Yoga Vs. Cultural Appropriation

By Alysha Brilla

A few people have been sending me the article about the yoga class at University of Ottawa that has been cancelled because of implicit cultural appropriation. I'll start by saying that absolutely; yoga has been culturally appropriated.

I travelled to India to study yoga and receive my RYT 200 so that I could learn more deeply about its traditions at the source and also teach a practice that as someone with auto-immune issues, has healed me and continues to heal me in so many ways. Things that I noticed in India; being a registered yoga teacher is a NEW concept. Yogis would learn from gurus and spend years studying and then passing the information down. Your accreditation was energetic and spiritual, not written on a piece of paper. You don't really 'teach' yoga as much as you guide others through asana sequencing. The yoga the west knows and loves is also known as "yog asan" or "yoga asana" a.k.a physical yoga; the stretches, the poses, the bending and purifying of the body through movement. This is only one aspect of yoga. This is the aspect that has been commercialized and highly appropriated.

I met teacher trainees in my program who hadn’t done much yoga at all and I met ones who had been practicing for years and years. Both received their certifications. Becoming certified as a yoga teacher is not difficult. Even the certification process is now being capitalized on as a source of revenue. There are families in India for whom yoga has been practiced for generations; without a dollar exchanged. It’s an integral part of their culture, spirituality and sometimes, religious practices. I am part Indian. My background is a little complex.

My ancestors were in Tanzania for several hundred years and due to migration and colonialism, we don’t know the exact lineage or names of my great-great-great’s. We do know, however, that most were from Gujurat/Kutch region of India. It is in the languages that my dad speaks and the stories passed down. Though my father practices a different religion now, we know also that my ancestors were Hindus. This is a part of me that is diasporic, nomadic, but is there in my DNA. I met my half sister last year for the first time and had found out she is also a yoga teacher.

On one hand, I want yoga to be introduced to as many people in the world as possible. On the other hand, I want to continue to decolonize/appropriate it so that it holds on to its original intent, meaning and magic. This is a difficult subject for me to talk about because being mixed and culturally diasporic, I do feel as though parts of me are missing. I recognize the privilege that my light skin and half-whiteness has allotted me. I’m not oblivious to it. It holds no inherent value as a human being, but as far as cultural capital goes, in a world that has historically been dominated by colonial whiteness, there is an amount of privilege that comes along with being part white. Then again, the Indian part of me is very strong and has answered so many questions to my being. Yoga and Hinduism both being things that seem to really speak to my soul. Or maybe it is speaking to pieces of me, atomically.

Yoga is not Lululemon. Yoga is not “one hour express”. Yoga is greater than all of the reductive things it has been turned into.I think it’s brilliant to practice and be interested in it. I also think it is important that yoga establishments that are run or operated by non-Indian folks take extra care to make their studios and practices holistic in yogic philosophy and history. It’s something that as a “Desi”, I am always working on.

Here is a great video that speaks more about Yoga and cultural appropriation:


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