Yoga – Offensive Cultural Appropriation?

I read an article today that really offended me, internet.


The article, by XOJane user s.e. smith,  asserts that what Westerners call yoga is an offensive cultural dilution that we’ve branded as “exotic” and turned into a new “it” fitness trend.


“While many people appear uncomfortable when it comes to talking about cultural appropriation, yoga furnishes a textbook example; westerners lift something from another tradition, brand it as “exotic,” proceed to dilute and twist it to satisfy their own desires, and then call it their own. While claiming to honor the centuries of tradition involved, what they practice is so far from the actual yoga practiced by actual Hindus that it’s really just another form of trendy fitness, covered in New Age trappings. For Indians, particularly Hindus, there’s a definite divide when it comes to the “yoga” practiced by westerners and that practiced in their own communities.”

Yes, it’s true – yoga as the west knows it has only been around since 1960 or so, and if the point of the article was to clear up any lingering confusion on that point, it would have been commendable.

Yet the author takes it one step further, bringing up the religious roots of yoga and saying:

“If I wouldn’t dream of taking Communion at a Catholic Church if I was attending as a guest, why would I practice yoga? Aren’t there lots of explicitly fitness-oriented options for me to choose from that don’t require me to appropriate religious practices from former colonies?”

Okay, bucko, let’s take a step back here.

Yes, there are a lot of different, healthy, valid forms of exercise out there that us New Age trend-followers could try. Yes, yoga as we know it borrows heavily from old, sacred texts, religious beliefs, and traditions going back eons of years.

However, to imply that the Western form of yoga is somehow trampling offensively over the Eastern version and is therefore an invalid practice is offensive, ill-informed, and deeply wrong.

I have been practicing yoga for almost a decade now, have been teaching, training, and studying yoga for nearly four, and I will declare from the deepest wells of my being that yoga, practiced as we practice it here in good old America, is a deeply beneficial and life-changing habit. I’ve seen people use yoga to drag themselves out of eating disorders, depression, marital issues, PTSD, and illness. I know people who swear by meditation, by the various tenets of yogic spirituality, and by a healthy dose of daily practice. I know people who came in skeptical of the practice and themselves who are now in the studio more then I am.

Is yoga a cultural appropriation? Yes. Is it offensive? Should it be? Absolutely not.

I believe that the Western appropriation of yoga is a good thing, because that appropriation is beneficial to thousands of devoted practitioners here on this coast.

Are you saying, s.e. smith, that a devoted American yogi can’t wear a mala or purchase a Shiva statuette because their practice doesn’t exactly conform to the original intention of the Upanishads who wrote it? Because they are somehow trampling on a religious tradition? Aren’t you missing out on the millions of Asian Christians and Catholics who have combined their religious faiths so deeply with their religious traditions that they’ve essentially created a new religion (because, by the way, that’s another form of cultural appropriation that some would find deeply offensive). Do their beliefs not count because their religion is a perversion?

Religion is not something that you have to take whole hog. Religion is fluid. Culture is fluid. People are fluid. If someone believes something with every cell in their body, has changed from it for the better, and hasn’t negatively affected anyone else by it, that is a holy thing, whether or not they are the right color, sex, or culture.

Yes, yoga is an appropriation. So is P.F. Changs.

If you want to write about religious practitioners who perverted the tenets of their faith, give Westboro a call.


  1. Jeff Ellis

    Well done! I agree wiht you 100% I have a lot to say about s.e. smith’s article and I haven’t read her article yet because I can’t find it. Can you post a link to her article please? I shouldn’t post my opinion until I read her article.

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