How Can We Acknowledge Cultural Appropriation in Yoga?

In acknowledging the various cultural objects and practices that are part of QSY, we are hoping to begin to address elements that may be alienating for some people in accessing our space, or start a discussion with those who might not have considered this topic before. We welcome feedback and critique about our efforts.

At Queen Street Yoga, we are actively working to make our space more inclusive, more accessible, and anti-oppressive. As part of this work, we would like to acknowledge the cultural objects and practices that are present in our studio. Cultural appropriation is a reality in our world; cultures constantly borrow (or take) designs, images, clothing, and practices from one another. However, when a dominant culture, such as North America, does this to less politically, economically or socially powerful culture such as India, and those aspects are used outside of their original cultural context, this can have the effect of reducing or commodifying those aspects of culture in ways that can be disrespectful.

Here are some questions that we try to keep in mind as we consider the presence of cultural objects and practices at QSY. We invite you to try them on for yourself as well.

  • Where did we learn about this practice? From whom? What was their relationship to the culture that this practice came from?
  • What is our experience with this practice? What do we know about the history of it? How does it interact with/inform our worldviews? What value has it added to our lives? How has it impacted us?
  • Who has access to this practice? What voices have we not heard or sought out in regards to the history of this practice? What impacts might exist that we might not be aware of?

Cultural appropriation in the case of yoga in North America is complex. There are aspects of yoga in the West that may be disrespectful and appropriative, and there are aspects of yoga in the West that can be deeply healing and thoughtful and could be considered an aspect of cultural exchange, appreciation, and evolution.

In acknowledging the cultural objects/artifacts around the studio, we hope to stimulate thoughtful conversation within the studio community about the various practices and cultural aspects that we are using, borrowing, or appropriating.

Ganesh is a Hindu deity, a six-armed god with the head of an elephant. Ganesh is said to be the remover of obstacles and the guardian of the threshold. We have several images of Ganesh present at Queen Street Yoga. The most noticeable one is a Ganesh wall-hanging quilted by Wendy Dines (mother of QSY’s Creative Director Emma Dines). Leena and Emma learned about the symbolism and stories of Ganesh through their study of Anusara Yoga, and we acknowledge that our teachers were primarily white, North American teachers.

Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni Buddha was an ascetic sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He lived between the 4th and 6th Centuries CE in eastern India. We have one small white Buddha statue that was a gift from QSY’s founder, Meaghan Johnson. Many of QSY’s teachers apply Buddhist concepts to their teaching of meditation and yoga.

Tara is a female boddhisattva from Tibetan Buddhism. She is a deity of meditation; practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism meditate on the image of Tara to develop certain qualities and understand particular teachings. QSY has a stone carving of Tara hanging in our lobby; this was also a gift from QSY’s founder, Meaghan Johnson. Meaghan studied Tibetan Buddhism in India before she founded QSY in 2005.

Om, Namaste
At the beginning or end of class at QSY, you may be invited to sing or listen to the sound of Om and/or speak the word Namaste. Om is a Sanskrit syllable, a sacred mantra that occurs in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Namaste is derived from Sanskrit and is a respectful form of greeting or acknowledgement in Hindu culture. Namaste means “bowing to you” and has the connotation of “I bow to the divine in you”. Many of our teachers choose to include these in their classes as a way to acknowledge the cultural roots of yoga.

Sanskrit Chanting
Some QSY teachers sing chants or mantras at the end of class. Some of these are in Sanskrit and are from Hindu or Buddhist practice. We acknowledge that we learned these chants primarily from white, North American teachers.

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