not Exotic, We Are Exhausted: A Film On Being Desi and American, Now”. One of the youth in this video explained this process, from their perspective, much better than I could:

“It’s cultural appropriation with white females, even white males, doing yoga but they don’t even know why they are doing yoga. It’s cultural appropriation because of the fact that it can be turned into a billion dollar industry with these clothes and mats. Yoga isn’t about buying the right things and doing poses. Yeah they say its about reaching, going inside of you to find something spectacular, to find your soul or something. But I don’t think they understand that yoga and finding your soul runs deeper than that.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 5.32.52 PM

Screenshot of SAAPYA’s most recent video.

In many ways, the most challenging part of this learning process for me was coming to terms with the fact that I don’t actually know what yoga is. I thought I did – I thought it was about healing trauma, getting into my body, but I realized that I had been missing the mark completely.  I was missing much bigger picture, where some of the most valuble lessons in yoga come from.

A friend of mine, who is of South Asian descent, a woman who grew up practicing yoga her whole life, helped me see that how we practice yoga in the west is a HUGE departure from what it looks like for her and the culture she comes from. She helped me understand that yoga is a multifaceted spiritual practice, philosophical tradition, medicine system and way of life – not an exercise regimen. And when we see it this way, we miss some of yoga deepest teachings.

This same friend used to be part of a teacher training program in Vancouver and was told she needed to teach “our yoga” aka western yoga rather than what she had been taught her whole life. As a result of her refusal to adjust how she teaches she is no longer part of the teaching staff. Can you imagine, a white woman telling someone who has practiced yoga her whole life, that she needs to teach a more Americanized, more white version of a practice that she has practiced her whole life? It’s absurd. This dynamic is exactly why most of us aren’t exposed to any of the philosophical or cultural roots of this practice until we do our teacher training, if we are exposed to this information at all.

What hearing this story taught me is that I don’t and can’t know what yoga’s roots are, because its not part of a culture that I belong to. I could perhaps dedicate my life to learning and unpacking my understanding of yoga, going to India and really digging into that learning, but even that endeavor feels contentious for lots of reasons.

What I’ve come to see is that when I come into a public forum – whether I’m opening a business, teaching a class, writing a blog or speaking in a video – I am claiming that I know and have the right to create what yoga is. This is part and parcel in the process of appropriation and this is part of how we have created what Frank Jude Boccio calls the “yoga industrial complex”. We’ve commodified, materialized and westernized a practice that has roots in a culture that we (and by we I am speaking largely to white folks here) are not a part of. We are taking an aspect of this culture removing it from its context and then we are changing it, claiming to own it, attempting to copyright and sell it and ultimately shaping it into something that is harmful to all of us. However, this harm is unevenly and more deeply experienced by the people from whom we are stealing. Roopa Singh explains this really well when she says:

“What happens when people rely on a country or culture as a panacea for their own wounds with respect to race, lineage, and home? No one comes out of this kind of political or personal violence unscathed, and segregation in yoga is injurious to us all.”

In the time since I stopped blogging I started to re-engage in work resisting industrial expansion – specifically against oil pipelines. One of my most valuable lessons I’ve learned came from time I spent at the Unistoten camp in Northern so-called BC. In the process of working in solidarity with indigenous front line communities, settler folks like me are asked to consider the cultural roots they come from. “Remember, we all come from beautiful origins” is something I’ve heard my friend and mentor Mel Bazil say many times. The process of starting to trace back my family’s origins has lead to me see the way that many European folks have lost touch with exactly what many of us are seeking in our yoga practices. We have become so spiritually hungry and lost we are willing to steal. We feel comfortable doing this because whiteness breeds entitlement – the feeling that it is our right to practice and change a practice that isn’t ours in the first place.

index

Photo from Unistoten Camp website.

For many white settler folks, whose family lines run back to Europe like mine, the times when we lived in community, on shared lands, in harmony with the moon, the earth and each other are much further behind us than those of the indigenous people whose land we occupy today. This is not to say that these ways only exist in the past, many indigenous communities, despite massive state violence, have maintained or relearned the practices our ancestors worked to destroy. Also many European traditions of witch-craft, herbalism, magic and other land based skills persisted and are still practiced today by European folks. That said, for the majority of us settler folks, we’ve lost touch with the spiritual practices  which ground us to place and the natural world. Those spiritual practices were intentionally and often violently stolen from us through the imposition of capitalism, the division of communally held lands, witch hunts and the forced introduction of Christianity. As a result we land where are today: living on lands we don’t have historical or ancestral connections to, with very limited access to spiritual practices that are culturally derived – and this, I feel, is part of what leads so many of us to practice yoga. Not only are we able to heal our bodies physically, we are able to nourish ourselves spiritually. What I would like us to consider though, is that what we are doing to yoga is tantamount to what happened to our ancestor’s spiritual practices. The solution to being spiritually lost is not to steal from others and then claim what we steal for ourselves.

Appropriation is a very difficult and unpopular topic to address in yoga circles. When the wesbite Decolonizing Yoga was launched I was excited, because it meant that perhaps there would be a forum for us to address racism and colonization in the yoga world. And I’m going to be painfully honest here, much to my disappointment I think Decolonizing Yoga has failed to do meaningful decolonizing work. It doesn’t mean that they can’t, but they have a lot of work to do to get there.

Some of my work was up on the site when it first launched and it is where most people came to know my work for the first time. I have considered asking to have my writing taken down from the site many times. When the critiques I mentioned earlier in this piece came in, I sent them to the founder of Decolonizing Yoga, along with some critiques of the site itself. It was brought up to me that the site doesn’t mention the land from which the work on the site was being done – a central and very basic part of decolonizing practice. Further, much like Yoga Journal, none of the content at the time was written by South Asian authors, let alone addressing cultural appropriation. When I brought this up to the founder of the site she told me nothing had been written on the topic that she felt could be posted on the site. I did some research and sent her some articles I thought would be good to post. They weren’t hard to find, just a couple hours on google. One by one she turned each article down. Eventually I posted on my facebook that I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the nature of the site. She responded publicly quite politely and as if she was committed to working on improving the site, but in a private message was quite defensive and upset with me for making the post.

