I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.
Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.
The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.
Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.
Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.
I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.
I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.
“Do your practice and all is coming.”
― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois