Is Yoga Indian? Is Yoga being appropriated by the West?

By : Ravi

The “Yoga” community in North America is once again spinning around the “Appropriation -or not – Of Yoga”.

In a HuffPost article-

  • Prof Michael Sowder of Utah State University says:

“But here are some of the reasons I think the argument about imperialist appropriation is misplaced and an overreaction.

I was trained as a yoga teacher in the 1970s by sanyassis (monks) sent to the United States by a tantric yoga guru in Bengal.

Usually, we think of the colonial power being the one sending missionaries to the colonized country to convert the heathens.

But the twentieth century saw a huge number of Hindu and yogic teachers coming to the US.

Vivekananda was the first–arriving in 1893 for the Chicago World Parliament of Religions. The great yoga teacher Paramahansa Yogananda was next. He arrived in the US in the 1920s and became a national sensation. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi, transformed many lives, including my own. Later came Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Muktananda, Meher Baba, B. K. S. Iyengar, Yogi Bhajan. And Amma, Amritanandamayi Ma, still visits regularly to share her life-changing darsan, hugging thousands of Americans.

None of them worried about their teachings being “appropriated” by Westerners. They shared them freely. Because the teachings transform lives, lead to liberation, and can change the world.”

In my attempt to respond to this reasoning of denial of the Western appropriation of Indian Yoga, I offer my following comment:

“Author is quite off base, and thinks his personal integrity/loyalty etc is above it all, & so is the general western yoga world’s.

That may even be so, but the issue is not even about a random individual or their intent, but systemic – to do with the kind of social mechanisms (social, commercial, religious) in play.

Regarding the spread of Hindu/Buddhist lifestyles through Asia historically, it was (still is) qualitatively different.

Even  today, Buddhist practices authenticate themselves via showing they respectfully go back to the Indian source (not that they pay any royalty or anyone demands it, but still they do it).

Contrast this to the West.

It is barely a few decades since the Yoga thing is gone mainstream, and already, the cutting off of the roots, thumbing noses at the source, etc is well under way (by the leadership/intellectuals, not the common folk, that too).

The West has a centuries old very polished Digestive mechanism (please refer to Rajiv Malhotra’s writings/videos explaining his well argued thesis w/ much data).

So what happened in Asia is not happening here anymore in the west.

Call it lack of sufficient respect for the “Other” or a different attitude to “Intellectual Property”.

But “appropriation” is just the thin edge of the wedge.”

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