This behaviour, I have found, is pretty typical of white yoga teachers – including me. When appropriation is addressed, many of us get defensive. We stop being able to listen. My theory behind why this happens is that we get scared. We rely on our yoga practices to heal our bodies, ease our minds and give us a sense of purpose and spiritual connection. I think the idea of looking at ourselves with a critical lens is scary to us because most of us have no idea what we would do without our yoga practice. And I will admit, it’s been a scary and destabilizing thought for me too, for sure. But I really do believe we can do better than this. We can turn to our own cultural roots to discover practices that build spiritual sustenance. And yes, yoga is a practice that anyone can come to, but I’d encourage you to ask yourself, is the yoga you are practicing a spiritual practice? Or is a glorified fitness regime that is more invested in outwards appearances than deep spiritual work? Because what I know, is that yoga is a practice that can give us deep learning and that most of what we are doing, is running as far a field away from that learning as we can.

6970028159_ff3fcf52a8_z

Photo from Flick’r

That being said, there are some really amazing teachers and leaders who I feel are doing some essential and game changing work in the western yoga world. These projects consist of people I have learned a lot from who I would encourage all of you to keep an eye on. Check out The Underground Yoga Parlour for Self Knowledge and Social Justice, Total Liberation Yoga, Third Root in Brooklyn and People’s Yoga in East La. And finally I would encourage you to watch South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) and Roopa Singh. I can confidently say that Roopa is doing some of the most meaningful, spiritually integral and politically brave work that I’ve seen in all my time as a yoga teacher and blogger. Watch her – and do your best to really listen.

I’m going to leave you with a note of painful honesty, because I don’t want to let this go unsaid. This is a community that I have often felt pretty alienated and isolated from. I know I’m not the only yoga teacher out there who cares about social justice and I know that it is not often our intention to stifle these conversations, but the truth is, we do. We often focus more on our latest instagram post of our favourite new pose, than we do on the impact of our actions on the world. I have seen some of the wisest, most thoughtful and inspiring teachers I know leave the yoga world, because their ideas were not well received, because they didn’t want to teach huge vinyasa classes or for very little money – or because they realized that this practice is just not right for them. I would encourage you to not let the people who leave exit your mind quietly. Why are we losing so many teachers and role models who want to challenge systems of oppression? Why do they feel silenced in the yoga community? And beyond that, take note of who isn’t here. Who doesn’t show up to class? Really dig deep and ask yourself why. These questions do not have easy answers.

If the answer seems simple – keep digging.

If these questions make you uncomfortable, don’t turn away – take a deep breath and ask yourself why.

The rabbit hole awaits, and trust me – it’s not as scary as it seems.


This project officially ended in the fall of 2014. In the fall of 2015 I launched my new magic + writing project. If you’d like to follow my current work you can find it at www.andigracewrites.com

Advertisements

216 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Teaching Yoga – My journey into spiritual, political accountability

  1. Michelle Ryan So much to comment on here. What she brings up in this is nothing new. Western appropriation of “Yoga” and the dearth of people of color feeling they can’t afford/don’t feel comfortable enough to practice yoga in Western yoga studios has been commented on and blogged about for years in the yoga world. I commiserate with her frustration in that regard, but it also sounds like she took a lousy teacher training. She’s responsible for that lack of discernment. Many TT’s just teach aspirants how to share exercise “yoga” – tending to gloss over the other limbs of Yoga practice (ethical precepts, spirituality, celibacy, purity, non-accumulation, pranayama, meditation practices) because they think all of that is too off-putting for most people (they’re wrong!) But, it’s easier – and more lucrative – to pack the room full of people sweating and moving simultaneously to hip hop music as a pretty young, thin white teacher alternately shouts quasi-mystical new age affirmations and exhortations – and inspiring her Instagram followers with pictures of what’s ironically referred to as “asana porn” i.e. the yoga selfie. But, that’s how most people find yoga these days – and it brings them a measure of solace I can’t scorn. To each his own. And, there are a few who eventually become more curious about the deeper teachings, the other limbs. I was one of them. (I don’t teach that way, btw, and like the writer, became disillusioned with that studio model very early on. And, like her, it disturbs me that only the affluent – who, yes, are generally white in our country – can afford to do yoga, so I try make my teaching accessible while still being able to sustain my rent and pay my teachers (i.e. free yoga for Vets and a sliding/free/barter option for anyone based on need, no questions asked.)) Anyhow, her rose colored glasses are off. She’s woken up, and become more wise and discerning, and that’s a good thing. Her practice is working.

    To the writer – read Singleton’s The Yoga Body to learn a plausible theory behind the evolution of modern postural yoga in the West. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t just Westerners who took the religion/spirituality out of the practice of yoga.)

    Also, just because it’s appropriate to this conversation, and sadly true, but also funny, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBMc9s8oDWE

  2. Pingback: A Response to the Question of the “Cultural Appropriation of Yoga” | Hollie Sue Mann

  3. Incredible writing. Thank you for speaking out. I felt a sense of deep relief and connection to that which you express as I read all of your words. I’m currently at a cross roads, figuring out my way as a yoga teacher and practitioner of Ayurveda. Mother India has my heart, and I feel my path is to offer the lineage of these healing modalities so much service and heart felt dedication. My struggle is about finding that appropriate expression that is sustainable.

    You have me thinking deeper. Thank you.

    • Amy, your words struck a chord in my heart too. May your struggle lead you to light, and may you find fulfillment on your chosen path.

  4. I’ve benefited from visiting Rishikesh in India and getting immersed in their culture, having a strong meditative background, working with oppressive issues as well as being an actor and doing voice work through that. It’s the latter that I am speaking from here. One of my voice teachers called the “fake yoga voice” an epidemic in Vancouver, which I agree. You can probably recognize – a forcefully controlled voice and breath which sounds positive, but in a reality it’s not a natural voice and ultimately it’s a voice that would sound weird outside of a yoga studio or hippy workshop.

    This to me goes to the heart of what a spiritual path is. Is it an image that we are trying to live up to? Is being spiritual meaning trying to imitate some other person we think is spiritual? Or is it opening up to ourselves, so that we are authentically what’s there, connected and whole, even if it is different from others? How a yoga teacher speaks and moves intrinsically communicates this, and I think most yoga teachers in Vancouver unconsciously teach the idea of spirituality as a kind of conformity to their spiritual ideal. In India I didn’t see that as much – people led in Yoga classes like it was just a normal thing to do, along with other things for your well being. As you mentioned, there are many other aspects of yoga, not just asanas.

