When Crazy Yoga People Lack Respect for Indian Culture

This page was last reviewed on 14/07/2018 by: Mat Witts

Are Asians worrying about severed soapstone Buddha head propping open bathroom doors in yoga studios just petty and small-minded? After all, anyone can wear American blue jeans.

What about this 'OM' tattoo idea on Pinterest? Is the whole 'cultural appropriation' thing overwrought?

There are lots of non-Indians quietly hating on the idea that Indian culture is off-limits to them because they think it amounts to 'segregation'. They say if we don't heed their warnings about the expanding, indiscriminate use of jargon like, 'cultural appropriation', we are also guilty of obstructing the beneficial cultural exchanges that happen.

Taking to social media to argue so fiercely for free, unfettered access to a culture you have never belonged to doesn't feel like the good kind of weird yoga practitioners are well-known and well-liked for. Wanting 'cultural appropriation' to be struck from our dictionaries because it is racist would be conditional on being able to show how wanting to introduce a little more self-censorship around using objects of significant cultural importance is a precursor to large numbers of people being violently separated into racial groups while going about their daily lives.

Boundary of the Harshat Mata temple, Abhaneri by Arpita Roy08 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

The proposal to bin the concept because it creates barriers to access is really predicated on the unexamined idea that better access for everyone is always, always a good thing. It is the kind of thinking that would also have us remove the Koh-i-Nor diamond from the Tower of London to Clapham Common. Openness is good, but it has to be done properly otherwise it does not create a model of fairness, but a model for 'theft by finding' and mob landrush.

Open access is a great idea, but if it is only as a direct consequence of concerted, historical domination rather than through mutual understanding and consent you do not get a recipe for the sort of sound cultural education policy that yoga tutors need to improve their occupational standing.

The formula that equates Cultural appropriation with cultural apartheid only works if we wave away the many legitimate motivations for building a 'wall' around certain cultural heritage assets, which might be an original design feature, or for educational, social, political, or economic reasons linked to well established, international heritage conservancy and safeguarding principles.

The accusation of 'segregation' finds support because understanding another culture better requires a lot of preparation for self-censorship in an age where the individualistic ideal of radical, autonomous expression and 'present-mindedness'1) are dominant. The alternative to self-censorship is censorship from the offended subjects themselves, and the somewhat disparagingly labelled, 'social-justice advocates'. This explains the impulse to remove the entire concept of cultural appropriation from our discussions about yoga finds support even among the most liberal-minded. Time-starved tutors are having to work so hard within such a precarious occupational narrative and self-censorship is an attenuator for any small personal services business owner. In other words, finding ones fortune in yoga tutoring unsurprisingly requires a degree of ambivalence. One needs enough greed and insensitivity to flourish economically while developing sensitivity, intelligence and a caring attitude at the same time. No wonder most yoga tutors are exhausted.

It's true, yoga has never been an island, but annihilating the concept of cultural appropriation seems like the first stop on a terrifying ideological journey, extinguishing many useful cases of human specialization, and thus human diversity along the way.

Innis, Harold. (1952) Changing Concepts of Time

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