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Cultural Appropriation of Yoga

Please excuse me as I go on a rant. There is a lot of chatter out there about yoga and cultural appropriation. People are questioning whether we should be doing yoga in the West. People are questioning whether the monetization of yoga is ok. People are questioning the clothes that we wear for yoga. People are questioning chanting during classes. And, so much more.

Those who come to the studio know I’m Indian. I was born in India (Chandigarh, which is the capital of Punjab). I didn’t speak English until I was 5, when we moved to Toronto, Canada. I remember our first day in school (I always refer to childhood memories as “our” because I have a twin brother) when the teacher started jabbering away in English and we spoke only Punjabi. My brother and I looked at each other, completely lost. Three months later, we were fluent in English (thank you Sesame Street and Electric Company!).

Being Indian, I believe I can add some value to this conversation. Do I feel it is appropriation when people say Namaste in yoga classes? Nope (keep reading for my personal story about Namaste). Just as I don’t find I am doing anything wrong when I disembark from the plane in Hawaii and respond with aloha when greeted with it. Do I feel offended when people chant in class? Nope. Do I think that we should all be dressing in salwar+kameez to practice yoga instead of spandex? Nope.

Here’s what I do believe: the more yoga that is out there, the better. I don’t care how it’s packaged—traditional, hot, power, meditative. The more people doing yoga and practicing self-introspection and enlightenment, the better. Practice it outside, in your house, in a studio, at an ashram. Practice in sweats, jeans, a sari, yoga clothes. I don’t care, just practice! Find all the goodness that is yoga, embody it and share it! This is how I feel about the proliferation of yoga in the West.

Now, my personal story about Namaste. As some of you know, I am a Sikh. Sikhism is an Indian religion that is an off-shoot of Hinduism. Namaste is a greeting much like aloha; it is used for hello and goodbye. Hindus say Namaste while clasping their hands at their hearts in Anjali Mudra. Sikhs say Sat Sri Akaal while clasping their hands at their heart in Anjali Mudra. Namaste literally translates to “I bow to you,” although there is definitely a deeper meaning behind it. Sat Sri Akaal translates to: ‘Sat’=true. Something which is real and something which is truthful. ‘Sri’ on the other hand is said to refer to someone who is respectable. ‘Akaal’ refers to something which cannot be measured in time. It stands for something which is timeless. Joining all the dots we come to know Sat Sri Akaal means God is true, he exists and his presence can’t be denied.

I first started taking yoga in 2010 and would sit in this tight, unyielding place when everyone said Namaste at the end of class; I refused to utter it. Which is so wrong! I just had a wonderful experience and here I was messing it all up because I didn’t want to say Namaste. When I am greeted with Namaste in everyday life, I say it, no problem. When I’m greeted with As Salaam Alaykum, I respond, no problem. Why was I having so many issues with it in yoga? After I had this conversation with myself (guys, there are so many conversations going on in this head, you don’t even want to know!), I realized I was being obstinate. Ever since then, Namaste with Anjali Mudra is a wonderful and joyous way to end my yoga classes. If you’ve felt resistance in responding with Namaste, know that you’re not alone, but definitely ask yourself why there’s resistance.





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