    I think this relates very much to what you write. Cultural appropriation can happen instictively when we feel emptiness inside and think that by imitating someone or another culture it’ll make us better. I think a different model of spirituality is very much needed – but it’s hard to get anything going before it’s co-opted by trying to fit it into an advertising model of selling a need.

  5. Wow. The comments here are providing a little insight to the backlash you got/get from white people. I hope you are in a place to not be hurt by it. I know I would be. But you’re asking the right questions, for sure, and I hope that you continue.

    • Yoga is an inward spiritual journey about the self. The asana is 1/8 of the limbs of yoga, and is merely a means to keep the vehicle of the body in good order, and taken in isolation is NOT yoga.

      The link below sets out the four paths of yoga, also one needs to take into account the teachings of the Advaita Vedanta. See also Vivekananda’s lectures on Jnana Yoga.

      http://www.swamij.com/four-paths-of-yoga.htm

      Read the Mahabharata this is a story that is set as a fantasy with larger than life characters. But really its a biographical introspection of our self, of virtue, truth and love.

    • You mean Bikram, AN Indian. Not THE Indian.

      The fact that one Indian person is exploiting yoga doesn’t somehow excuse or cancel out many many white folks doing so.

  6. An early lesson of yoga is that we are not these bodies. It’s definitely important to seek authentic yoga teachings (www.Krishna.com/ebooks), but that basic lesson seems lost with such a fixation on skin color and other superficial bodily differences.

  7. I think you are very courageous and in that and other ways a real yogi. And I think you were a bit too harsh on yourself. It takes real integrity to do what you have done, which perhaps may have been partly the result of your sincere efforts in your yoga practice.

  8. I have hard time understanding what the colour of her skin has to do with teaching yoga… Most Hindus, except for Dravidian are the same race as Europeans. In Italy and Spain or Greece people have darker complection. It`s so American to make all these divisions of all the shades of colour of one`s skin. It became so ridiculous that there are white “Blacks” and white “Natives” and Latinos are considered “coloured” even if they are blue eyed blondies. This is just distracting you guys from real issues. And the real issue here is rather what is taught and how. Instead of being traditional way of focusing the mind, yoga became comercialized. Instead of practicing for many years a person becomes “teacher” after finishing a course. It should be renamed as “stretching based on asanas” and there would be no more confusion

    • Dear Ruta, when u refer to most Hindus except Dravidian , you probably mean Aryans,and saying most Hindus (Aryan) came from “central” Europe, is wrong.There is no evidence of it.This theory was made up to satisfy British ego. please pick up any ancient book of Hindus and try to find if any European mountain or river are mentioned, this is how any historian will try study the moment of human race.you will find non . And remember Vedas and other ancient script were passed on from generation to generation verbally before they were put down in script. So they go thousand and thousand years back.Also Hindu is not a religion it’s a philosophy, religion is Santana dharma. You could be of any religion and still be Hindu.There is a reason you will find 330 million God in Hindu religion. Please do ur research on Hindu philosophy for better understand of yoga . Yoga is just a small part of whole philosophy.

    • “yoga became comercialized”

      Who is responsible? Every single person who has ever given or taken classes, bought yoga materials, books, etc

      So…..everyone here!

      Remind me why “commercialized” is supposed to be inherently bad? Do you think your shoes ought to be made for free? Or perhaps everyone should make their own shoes, to avoid things becoming “commercialized”? Or maybe humanity should just love itself so much, and breathe so deeply, that shoes just magically appear? Elves!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this…I am a South Asian American yoga teacher and I was especially touched by the irony of the story you related about your S. Asian friend who was kicked out of the yoga teacher training for trying to teach yoga as she has known it her whole life. I’ve faced so many similar situations….I have been struggling so deeply with these issues for years. The thing I always come back to in my mind is that the first swamis who brought yoga to the West (Vivekananda, Yogananda…) did so because they felt called to do so. There must be a reason. My deep belief is that they were called as part of a global decolonization movement, which is yet far from over. They were called here to enlighten the minds and change the hearts of the colonizers. They were initiating a spiritual revolution. And yet, it often feels that the opposite happened….that yoga was merely colonized, which as a S. Asian, is so very deeply painful to my soul. To have one’s spirituality colonized is the final frontier. I wonder, did Swami Vivekananda and Yogananda know what would come of Yoga in the West? My rational mind says they must not have, but then I think…they were really powerful, true desi Yogis. They must have known. Especially given that Yogananda’s closest childhood friend was corrupted by the materialism of the West, he had to have known….but maybe they saw an even bigger picture. I see a lot of people’s comments which call you misguided because “the point of Yoga” is supposed to be about oneness and getting past race and other such divisions. That attitude is so intensely frustrating to me. I believe in my heart that yoga is about enlightenment….and enlightenment is about seeing what is, and yes, we are all One…that is the ultimate reality, but certain groups of people in particular have a long history of terrible crimes against that Reality. So please don’t forget that karma is a yogic concept. Or don’t just wax poetic about it in ways that are convenient to you. Svadhyaya is a yogic concept…look at yourself with open eyes and admit to yourself the wrongs you and/or your people have committed, consciously or unconsciously….look at the world with open eyes…with eyes of empathy and compassion and you will not be able ignore the evil of inequality: you will see the imbalance and will know that it is Adharma. Aparigraha is a yogic concept: Stop taking more than what you need from yoga. Btw, billion dollar business is not aparigraha! Asteya is a yogic concept: what is cultural appropriation if not stealing what does not belong to you? I sincerely believe that yoga is meant to awaken people. Unfortunately, it appears as if it’s not working which can lead one to want to give up…but I think it worked on you! I sincerely appreciate your thoughtfulness. You are a yogini, in my eyes. I have to believe that you are a beginning to what yoga is meant to accomplish here in the West. Namasteji.

    • “but certain groups of people in particular have a long history of terrible crimes against that Reality. So please don’t forget that karma is a yogic concept. Or don’t just wax poetic about it in ways that are convenient to you. Svadhyaya is a yogic concept…look at yourself with open eyes and admit to yourself the wrongs you and/or your people have committed, consciously or unconsciously”

      Have you studied history outside of North America and Europe? Do you know about the atrocities committed in histories outside of Europe or the USA? Do you know of many cultures that openly admit their mistakes? Do you know about the rape of Nanking? The genocides of Darfur? The Ainu? Genghis Khan? 1984 Sikh Massacre?

