So, it was only natural that at some point, the introduction of yoga in schools would come before a court, as yoga is a practice that is inextricably entwined with Hinduism. And two years ago, a California judge ruled that a local school could go ahead with its yoga programme, because, while yoga may have religious roots, all references to religion had been systematically removed from the school’s programme. Last week, the TOI reported on a Canadian university that banned a free weekly yoga class after the varsity staff claimed the ancient meditative practice was a form of ‘cultural appropriation.’ Cultural appropriation is a big deal in the West. It’s what makes a major issue of Miley Cyrus twerking, or white people dressing up as Native Americans.
“While many people appear uncomfortable when it comes to talking about cultural appropriation, yoga furnishes a textbook example; Westerners lift something from another tradition, brand it as “exotic,” proceed to dilute and twist it to satisfy their own desires, and then call it their own. While claiming to honor the centuries of tradition involved, what they practise is so far from the actual yoga practised by actual Hindus that it’s really just another form of trendy fitness, covered in New Age trappings. For Indians, particularly Hindus, there’s a definite divide when it comes to the ‘yoga’ practised by Westerners and that practised in their own communities,” writes SE Smith at xojane.com.
Yes, yoga as practised by Westerners is very different from the Hindu practice.But should we be worried about that? No culture is ‘pure’. Even in India, among Hindus, there are many who do yoga as an exercise, and not as part of a spiritual discipline. How many Hindus who practise yoga are worthy of being called yogis? And if we didn’t borrow from other cultures, how much of our art or music or film would even exist?