Through A Yogic Lens: Is It Really Cultural Appropriation? Or Something Deeper?
BY ANJALI SUNITA
We’ve all seen it: the deity tattoos, the turbans, self-appointed spiritual names, goddess circles, Yoga business courses, pornographic Yoga pose selfies, events described as “tribal” galore. If you like Yoga or are of Indian ancestry, you will have been berated with these aesthetics through the algorithms on Instagram or Facebook.
In the past decade, discussions about cultural appropriation have moved from academic and legal spheres to mainstream political controversy. On the far right of the cultural appropriation debate, you have defenders of artistic evolution and free market self expression, fearing censorship by the “culture police”; and on the far left there are those seeking acknowledgment of roots and cultural values, resisting “cultural cleansing” by assimilation. Is it really so black and white?
Savitha Enner, a Maryland-based Yoga teacher who was born and raised in India until the age of 27, presents a bigger picture:
“Every country has an aspiration…and virtues, and values, and actions…the way you act usually; there is the culture. In India, one of the main values for your life is making your life sacred. That means, if I am a farmer, I am going to treat my farmland as my god, so I have rituals, pujas, prayers, festivals, a few times a year to worship the farmland, because that’s where I get the fruit of my labor. If I am a student, I have prayers, pujas, and festivals a few times a year to celebrate books, knowledge, writing instruments like pens and even computers.
If I have a job where I service the country…one of the sayings that will be put up on a building would be ‘your work is god’…even your car…because that is the mode of transportation. So pretty much anything that is useful to you is sacred. By that definition, we can extend it to Yoga…how do you treat things that are sacred to you? You are going to treat it with gratitude…humility…love…. Nobody has to tell me Yoga is sacred, or not; it just is. The more useful it is to you, the more sacred it is to you. So you do not have to ask anybody about whether I should say ‘Namaste’ or not, whether I should put up a deity or not. If you think Yoga practice is sacred to you…act accordingly, act in a way that…