      Are you aware about atrocities that exist daily in other, seemingly far off and nobler places?

      Are you aware how ignorant, rude and wrong it is to group a diverse, and distinct group of people together by the color of their skin?

      Are you aware of how confusing this kind of sh*t is to people of mixed heritage? This makes it seem that no matter what your intention, your skin color has the final verdict, more so than your cultural heritage or where/how you grew up.

      “what is cultural appropriation if not stealing what does not belong to you?”. Stealing is a harsh word, when I have never met a yogi that does not claim yoga to be from India. Also, by this definition Bikram Choudhury committed cultural appropriation when he copyrighted a yoga sequence, because yoga cannot be owned by one person.

      Also, could you please define the concept of cultural ownership in regards to “belong to you”. Is it by birth in a certain place? Being raised in a certain location? Having a certain genetic background? If I was born in America, but have parents of South Asian descent can I still have cultural ownership of my parents home country? Could my children? Could theirs? Would this ‘ownership’ extend to only my parents ethnic group(s), or could I take all the different and varied ethnic groups within my parents country of birth, along with their traditions as my own?

    • Unfortunately, Yoganada himself was corrupted by materialism too. Great yoga teacher, but flawed.

      Most of his Indian yogi colleagues ended up separating from him: some went into other fields, including psychology and neurobiology, others led quiet lives as private yoga teachers and are not famous.

      The history of the Self-Realization Fellowship is instructive. Originally it was a group of people who came from several different practices; although mostly yogis of various traditions, it included Hamid Bey, an Egyptian Coptic mystic. The goal was to merge the knowledge of these many traditions with the knowledge of the west into a new, superior science of the mind, body, and spirit. For this reason, its magazine was called “East – West”.

      Then it got taken over entirely by Yogananda and turned into a cult run for his personal benefit. He passed it on to his ex-Mormon students.

      It’s a pity that we lack anything equivalent to the original SRF today. It would be useful.

      • Oh, by the way, a famous line from Yogananda which he told everyone else joining the SRF or his other organizations. He said that Americans didn’t believe teaching was worth anything unless they were charged money for it. (In India, the tradition was “Free will offerings”, aka “pay what you like”.) He therefore encouraged charging money.

    • Thank you for your words. I believe you are right about the intentions and awareness of Vivekananda & Yogananda. As an Indigenous woman, I have committed my life to decolonization and social justice. Yet, so often, looking up at what feels like an everest of injustice, it can be easy to lose hope. However, I believe that we are all part of a long, unfolding story and that we all have unique gifts and wisdom to share. Things will not just change overnight and we must work together. As much as it hurts to see yoga perverted and exploited for capitalist and colonial aims, I also see people coming together to breathe. To be silent and to listen. To remember the earth that holds them everywhere they go. This is just one step in a long and winding journey; but it is a crucial step. I think that the more women like you & Andi have the courage to speak truth, to call people to self-reflexivity, the closer we all come towards walking the journey that Vivekananda & Yogananda had always intended for us to all walk together. Yoga is a part of that journey, it is a practice that so many people in the west desperately need, in order to remember how to be human again.

  10. Dear one, I truly resonate with your view here. I embraced Yoga after many years of philosophical and postcolonial studies. A couple of years into the practice and I decided that I had to put Yoga in a context and I started my traditional training in India. Only at that point I realized how twisted and superficial it is what we teach here in the west and how arrogant it is of us to maintain this unconscious white-men’s-burden attitude rooted in cultural appropriation. I thank you for sharing this, it s been a pleasure reading this genuine and heart felt article. MaShakti

  11. I have to say…it is an interesting perspective. I’ve often wondered why people do Yoga in groups. And Hatha Yoga is the least of the practices…and is a very minor part. Raja Yoga is the true practice that all the western stuff comes from – and Hatha Yoga, which is the general western stuff, is generally the Richard Simmons techniques of the 21st century. Completely commercialized and profitable…

    I don’t want to offend anyone with comments but Yoga studios now seem to appear like church cultures used to be – a way to get your money doing exercises (mostly physical) that you can get for free with some stretches and running shoes – with some sort of “spiritual” placebo reward system to keep people coming back. At least the physical stuff is REAL. I get that people need social outlets though, which is why I use the church analogy.

    Raja Yoga can be done and is done effectively ALONE. FOR FREE. And I can attest to the results of a one-pointed concentration practice. There are other things out there – that’s all I have to say.

    But Hatha Yoga is a preliminary purification of the body for the higher practices – and in this country, it is pretty much nothing more than gym class – usually with people that we call “lightbringers” or “soccer moms.”

    Okay, maybe I’m being a little inflammatory. 🙂 My frustration isn’t with Hatha Yoga as how it is practiced here. It is more my frustration with exploiting potential spiritual practices for money, control, and placebos.

    As far as all the cultural appropriation stuff, read a history book. How does one exchange ideas? These practices aren’t any culture’s property, especially the bastardized American version, unless one says that natural evolution of a practice can be owned by a certain race or creed. UGH. Where did I culturally appropriate my guitar playing practice from? From mostly black jazz musicians? Art isn’t culturally appropriated, unless some self-righteous asshole (read social justice warrior) wants to point fingers. Figures it would be people from the American yoga community! Haha!

    Who did Picasso appropriate his art from?

    TRUE YOGA IS AN ART.

    • It is cool to actually see art books explain where Picasso was inspired …got his art from…. African sculptures. He was not original. He merely painted what West African ancients had created in 3d.

      you don’t learn that in school history books.

  12. Very relevant topic for me. I have been part of the Satyananda yoga school and am shocked by the child abuse that has been uncovered, along with links to financial mismanagement and “gurus” who dont walk their own talk, never mind that of the ancient lineage. I cant do yoga practices currently – not even the simple asanas. I am at a crossroads and although I never saw yoga as a physical practice, this blog is a helpful contribution to my deeper reflection. Thank you.

