My friends and I walk into the room with our yoga mats, water bottles, and determination to successfully complete our first hot yoga session. We get set up, everyone finds their places, and the instructor walks in. She’s cute, with blonde curly hair and a friendly, welcoming smile.
The instructor says, “Namaste and welcome.” She starts playing calming music. It sounds so familiar. I hear a faint “Hare Krishna, Hare Om.” Then it hits me. All the songs she plays are chants of the names of Hindu gods and goddesses, with a western twist. The songs also contain various Sanskrit terms. She continues to teach us different yoga positions, along with their “modern” or English names, as opposed to the real Sanskrit names. The session ends, and the final thing the instructor says is, “Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthihi.” Except, she mispronounces “Shanthi” and says it as if the “h” is silent. She asks us to repeat after her. The entire room, also filled with mainly non-POC women and men, repeat after her, “Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi.”
My friends and I don’t know whether to laugh or to be offended. Or both.
Reflecting on my experience
I left that hot yoga session feeling a mix of emotions – confused and angry. The fact that someone was teaching me a white-washed form of my own traditions, without giving any credit to Hinduism, but still using music that chanted the names of my religion’s gods and goddesses, all while mispronouncing Sanskrit words, made me furious. The problem wasn’t that the instructor was a white woman. It was that she was appropriating ancient Indian philosophies without even acknowledging it.
At the moment, I didn’t know how to feel or react. I simply attended the session and said, never again. Although I felt very refreshed and peaceful after doing the yoga poses themselves, I could not bear to sit through another one of these appropriated yoga sessions.
This form of cultural appropriation is everywhere, especially now.
These hot yoga sessions are not the only way that yoga is being appropriated. I’ve seen videos of goat yoga flooding my Instagram feed. Take, for example, this video of Sophie Turner doing goat yoga or this video of Khloe Kardashian and Kevin Hart doing goat yoga. Sure, the videos are funny to watch. I also know that animal therapy can be very beneficial. But the issue here is that goat yoga isn’t even a real form of yoga. You can’t take an ancient tradition such as yoga, add some animals to it, and call it a new form of yoga. That is appropriation.
Don’t even get me started on yoga with wine or other alcoholic beverages and “Christian” yoga. I could write an entire book on why those are simply many levels of wrong.
“New age” spirituality
Much of “new age” spirituality is just repackaged ancient Indian philosophies. Yoga, meditation, manifestation, astrology, “aligning your chakras,” “cleansing your auras,” past lives, karma, etc. can all be traced back to the ancient texts of India. This includes the Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and more.
The sad truth is that most people who view themselves as “spiritual” do not know and/or acknowledge where these practices and philosophies really originated from.
You’ve already changed the names of the many yoga forms and positions to English words that you can properly pronounce. You commodified the entire practice by opening your own yoga centers that teach white-washed versions of Hinduism’s sacred traditions.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to practice yoga. I’m also not saying that you’re not allowed to teach it to other people. What I’m saying is to give credit. Learn the origins of the practices that you love so much. Educate others on the true origins of yoga, meditation, and manifestation. Most of all, stop taking ancient Hindu practices and changing them to your benefit.
Instead, explain to the people who come to your yoga centers the origins of what you teach them. Explain it in your TikToks of spirituality. Do not use my culture for your profit and ‘aesthetic.’ If you truly believe that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are beneficial to your mind, body, and soul, then respect it.
Because my culture is not yours to commodify.