Cultural Appropriation in Yoga

What is Cultural Appropriation?

The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more privileged or dominant people or society.

Triangle Foundry believes in minimizing and abolishing cultural appropriation. Therefore, we do not use the follow language, terms, or sounds in our public yoga classes. We may have workshops and events that are centered around cultural appreciation or yoga philosophy and culture that will bring in some of these terms, language, and sounds if you are interested in learning more. We believe that to appreciate, we must take the time necessary to learn.

If you personally have a connection and appreciation of the terms, language, and sounds, know that you are welcome in our space and you are welcome to share your knowledge and appreciation in an appropriate manner.

Namaste is a respectful greeting in Hindi. It does not translate to "love and light". The western world and US society tends to take words and twist them into the meaning we would like them to be, as well as shorten or add to them - as in the case of "Namaslay" or "Nama-stay". This is not an appreciation of the culture, language, and roots of namaste. This is appropriation.

The first part of namaste comes from "namaha," a Sanskrit verb that originally meant "to bend." Deshpande says, "Bending is a sign of submission to authority or showing some respect to some superior entity." Over time, "namaha" went from meaning "to bend" to meaning "salutations" or "greetings."

The "te" in namaste means "to you," Deshpande says. So all together, namaste literally means "greetings to you." In the Vedas, namaste mostly occurs as a salutation to a divinity.

... When it comes to yoga, it's a different story. The commercial yoga industry in the United States often uses "namaste" in a way that is almost completely divorced from its use in Hindi. Some yoga websites claim that namaste is "the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us" or "The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you."

Yoga teachers all over the place teach these overblown interpretations of the word to try to ground their classes in a sense of authenticity, or even holiness. It helps that the word namaste comes from a language that is unfamiliar to many of the teachers and practitioners of yoga in the U.S. It's much easier to exaggerate the meaning of a word that sounds foreign.

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We at Triangle Foundry, have discussed the use of the word namaste in yoga classes. We've gathered up our collective experiences, various articles, and our knowledge to make an informed decision. Using all of this information, we have decided not to include namaste at the end of our classes, because we believe that the true meaning has been lost by use in Western society's yoga classes.

If you'd like to learn more or discuss with us, we'd be happy to hear your thoughts, experiences, and knowledge!

Additional articles and sources:
Susanna Barkataki on namaste
Why saying namaste is culturally insensitive
Doing Away with Namaste

If you're in the yoga world in the US, then I'm sure you've seen "yogi" on shirts, bags, water bottles, all over Instagram and Facebook, etc. It's everywhere and it's commonly accepted that being a "yogi" means practicing a lot of yoga or having a connection to the physical practice of yoga. That is not an accurate definition and representation of what a yogi is. By continuing to define yoga enthusiasts and practitioners as yogis, we are devaluing and appropriating yogis around the world.

A yogi embodies specific qualities and lives a lifestyle that few of us can barely imagine living. In my opinion, calling myself a yogi is no different from calling myself a doctor. It is a title to be earned and given to you – just because we know a little does not mean we know it all.

One does not become a yogi by calling himself one – rather, it is a title that is bestowed upon you by people around you and the community that you serve. Below are qualities that make up a true “yogi.”

  • A yogi indulges in intense self-study through the practice of asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana. This is his (or her) only purpose.
  • A yogi withdraws from society, as he sees society as a distraction from his yogic journey towards his inner being.
  • A yogi does not boast about progress in their practice, but rather serves as a light, a teacher, and an example. You will not find contorted yoga poses flooding their newsfeed.
  • A yogi eats only two vegetarian meals a day. Yes! And absolutely no caffeine!
  • He/she lives their lives by the principles of yamas and niyamas (the moral codes of yoga).
  • A yogi follows asteya (truth) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness) – they do not hoard material possessions, and aim to lead a simple life often with little or no possessions at all.
  • They serve society for the betterment of the people and the community at large. And expect nothing in return.
  • They seek knowledge despite all obstacles.
  • They spend a lifetime studying, serving and contemplating without expectations or entitlement.
  • They have no bonds or attachments to anyone or anything.
  • They do not seek gratification.

To be called a yogi symbolizes a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work without being attached to the fruits of action.

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Triangle Foundry does not consider any of our instructors or members to be a yogi. We are yoga enthusiasts, practitioners, and students of a mostly physical asana, pranayama, and meditative practice. If you choose to walk the path of a yogi, we fully support you and your use of the word yogi. We are committed to educating our community about the practice of yoga, as well as the appropriation of it. You won't find us mentioning yogis on social media or on any merchandise.

Additional articles and sources:
Why I am not a Yogi
What is a Yogi? 

Om is a sacred sound that is generally known as the sound of the universe, but there is so much more. It carries with it depth, significance, and cultural value. There are many people who feel that Om is actually a representation of their religion and/or culture, similar to the cross in Christianity. It spans multiple religions and culture throughout Asia (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism), each with its own significance and meaning. Using the sound or symbol in the context of "being spiritual" can be offensive to some people, especially if the individual using the sound or symbol has not done the work of learning and appreciating the value behind it.

Because of the significance and depth of Om, we choose not to use it in our everyday public classes. We feel that without the in depth understanding and appreciation of the sound by ALL class attendees, we are not honoring the sacred sound. This is not to say that we won't include Om in workshops that focus on the significance and history so that you can learn more. We want to teach you about the sound and symbol if you want to learn more. But we feel that in most classes, there is not enough focus or time to truly respect and understand its significance.

If you have an understanding, respect, and have dedicated time to the study of Om, we respect your use of it in your own home practice, or in a private or small group classes with us.

In addition to not using the sound of Om in classes, we do not believe in selling merchandise with the sacred symbol on it, for the same reasons we do not believe in selling merchandise with "Namaste". The symbol itself is sacred and is not meant to generate profit from the sale of shirts and necklaces.

Most important, it is of great importance to know that chanting Om, among many other practices, is beautiful and powerful.  These practices are not the property of any one group, lineage or person. They are however, a reflection of a series of traditions that have woven through thousands of years of cultural sharing, deep study, and sacred teaching, and as such, should be shown the respect and sincere learning that keeps these traditions alive and valued.

Source

Additional articles and sources
The Hypocrisy of Om
Analysing the use of Hindu symbols within consumerism
Meaning of the Symbol Om in Different Religions

All of the opinions and thoughts here do not reflect all of the thoughts and opinions of all instructors at Triangle Foundry. Triangle Foundry is not speaking for any individual, society, or group. The author of the information on this page is the owner of Triangle Foundry.

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