  13. thank you for this thoughtful post. i particularly love the idea of reclaiming european lineages of connecting with land and decolonial cultural practice. i’d encourage you to read critiques of south asian claims to yoga as well — if we want a truly decolonial framework i think we have to decolonize this claim as well. e.g., http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/16632/ghosts-of-yogas-past-and-present. –half european half south asian former yoga practitioner in the u.s. who now just stretches at home…

  14. There’s a false dichotomy at play here between a ‘phoney’ Western yoga typified by the fake Vancouver accent (that made me laugh – it’s so true!) and an authentic Indian spiritual practice. As one of the other commenters points out, yoga is as much of a profit-making industry in South Asia as anywhere else. It just doesn’t take the form of Lululemon because the Indians know that their customers demand a spartan spiritual experience. The problem with this piece is that it views Indian yoga through the lens of the noble savage: the mystical Easterners having some deeper link to the spiritual realm by virtue of them residing beyond the reach of Western modernity. This ‘authenticity’ is actually based on some quite racist assumptions about Asians and their relationship with modernity.

  15. Some white folks teach yoga. Some people of color teach classical ballet. Let’s just call it even. Do what you love in the way that brings you joy. Is it cultural appropriation? Is the interpretation and execution seen as less authentic? Yes- by some. So? Eminem is a white rapper. Michele Crider is a black opera singer. Each discipline is different but the willingness to pursue the art is born from a place of respect and love. Let’s do our part to mix things up a bit. It’s okay…!

  16. Well said. It needs to be addressed. I struggle with this, too. My inner conflict has had the effect of making me really examine my motivations. That’s a good thing. The arrogance of white people (I am white) embracing traditionally eastern modalities can be hard to stomach. I have been guilty of this, too, along the way. But, fortunately, (even though it didn’t feel that way at the time) I was knocked down and shown the light quite unceremoniously this past year. Thanks for sharing such an honest post and a different perspective.

  17. The piece is heartfelt and brave. You sound like wonderful person, one whose soul is learning some ugly truths about how our society works, and I encourage you to keep learning and fighting. But your piece conflates several issues:

    1. Yoga as typically practiced today in the West and elsewhere (let’s call it studio yoga) was developed from many cultural roots, not just Indian. If you research what physical hatha yoga practice was like in India 100 years ago or more, it’s very, very different (the poses themselves, the body alignment, the transitions, the teaching methods, the pacing, etc.) from what is taught today in yoga studios. For example, there are significant European exercise influences, etc. including on the Indian-born major teachers who brought yoga practice to the West. So it’s adaptation, and I might add as a U.S. practitioner, some very wonderful adaptations and an evolution of the wonderful Indian roots.

    Great cultural innovations have legs. They travel and are evolved in the process. Think of democracy as practiced in ancient Athens compared with Japanese or U.S. democracy today (very far from perfect, but my point is very different in so many ways), to name just one example. Would ancient Greeks be proud or disappointed? Does it matter? Would or should a French person feel outraged if I open a French restaurant in L.A. (I am not French, and I am not a professional chef) and the food is horrendous?

    I do not think Indian people should restrict themselves to learning about and benefitting from the teachings of Indian culture, and that European people should restrict themselves to learning about and benefitting from the teachings of European culture. Life is too short and there is too much to be gained from each others’ wisdom.

    2. What’s wrong with teaching something beneficial to Westerns, even if it were a 100% ancient Indian product? If I drink Kombucha and I get some health benefits, but I have never stepped foot in the Himalayas and know little about the culture, is that a bad thing? If it’s raspberry flavored does mean it’s worse? For my health, maybe (but what if it’s organic, locally grown raspberries?), but is it something Himalayan people should feel outraged about? Probably not. A yoga studio, including, for example, lectures, events and flyers about social justice issues, could be a great way to tell a usually receptive audience about such things.

    3. The commercialization of yoga clothes and apparel in the U.S. is a spectacle to behold. It’s like the commercialization of Christmas for Christianity (I am not Christian). The crass commercialism in our society, the way our business leaders and politicians treat the environment are major problems. You and your yoga studio don’t have to jump on the commercialization bandwagon.

    4. The lack of connection to other aspects of Indian culture. True. But that’s not what most yoga students and teachers primarily want. That’s not why they joined and that’s not why they stay. Making that the primary focus of study is not going to accomplish what they came for and if they leave, what will be accomplished? Some teachers incorporate some Vedic myths and/or meditation. It’s very spotty, and the teachers for the most part are certified in teaching postures, not in the other stuff. In any case, the solution to this is to teach this MORE of this, not for Westerners to stop teaching.

    5. European settlement. This has nothing to do with yoga or yoga teaching. I am for supporting indigenous peoples’ rights. The U.S. genocide of Native Americans and their subsequent treatment is not known about in sufficient detail by most North Americans (I know less about Canadian history on this topic).

    • It doesnt matter what you think people should do or feel. that is up to them. obviously there are folks commenting on here that are of South Asian descent TELLING you, a white “yoga teacher”, that they feel that you’re appropriating their culture! maybe you ARE! so your defenses against this article are even MORE of an insult to them and all other people who feel affected. there are times its best to keep your opinions to yourself, especially when doing so reveals to others just how truly priveliged you really are. “should himalyans be offended that i drink kombucha? Probably not.” way to make other peoples choices for them! settler mentality. check yourself

  18. Ed Daniel, please don’t ascribe extra meanings to yoga. It simply means Union. That’s it. And the union is with God, not with anyone else. She’s not misguided. As an Indian American, I can tell you, she’s more of a yogi now than any other white teacher I know. Becoming a teacher in any tradition means you have to deal with the harsh realities of the negative aspects of your life, as well. Appropriation is one of them. Her eyes are open.

  19. Thank you so much for writing this. I just. Thank you so much. I’ve been battling with this for a few months in trying to get started as a teacher and realized I was hating teaching for rich white people. Even non-rich white people. Lululemon fills me with rage as well as studios that say they’re accessible to everyone and there’s no way for someone who uses a wheelchair to get into the studio. I think the whole ‘yoga is suppose to cue the sense of separation’ is just another version of color blindness that is just as damaging. And constantly I’m left with the question of ‘is it just me?’ because there’s such a strong focus on never complaining, always being happy, positive, and blissful that is used as a way to sweep these concerns under the rug. Thank you for writing this.

