Western Yoga is a Great Example of Cultural Appropriation

Sam Holstein
4 min readApr 27, 2018
Photo by Form on Unsplash

For the past several years, I’ve experimented with yoga by following along with yoga youtube videos once a month. One day, it sank in that this yoga practice is so terrible that I might as well not be doing it at all. So I decided to join a yoga studio.

My first few classes were normal. A vibrant, healthy woman, the age of my mother with the body of a model, led us through the practice. She helped us work into poses and encouraged us to talk to her or joke around in class. I’m aware that for some yoga has spiritual significance, but this yoga class was about as secular as it gets. The only hint of spiritual intent was at the end of class, where she directed us to “bring our hands to heart center” and said “Namaste.”

I’ve seen the word namaste printed on tank tops and yoga mats, but until writing this article I had no idea what it meant. According to Wikipedia, namaste is a traditional and respectful Hindi greeting. “In India, it is a common greeting, but it has no spiritual significance.”

However, the phrase Namaste literally means “the god in me bows to the god in you.” According to every single source I could find, whether Indian or American, we say Namaste at the end of yoga class to acknowledge the divine in each other.

So really, this yoga class isn’t so secular after all.

Not that this is a problem. People are free to practice the religion that they want to, after all.

But — and maybe I’m making unfounded assumptions — I suspect most of the wealthy white moms in classes with me are not Buddhists. And it is kind of weird to print “the god in me bows to the god in you” on a tank top.

What’s weirder is that people have minimized namaste into a trendy phrase. Yoga studios have the word namaste on the wall with posters, with wooden signs, and with other tchachkis.

My personal favorite irreverent tank top.

This doesn’t exactly speak of religious respect.

As a point of comparison, consider the religious phrase “amen.” Christians often close their prayers with the phrase amen. Amen is sometimes printed…

Sam Holstein

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