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understanding cultural appropriation

Updated: Apr 2

Yoga, meditation and other somatic practices have long been part of indigenous communities' ways of healing and spirituality. If we're going to practice them in a Western context, we can work on appreciation rather than appropriation.

One of the challenges that we face in the contemporary wellness/healing/spiritual world is how to share, honor and celebrate the indigenous roots of the practices we love, without engaging in cultural appropriation.

The practice of yoga feels especially problematic. The long history of yoga has as many twists and turns as the story of India herself. However, what we call “yoga” today in the western world bears little resemblance to the original practices. It might be more accurate to call it, as Matthew Remski does, “modern postural yoga (MPY)” in order to differentiate it from its spiritual origins.

First, we should acknowledge that even a very physical practice of “modern postural yoga” can still be transformational, and a spiritual practice. When I started yoga, it was simply a form of exercise for me. I was lucky enough to find teachers and spaces who honored yoga’s roots, so that I learned to practice meditation and ethical behavior as part of the experience. Over time, yoga became something that was more about what I was doing off of the mat than on it; the physical postures (asana) were secondary. I now spend more time each week in meditation than I do practicing yoga postures.

But attempts to inject spirituality into a physical practice, while well-intentioned, can also run the risk of causing harm through cultural appropriation. Remember, intention is not the same as impact. We can have wonderful, loving intentions, and still accidentally cause harm. This doesn’t mean that we’re bad people– it just means that we didn’t know, and once we learn, we can make better choices. If you’re someone (like me) who has made some of the cultural appropriation missteps in this article, remember that this is just part of the learning experience.

So, what is cultural appropriation? Susanna Barkataki says it best:

“Cultural appropriation i