  20. The first people to bastardize and commodify YOGA were Indians themselves. There’s practically no limit to all the spiritual scams and fake gurus in that country.

    If Indians aren’t showing up to “yoga” classes in the States who’s fault is that? Maybe they DON’T WANT TO. Yoga studios are out in the open and advertised everywhere. People know where to go if they want to.

    Its condescending to think white people have to “save” brown people by walking up to them in public and trying to get them to come to their yoga studios.

    Yoga is predominantly white in the USA because the USA is still predominantly white. That’s changing and all along with it the demographic for yoga here will also change.

    But try to remember that non-white people have agency too and they know what to do when and if they want to take up yoga. We don’t have to hold their hands through the process.

    Drop the white woman’s burden already!

  21. Also “F*ck Yoga Smash The State” is highly disrespectful to the revered Hindu philosophical school known as “Yoga”.

  22. I am not sure if I am reading this right. I appreciate what you wrote though. I really think we need more people like you feeling uncomfortable and saying hey this is kind of bullshit. I don’t think that guilt is really empathy though so careful. I am not saying you don’t have empathy, but throwing in the towel is exactly what self imposed guilt makes thoughtful people do. Yoga is universal, nobody owns it, in the extreme sense that the west has made it a commodity, the practice was virtually dead in India. The beauty of Yoga is that it’s universal, even the smallest drop is the same stuff as the entire ocean. There is no difference. SO the little old lady, or the white girl, or the Indian master, they all experience on some level the same generic spiritual drop of practice. Please don’t give up but don’t be an apologist to the point of being ineffective, act! Practice, teach your own direct wisdom and experience with the practice, in places that honor what you teach. We don’t need some renunciate or guru to teach yoga, it needs to be shared, steeped in our experiences. Otherwise, lets just put Yoga up on an altar where we can watch it die.

  23. Again I haven’t read it all the way through, because it’s really difficult for me and I’ll tell you why, but unless you radically changes her tune I’m pretty sure I know where this is going.
    First of all:
    “taught anti-oppression workshops in yoga studios across north America”
    Yoga grew out of the caste system of Ancient India as a spiritual practice for the Brahman elites, i.e. out of an “oppressive paradigm.” She begins by completely contradicting her premises – i.e. true yoga as a spiritual practice was never meant to be performed by the masses, because as all traditionalist schools teach spiritual ascension is only reachable by the select few.
    “White people, who like me, were not aware (aka. blinded by our privilege) to some glaringly obvious problems in my work. My analysis often failed to meaningfully address colonization and my participation in that oppressive system as a culturally appropriating, white yoga teacher.’”
    Secondly, white people invented yoga, it’s not a colonial approbation, but a reclaiming through a shitty consumerist egalitarian society with a vague sense of ‘spiritualism.’ Yes, whites invented yoga, because it derives from a Vedic/Hindu practice, and India was conquered by invading whites from the north of the Urals, they enslaved the native Dravidians, brown-skinned Asian-African hybrids and imposed the caste system upon them. Through miscegenation and many years this European blood became diffused with that of the other. That is why, and they have done genetic studies, even today there is a higher amount of Caucasian blood in the Brahman caste – look it up. Ergo, Yoga as an ancient practice of the Brahmans was a white invention. This is not appropriation it is a rediscovery of our Indo-European heritage.
    “It took me along time to admit this to myself and make the necessary changes this realization entails, but what I know in my heart, my mind and my gut is that what we are doing in western yoga is an entitled, willfully ignorant act of theft.”
    The ignorance here is white people not knowing their own history and feeling ashamed for borrowing something from another culture, all cultures borrow – should whites shame Asians for appropriating our technology? Everyone who has ever driven a car or used a computer is appropriating white culture – fucking ridiculous!

  24. There is a good amount of information on the older Indo-European culture which existed in Europe prior to the Christian era. And as the term ‘Indo-European’ suggests, there is much commonality between what was in Europe at that time and what is still found in India (where it did not get wiped out due to Monotheism’s advance). The link will take you to the website of the Vedic scholar, Prof. Nicolas Kazanas and there is a lot of information there on the linkages I mentioned. Here is the site… all the best.

    http://www.omilosmeleton.gr/en/default_en.asp

    Some article titles follow…

    Archaic Greece and the Veda
    Homer, Hesiod and the Mahabharata
    Indo-European Deities and the Rigveda
    Advaita & Gnosticism
    Plato and the Upanishads

  25. as a mixed-blood Canadian tribal spiritual person growing up in a predominantly urban imperialist materialistic culture, it has taken much of my life to grasp my father’s simple explanation for what is the foundation for being a true human bean: “one’s psychic connection with nature and the psychic connection with one’s ancestors.” sadly, within a few generations, it is so easy to lose both these connections; and, so very difficult to work one’s way out of the cultural amnesia. due to the spiritual emptiness, the intellectual self-importance of the materialistic culture easily justifies the cultural appropriation of aspects of vibrant tribal spiritual cultures; without, embracing one’s local geography and one’s own family.

  26. Profound article! I can sincerely appreciate your introspection as it appears to be very genuine. As a African descended man in the U.S. (i.e. African-American). I find it absolutely “preposterous” that westerners (i.e. predominantly white people) would would assert themselves as spiritual guides of ANY sort which is not in call into question your obvious spirituality. However, by in large, the commercialization and commodification of spirituality would seem to be one of the many longstanding hallmarks of western culture as far back as western culture/state goes (Greece/Rome). That white Americans are oblivious to this seems utterly remarkable to me when they are doing the very same thing just one more time. History is riddled with examples of western commodification of spiritual system. One could easily argue that this behavior manifest itself as something fundamental to the European ethos. (Yurugu: An Afro-centrique Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Marimbi Ani)
    Like yourself, having studied and embarked on a personal journey for the last 20 plus years, I have definitely come to understand western culture for what it is, a highly contagious disease of the spirit, quite literally a spiritual insanity. It is no wonder that through human history as we know it, in only an approximate 200 years of global western dominance, we are on the footstep of the first instance of human induced extinction. (The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert) That has occurred in no point in time in human history.
    My wife is a yoga guide, and one of the things that immediately unnerved me the most about her training was the obvious stripping of the spiritual principles of yoga from the training. I think this was strategically done to make it more palatable to the Christians American masses. Through her formal training, I periodically insisted that there is no yoga outside of its spiritual principles… and I don’t even practice yoga though I consider myself a spiritual aspirant. Over the years of her teaching, she like yourself has reached a point where she has decided that she no longer wants to instruct yoga.
    BTW, I only mention my perspective on western culture so that some of those who view this reply will have some insights why there’s an absence of black students/clients in classes.

