Why Yoga? A Cultural History of Yoga

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And this is only the beginning of how cultural appropriation can cause harm.

H.D GOSWAMI - An Excellent Lecture on the Philosophy of Yoga

Here are some signs of cultural appropriation to watch out for — and some ideas for how to build a more healing practice. Many people think of yoga as a type of exercise, and nothing more. Through colonial suppression of Yogic practice and spirituality during the British Raj, one could be violently persecuted for not converting to Christianity or for publicly promoting Yogic teachings.

Many lineages maintained the deep spiritual practices, but had to keep these teachings private for fear of violent repercussions. Throughout the history of colonization, demonizing the spiritual practices of Indigenous people and people of color is part of how colonizers have justified violence against them. Doing so relies on racist thinking — legitimatizing what white and Western people like about yoga, and invalidating its original meaning.

By specifying that this is an exercise derived from yoga practices — not the entire practice of yoga itself — you can avoid mischaracterizing what yoga is all about.


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Shame is not part of the practice of yoga. So what does this mean for your practice? As is central in yogic practices, there should be compassion, not ridicule, and a sense of internal ease, instead of poses that cause your body stress. Well, humbleness and humility are foundations of a yoga practice.

You show respect to the teachers who have come before you, and the people they learned from.

8 Signs Your Yoga Practice Is Culturally Appropriated – And Why It Matters

You can approach your own practice with humility, and look out for it in your yoga teachers, too. For instance, anything used in healing or spiritual practices — like scriptures, crystals, and statues of Buddha — is meant to be treated with respect. So if you spot a sacred item on the ground or being used for toilet decoration in a yoga studio, you might want to have a word with the staff.

But, just like with the sacred objects, you could have a harmful impact if you use language without understanding its significance. In a South Asian context, Sanskrit is caste exclusionary. There may be people in the room who have been affected by that system of inequality, and your use of the language could be the opposite of healing for them.

She contextualizes the caste and religious divides that Sanskrit has and can create, and shifts the intention of using Sanskrit to engage the energy channels of our physical and subtle bodies. Pay attention to how your yoga practice treats sacred texts, languages, and chants.

As a result, for a South Asian or Black person trying to access yoga teachings from South Asia or Africa, it takes a lot of work to find an authentic connection with a teacher who is carrying on the traditions — not just leading a diluted form of them. All kinds of folks are being excluded.

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Keep the culture coming

Search within book. Email Address. Library Card. Yoga's origins can be traced to northern India over 5, years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in ancient sacred texts called the Rig Veda.


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  5. The Vedas are a set of four ancient sacred texts written in Sanskrit. The Rig Veda is the earliest amongst the vedas and is a collection of over a thousand hymns and mantras in ten chapters known as mandalas , which were used by Vedic age priests.

    University canceled yoga class: No, it’s not “cultural appropriation” to practice yoga.

    Yoga was refined and developed by Rishis sages who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over scriptures. Yoga is amongst the six schools of philosophy in Hinduism, and is also a major part of Buddhism and its meditation practices. You can find out more about the history of yoga here , from the Shri Yogendra Museum of Classical Yoga — the world's first museum dedicated to yoga. The language of yoga is actually Sanskrit, the root of many Indian languages and one of the oldest of in the world.

    Wellness, Meet Inbox

    It requires arm, shoulder and core strength. It is often performed before lifting the chest up to "upward-facing dog". This creates a note on exhalation, often compared to the sound of the oceans. When starting with yoga, there will be certain postures which become the foundation of your yoga practice. Anchoring your practice with these postures allows you to reap the benefits of yoga - flexibility, improved muscle strength, protection of the spine, increased blood flow, and even improved happiness. It is believed that there are 19 different types of yoga and 66 basic yoga postures.

    Early Yoga Philosophy

    You can get an insight into some of them here , where you'll find archival photographs of yoga disciple Swami Vishnudevananda with his guru Swami Sivananda Saraswati demonstrating some of the more foundational postures. You can read more about them in detail here. Mantras can be chanted aloud, delved upon, or listened in to.

    In yoga, mantras are typically chanted in Sanskrit.


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    The earliest mantras were composed in Vedic Sanskrit in India, and are at least 3, years old. Mantras now exist in various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. They come in many forms; typically they are melodic, and have mathematically structured meters.