Queen Street Yoga was approached by local newspaper The Community Edition to write something about cultural appropriation and yoga, after this Ottawa Sun news article went viral. There is a lot more to the Ottawa Sun story than was originally reported, and we highly recommend reading our colleague Matthew Remski’s take on it, in which he details how the story was mis-reported, and the way in which popular media mostly shut down and derided the idea of cultural appropriation in yoga. At Queen Street Yoga we think awareness of cultural appropriation in yoga is very important, and in the following piece that Emma wrote for The Community Edition, she shares some thoughts and reflections on how her teaching has changed in the last few years, as she has learned more about the reality of cultural appropriation. Emma wants to acknowledge SAAPYA (South-Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) and other colleagues in the yoga community for helping her better understand the issues and impacts of cultural appropriation and yoga.
In the last several years, Queen Street Yoga has been looking more deeply into questions of privilege, oppression and cultural (mis)appropriation, and how they show up in the teaching of yoga, and in the experience of yoga studios. We have been examining how yoga was taught to us by mostly white, cis-gendered teachers, and thinking carefully about what it means to be North-American born practitioners of a tradition that has its origins in India. I define cultural (mis)appropriation as instances when members of a dominant culture take elements of a minority culture and use them outside of their original cultural context, often times reducing or commodifying those cultural aspects to “exotic” and meaningless fashion or activities. Cultural appropriation is a complex subject, and people often get defensive when it is mentioned. Recently an article was published in the Ottawa Sun about a yoga class at the University of Ottawa that was purportedly cancelled due to fears that it could be considered cultural appropriation. The Ottawa Sun later printed a retraction and reported that the class was cancelled due to low attendance, but that did not stop the viral media-storm in which many white columnists and writers derided the whole idea that yoga could be considered cultural (mis)appropriation.
Thinking about the issue of cultural appropriation in the last few years has changed the way that I teach yoga and create studio programming, as the Creative Director of the studio, and as the Co-Director of our Teacher Training Program. My teaching has changed a great deal from when I first began. Continue reading