  27. Thanks a lot for writing this. I am an Indian. I don’t practice Yoga completely, but coming from the land and culture of Yoga, I know how “Yoga” has been commercialised and exploited beyond recognition in the western world, by people who just want to make money. Of course, several people unknowingly fall into the traps of these “yoga teachers”, having absolutely no idea that they are not learning the true teachings of yoga. All these hurt us, who really want to see the true teachings of this wonderful art+science to be propagated.

    Thank you for putting this out. You are always welcome to learn the true form of yoga from the real teachers. We need more people to propagate the real teachings than fake yoga.

  28. Thanks for sharing, this was a good piece.

    Personally I am only an occasional Sunday yoga exerciser for the last 4 years. In this period, some of my realisations were the following … yoga is the physical accompaniment to meditation, not just any meditation, but meditation to bring us closer to enlightenment. A teacher of mine (Lama Marut) once said, most yoga practitioners think that yoga brings forth health. Yes, indeed it does, but that comparison would be like using a nuclear bomb (yoga) to kill an ant (health).

    In my personal understanding, the reason you see all these critiques to your efforts, these critiques did not come from your sharing, or what it seemingly comes from. The reason you see these critiques is that you have in your life (or otherwise) critique others … surely in a much smaller way, could be a passing comment or even a fleeting thought. That had resulted in you seeing these critiques.

    The analogy I understood this from, is about a seed and its fruit. If I planted a watermelon seed (tiny) today, with the right conditions, I would eventually see a watermelon (large). If conditions were not ideal for seed growth (e.g. not getting angry), the seed may not germinate so fast and it may not grow so well, but eventually when the conditions (environment or my actions or inactions) are fulfilled, it will germinate and grow into a watermelon. In no way, absolutely no way, would the watermelon seed sprout an apple or an orange. It will always be a watermelon.

    This is not a complex science, it is simple, so simple that most don’t accept it. Today, my understanding had reach a further level … the fact that I see you being critique for the work you were doing, means that me, Yes, I too had a past seed that I have allowed others peoples’ good work to be critique in some smaller way. The world around you, comes from you, just as the world around me, comes from me and only me.

    The above is purely my personal point of view, you are most welcome to agree or disagree in your personal space.

    Peace

  29. Very interesting article and comments. Gratifying to me as somebody who just moved to Vancouver recently and is finding the culture here very alienating. Matthew’s comment was especially so: “I think most yoga teachers in Vancouver unconsciously teach the idea of spirituality as a kind of conformity to their spiritual ideal.” I could go on a rant about this city, but…
    Actually the reason I am commenting is: I love the photo from Flickr saying “Fuck yoga – smash the state.” Can you tell me what Flickr account it’s from? I don’t want to share it without giving the photographer proper credit.

  30. Duh! Most yoga teachers in the west are teaching “yoga-robics”, not yoga as practised by those seeking liberation. The writer of this piece happens to be one who was trapped in the vortex of the spiritual-materialistic and body-beautiful obsession. There are many kinds of yoga styles and many layers and depths, and it is all good. For every teacher will have students who need to learn at that level. For the serious student who wants more than the superficial, there are teachers who can help them. For the rest, what harm is there in dong a bit of exercise. The fact that the west and America (the US) in particular is hopelessly mired in materialism and cultural appropriation has nothing to do with the benefits of stretching, breathing and a modicum of mindfulness.

  31. Alienation, isolation, anger, fear… these things all exist within us, Yoga merely brings it to our attention, sometimes like a magnifying glass. Mindfulness and awareness do not cost anything (except our time and effort). Once something is brought to our attention, we can either act toward positive change, react with negativity or do nothing at all. Yoga is not polarity and the deeper, more mysterious aspects of Yoga can not be reached through commercialization or maybe even through dialogue. Like the Tao, once it is sought or spoken of, it is lost. You can go outside for a nice long run, or you can pay a gym fee, lace up expensive ‘special’ shoes designed for the purpose of running and bounce around on a treadmill. You can sit cross legged under a tree and focus on your breath or you can purchase a studio membership for $1,000 dollars, $80 dollar leggings and $150 dollar mat made from recycled tree bark, sit cross legged and focus on your breath. Elitism is a mechanism of Ego. Is an expensive painting any more noble in terms of “art” than a bag hand-woven by a woman in Ecuador or a macaroni necklace your three year old made with chubby hands and innocent heart? Our greatest allies, our vital organs which bring life to us as we know it, do not hold committees over the injustice of liver damage or clogged arteries. They do not argue “what is”; the heart keeps beating until it stops, the liver continues to process until it shuts down, no time is spent complaining about diet or lifestyle. If you have the skill set and ‘credentials’ to teach Yoga, then teach. Go to your local juvenile detention centers, jails, veteran centers, community centers in poor neighborhoods and teach. Volunteer as they say, with no expectation except to share a tool- just a tool! Offer this tool in a way that resonates with you and do it for free or donation based. Do not charge for your workshops, your meditation classes or asana instruction. Do not do this loudly, proudly or in taking any glory of whether you are a good, moral or ‘right’ person for doing such. Simply do.

  32. Well-written, thought-filled piece detailing your soul-search. Thank you.
    I need to say, I avoid the Asian (and 1 Caribbean) teachers I’ve heard. They overflow with arrogance. Their impatience with those of us behind them on the ladder of understanding makes me unable to hear them. My own ego? Probably. However, the truth is, I am not stupid — just not as far along the Path. Have a little humility.
    Another issue I have is the decadent worship I see from some guru’s followers. The teacher is wearing embroidered, ornate robes, hand fed delicacies, bowed to. Again – if these mundane trappings mean nothing, why allow your acolytes/disciples to engage in them?
    I cannot hear thru the static of noblesse oblige.

