I have heard every aspect of Indian culture be mocked and commented on from “pimple-looking bindis” to “smelly, poopy henna” to “disgusting, yellow turmeric.” Now, we have white women applying turmeric as face masks and wearing bindis and saris as fashion statements. This not only exploits Indian culture but also disrespects and misappropriates it.
Now, a new era of Indian appropriation has begun involving yoga and meditation. Yoga has turned into a Lululemon, a retailer of yoga wear, phenomenon to the point that if I search for “yoga” on Google images, I only see white women in various asanas ( yoga poses ). Just a month ago, on Facebook, I came across an ad for “Yoga class to take you back to Chistian roots.” I was shocked. The white lady in the picture was wearing the traditional Indian mala, a rosary consisting of 100 beads, with her hands in the namaste pose, and the caption claimed that yoga actually originated from the Bible. That is only the tip of the iceberg. There are now books, mostly copied from Hindu scriptures, on meditation and mindfulness by white authors. This is not respect for a practice. This is appropriation. This is plagiarism. It is wrong. It needs to stop.
Yoga and meditation originated thousands of years ago in Northern India. The word “yoga” was first mentioned in the The Vedas, a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals performed by Brahmans. As the years progressed, they slowly refined and developed the practice, documenting it in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Then, the Classical period arrived, during which Patanjali, yogic guru, organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the asanas and steps to samadhi (enlightenment). He wrote the religious text Yoga Sutras that has a collection of 196 yoga postures as well as the theory of yoga and how it aligns human beings to nature. He is often considered the founder of modern yoga. After Patanjali, yogis developed Tantra Yoga with radical physical postures to cleanse the body and mind and achieve enlightenment. The exploration of these physical and spiritual connections led to the creation of Hatha Yoga, which is a form of yoga that is mainly popular in the West.
In the late 1800s, Swami Vivekananda was the first person to bring yoga to the West at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. From there, Indra Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood, California, and then in the early 1960s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought transcendental meditation to America. The Beatles actually traveled to India to learn transcendental meditation, and afterwards quit drugs.
Now, yoga and meditation have become worldwide phenomena with more and more people getting involved in the practice. But, as it spreads, the true meaning of what yoga and meditation is is lost. The names of the asanas are changed. Postures are plagiarized. Students are saying “om” without understanding what it means. And in the process of all this, respect for a long held traditional practice that defines Indian roots is gone, and it is now just subject to misappropriation and an object of trend.