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How to Practice Yoga Without Appropriating It

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Cultural appropriation is stealing the intellectual, spiritual, cultural informational wealth of another group, such as we see happening with yoga today and for the last century.

Groups in positions of power can appropriate a set of ideas, practices, in other words, cultural riches. This sector deals in information. It produces, manipulates, distributes and markets information products. It is taken and and claimed as their own without giving any credit to where it came from.

So what is cultural appropriation and how is it different than cultural appreciation or honoring another culture?

The oxford English Dictionary says cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

Cultural appropriation involves

1. Power and dominance.

And 2. It involves doing harm.

So how can we practice yoga without appropriating? There are probably no simple answers, but here are some suggestions to consider.

We need to strike a balance between structure and emergence.

- The best way to decolonize our practice is to honor its roots. Of course yoga is always evolving. It’s just a matter of honoring where things came from.

- If we are a yoga practitioner — ask our teachers for more than asana. Going deeper, asking and taking the time to learn and practice more.

- Practice and teach as many of the limbs as possible. So we can experience and the full range that yoga has to offer.

- Own our positionality. Imagine if at the beginning of a yoga class teachers shared, “This is Who I am, this is how I learned, I have a lot of respect for the lineage...”

- A little humility, a little reverence, goes a long way.

- Teaching as if we know our stuff, of course, because we know we do, but also teaching as we are always a student of this practice. Acting as if we could study it for our whole lives and be still learning, because, of course, we can.

- Show that we really care about the aim of uplift, about other’s well being. This is is not just a thing we are doing.

Embrace emergence — towards unity and uplift.

The cultural context of yoga in the west is shifting and changing.

Slowly we are seeing a revolution of consciousness towards respect, inclusion, diversity of leadership, as more and more of us step onto our mats as practitioners and leaders in the awakening of personal, human development and an expansion of love.

By practicing in a heartfelt way, we do our part to bring about this golden age- of people waking up to understanding their unity with one another.

This unity isn’t possible through ignoring difference, pretending it doesn’t exist or railroading it, but only by going in, looking deeply, reflecting and sharing with others who have a different perspective than ours.

Yoga is transforming as we take this ethic of integrity and unity onto and beyond our mats, out to our studios, home to our family, friends, expanding to places of work and businesses, out to our community and the world.

Rather than appropriate, let’s transform this obstacle and use our practice to liberate.

See you on the path,

Susanna Barkataki

Here for the yoga. Curious. Open. Growing.

Diverse. Unity in Action.


Learn more and download the Yoga Manifesto.

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