  33. There’s a lot of white guilt, scape-goating, and the logical fallacy of collective blame/ownership going on in this article. Each person is responsible for their own actions, and their own actions alone. As long as a teacher is true to themselves, I’m good with them. We all colonize and appropriate each other’s culture, eventually changing it, and calling it our own. Were it not so, Indians couldn’t do competitive gymnastics, or as one poster commented, take up ballet or opera. Chinese couldn’t learn and teach university courses on Aristotle, Spinoza or Kafka, Africans couldn’t form classical orchestras, for fear of culturally appropriating things that “don’t belong to them” – a ridiculous and Facistic notion.

    I wouldn’t teach chakras, ayurvedic medicine or nadis bcs….I don’t believe they’re real – which makes me a bit of a non-conformist in the yoga world, but I’m ok with that. I also think Patanji is mostly nonsense sprinkled with truth. I have a 100% no bullshit policy; which is how I live, and how I teach. What is real is yoga chitta vritti nirodha. Yoga is exercise, from India, but not owned by Indians, designed to calm the mind through strengthening the body. If somebody doesn’t like how Lululemon makes their money, don’t buy from them, but don’t flog yourself bloody trying to atone for actions you personally didn’t take.

  34. A powerful piece of writing and a lot to think about, as a yoga practitioner for 5 years I feel I understand where you are coming from. A lot of the studios that I’ve been to are hollow and materialistic – but that’s not a reflection of yoga as an art and spiritual practice – only of the level of consciousness of those studios and some of the people practicing there. From my perspective in the UK I can’t completely connect with your ideas about yoga and racial/social justice – (of course the UK equivalent piece would be about class not race!) but I feel you’ve imprisoned yourself within the trap of believing yourself to be white – people are people, and to feel that your practice is not authentic because you borrowed from another tradition is just to undermine your own spirituality. To take another example – there is a lot of cheap sensationalist literature / music out there but it doesn’t devalue the work that is truthful and has integrity when you find it. I think the reason this is such a hot topic for yoga practitioners is because it’s so easy to fall into egotism when working on your body – especially as people can feel competitive in group classes – but for that reason it should become your prerogative as a teacher to look out for this and put the emphasis on the internal work – by deepening your own practice and you will transmit your knowingness to your students. The exchanging of cultural ideas / traditions is what is allowing us all on a planetary level to grow creatively – we have not stolen yoga – we are learning yoga in order to balance ourselves – just as there is a great deal of western thinking (particularly intellectual models) that is now being embraced in the east. Anyhow thank you for writing you’ve inspired some much need meditation on my own practice (definitely I sometimes fall into superficial practice) and my comments are only intended to mutually deepen our understanding.

  35. To the author of the article:
    I loved the article and the sincerity. I also teach yoga, I started practicing more than 20 years ago (out of which several months were spent in Rishikesh India studying and practicing yoga.)
    First question that comes to mind is of a practical nature: if you taught hatha yoga, was the hatha yoga that you were imparting correct? If it was correct, it comes almost naturally that meditation is intimatelly connected with it.) Are some of the parts done wrong? Is it connected with the higher aspects of yoga, and is it conducive to the higher states of consciousness, or, on the contrary, is it done more like aerobics or a sport.
    If you teach hatha yoga correctly, and the spiritual aspects are incorporated, than even teaching hatha yoga alone is of great benefit. (Remember, when you add the word “yoga” to any other word – including “hatha” it means that it becomes a path.) So even if you are white caucasian, and if your yoga is correctly done and taught, it is of great value. If you confrunted with some limitations of the yoga that you have learnt originally, and have found a more spiritual and authentic version of it, I think that is also conducive to growth. Then you do have an advantage over many others, who teach hatha yoga and there is never any mention of self knowledge, the higher yogas, and the high states of consciousness (for which yoga has actually been created).

    Lakshmi’s comment above refers to the founding fathers of yoga in the West (Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda). You have also commented on “being white” and being a yoga teacher at the same time, that has not grown up in “the homeland of yoga”, India, and who likely has many things in his culture and his upbringing that are of a Western nature.
    I believe Yogananda and Vivekananda, when they were about to bring yoga to the West (and their gurus, who encouraged them to do so) had already assumed this would be so. Namely, that in the years to come yoga would end up being taught by white Westerners, with a Western upbringing. If I had to imagine what Sri Yukteswar and Ramakrishna (and their two amazing disciples who came to the West) would think of that, I would imagine they had already thought of that.
    I also think that the masterminds of these projects (Ramakrishna and Sri Yukteswar or Babaji) have looked at this as the starting of a very long-term project. They and their future avatars must have wanted to innitate a 20th Century project, which would bear fruit also in 500 years and 1000 years from that point in time.
    So in the grand scheme of things, fake yoga teachers and crooks, nothing new under the Sun and they are part of the multi-colored game of Maya. They have always existed in India and Tibet as well, and have the precious role of highlighting the authentic yoga teachers. Even if some of them now happen to be of Western descent.
    In conclusion, I would say, stopping the yoga teaching may be a good thing for deepening of the sadhana. Do not stop practicing. I would imagine that if you attain enlightnement alone in a solitary hut, or surrounded by 700 yoga students, these are just details. The important part is that you do attain : )) ….

  36. During my radicalization period, I went through a very similar process and stopped practicing yoga almost entirely for about a year. I’ve come to the conclusion that at this point in time, we in the West have no access to any “pure” spirituality or anything with uncorrupted depth. Living in an imperialist, capitalist world, everything with true meaning and value has been changed and controlled in order to serve the purpose of the powerful few.

    In my opinion, we will never be able to devote ourselves to a true spiritual practice until this system of oppression has been destroyed and we are able to build again from the ruins. Build our connection with the Earth and the Spirit quite in the way these other traditions were conceived…. through long periods of Self-study.

    We will never be able to return to the way it was for our ancestors in Europe before our cultures were completely quartered and converted. But, once the global elite have lost their stranglehold on our societies, we can begin to rebuild a cultural spirituality based on Truth.

    Blessings on your path of health for yourself and all- and may we realize our need of revolution and continue the process of dismantling that which chains us all.

    • There is really no verifiable golden age where things were perfect. I’m in India now and can tell you purely Indian yoga institutions of all kinds are rife with different corruptions, moral and environmental. Ashrams are often dumping raw sewage right into the Ganges. We can’t wait for a perfect world in order to practice spirituality, and any form is just a tool to access what is universal. We actually need spirituality in the first place to approach a more evolved world going forward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s