(*disclaimer* Yoga also belongs to people from other Dharma traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. This article refers specifically to Hindus but the harm can also apply to other Dharma traditions.)
Written by Healing from White Yoga Under the direction and guidance of South Asian cultural stewards
White yoga causes direct harm to Hindu people through the cultural appropriation of Hindu culture and traditions.
When we say ‘White yoga’ what we mean is the western system of diluted and corrupt yoga created by and for colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. It is not limited by skin color.
When we say ‘cultural appropriation’ we mean; people from within a dominant culture taking from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant culture. In this case the dominant culture is White \ western, and the oppressed people are Hindus who are Indigenous to India.
Here are some of the ways that White yoga directly harms Indigenous Hindu people:
- White yoga erases traditional Hindu \ yoga culture by creating a dominant White yoga culture that infiltrates, erases, and buries sacred traditional practices. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find traditional yoga teachers and practices that have stayed true to their lineage, and have not been tainted by the modern ways of White yoga. This creates obstacles for Hindu people trying to access their own culture, as well as barriers to preserving the traditional practices and ensuring that they are passed down to the next generations.
- White yoga makes light of the historical trauma \ oppression of Indigenous Hindu people caused by White colonialists in India. Under colonial rule, White British colonizers committed genocide against India’s Hindus, and attempted to erase Hinduism altogether. White yoga doesn’t even acknowledge this historical context, and instead justifies continued oppression and colonization — White people can continue to take what they want and make it their own without regard to the people or places it came from. Meanwhile Hindu people still face discrimination and oppression, and the colonial trauma is perpetuated as they see White people continuing to take from and own their sacred indigenous practices.
- White yoga exploits the labor of Hindu people, by allowing White people to profit from it without giving Hindu people credit for their own culture. Authentic yoga is thousands of years worth of indigenous wisdom. That is thousands of years of collective time, energy, labor, study, teaching, intellectual property, meditating, praying…. Suddenly White yoga shows up, steals the wisdom, commodifies it, and creates a 16 billion dollar yoga industry. No credit is ever given to the Indigenous people to whom yoga belongs, no payments made to them, no restitution for the property stolen.
- White yoga perpetuates racist stereotypes of Hindu people and spreads lies about their culture and history. IF White yoga mentions South Asian or Hindu people at all, it portrays them as exotic at best, and often as if they are ancient history — like they conveniently disappeared and left us the gift of yoga. Western yoga teachers, with little or no understanding of Hindu culture or people, present false information, tokenize, stereotype and erase, which feeds the mainstream negative perceptions and misunderstanding of Hindu People — who are still very much alive, and continue to suffer from Hinduphobic practices.
- White yoga gives permission for White people to benefit from the culture while discriminating against the people that it belongs to. White yoga has separated itself so completely from its Hindu roots that it allows people to love and participate in the yoga practices that we stole, while simultaneously discriminating against or even hating Hindu people. Like other forms of racism, Hinduphobia runs rampant and most of us perpetuate it, often without even realizing that we are. For example the casual use of sacred Hindu symbols and Deities in ways that are disrespectful (shirts with the “OM” symbol printed backwards, deities placed in the bathroom…), or creating White bhakti festivals where every kind of liberty is taken over the sanctity of Hinduism.
- White yoga creates barriers to access traditional practices As mentioned above, it’s hard to find traditional yoga teachers and gurus because the world is so flooded with western yoga that they get silenced and pushed out. Additionally mainstream regulatory agencies such as Yoga Alliance and International Association of Yoga Therapists have arbitrary standards that many traditional teachers can’t or don’t want to fit into. People who want to find a traditional yoga practice have to look hard to find it, and most of us don’t even know that it exists, or that the mainstream yoga we practice isn’t it. White yoga likes it that way.
- White yoga allows White people to pick and choose what they want to take from Hindu culture for their own benefit, without respect for the culture or people. Westerners have taken bits and pieces of yoga without understanding or having consideration for the complex indigenous spiritual system that it comes from. When we take the practices out of context, and distort them to serve our own purposes we often violate the traditions meant to surround them, disrespecting both the practice itself and the people it belongs to. Because Hinduism has been so thoroughly removed from what most of us know as yoga, we believe we can have our own kind of practice which is like a platter of things we pick and choose from, while discarding the things we don’t consider relevant. Needless to say most of those things that we willfully ignore are the ones requiring our attention and commitment. But our privilege allows us to bypass that commitment and have no remorse.
- White yoga sets up White people to profit from the spirituality and sacred traditions of people of color, while those people of color are poor and disadvantaged. Commodifying and capitalizing western yoga and all of it’s accessories (yoga mats, yoga journal magazines, branded yoga pants, Yoga Alliance membership dues….) has become a very profitable industry for westerners, primarily White people. While White people are profiting from White yoga, the majority of the Indigenous people to whom yoga actually belongs continue to be marginalized and live in poverty. And spirituality was never meant to be sold at all — it is desecration to put a price tag on God.
- White yoga creates a colonial capitalistic market where people belonging to the traditional lineage, in order to survive and keep up with the unreasonable demands, fall into the traps of the yoga industrial complex. Many Indigenous practitioners and teachers are forced to use the same tools as the White appropriators to ‘keep up’ with the demands of a yoga that is so far removed from the tradition. This is neo-colonization and is creating a deeper kind trauma among the native practitioners, as well as further contributing to difficulty of preserving authentic teaching and practice.
- White yoga praises White people for doing yoga, while Indigenous Hindus were, and still are, actively punished for practicing yoga. White people doing White yoga are seen as good — healthy, fit, enlightened, disciplined, holistic, spiritual, connected, loving, strong, flexible, kind to the earth…. Meanwhile, Hindu people are frequently demonized for practicing Yoga — seen as dark, evil, savage, demon worshipers, backwards….and have been beaten, tortured and killed for practicing.
- White yoga teaches false practices that then become the norm while authentic practitioners are silenced. Diluted and whitewashed yoga practices have become so popularized and mainstream, that it is all the majority of people know of yoga. Even some Indian people in India think that White yoga is the real yoga, because that is all they have been shown. Authentic yoga practitioners, who hold the missing knowledge, are often excluded from western yoga spaces and conversations, and shut down when they try to speak on behalf of traditional yoga.
- White yoga perpetuates an inferiority complex in Indigenous Hindu people by directly and indirectly sending them the message that White people are superior to them. Historically, Indian Hindus, like other Indigenous groups around the world, have been brutalized and tortured into believing that White people are better than them. While they continue to be ridiculed and demonized for their culture, they simultaneously see White people profiting from White yoga, a total bastardization of their sacred practices. This continuously sends the message that they are inferior.
With all of this harm being perpetuated by White yoga, it is time for us to stop teaching, practicing and profiting from it. Instead we can start learning about Hinduphobia and the ways that we unknowingly participate in it. It is in our own best interest to focus on decolonizing ourselves and our practices so that we don’t commit the same mistakes that we have been making for so long, and so that we don’t allow the systems of oppression to continue. None of us will be free until we are all free, and because of all the harm it causes, White yoga is a barrier to our collective liberation.