Critics say American yoga is filled with fit, privileged white women who reduce a spiritual practice to a weight loss regime. They chant Sanskrit they don't understand and invoke gods they don't worship in a performance of "Eastern spirituality."
Ask yourself this…when was the last time you saw or heard from an Indian yoga teacher? Or really saw people of multiple different races being used to “market” yoga or meditation classes?
Maisha Z. Johnson and Nisha Ahuja say white Westerners should at least make an effort to understand and respect yoga's origins and roots.
Neglecting to recognize the origins of what you’re using is a classic sign of cultural appropriation. You may not mean to participate in the system of white supremacy by doing this, but it’s part of how the system operates—by removing any trace of people of color from the positive things we create.
Others firmly disagree. They say yoga's foundational philosophical texts are about the cessation of suffering and bringing freedom to all living beings. Yes, white Westerners should be more aware of yoga's history, but in the words of Richard Freeman (an American teacher who spent many years in India and Iran studying yoga), "any path to yoga is a noble path."
Yoga cannot be culturally appropriated because yoga is for all. It originated in India, sure, but inherent within the basic teachings of yoga (which means union), is that yoga is for everyone....everyone is free to practice yoga in whatever form they choose. Yoga is an individual’s journey towards enlightenment, one which is interpreted uniquely by each individual.
Others say it's not a yes-or-no issue: it's all about how people practice yoga. You can be a white Westerner and do yoga respectfully—just show awareness of its roots and history. Don't sport bindis and saris as if they were costumes. Acknowledge you're in someone else's cultural territory. Take classes from teachers who are versed in the foundational texts and have spent time with Indian senior teachers. Learn why mudras are considered sacred.
Think about how it would sound to Christians if you talked about Mother Mary or St. Paul the way some yoga practitioners talk about Hanuman or Ganesha. Behave with respect.
White people doing Yoga is not cultural appropriation, discrediting its' Hindu and Indian root is. Such as: making it Christian yoga.