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Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation Within the Practice of YoGa

What is cultural appreciation?

-"Is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort

to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.”

-"Appreciation involves a desire for knowledge and deeper understanding of a

culture. People who truly want to appreciate a culture offer respect to members of

that culture and their traditions by participating only when invited to do so."

-"Appreciation provides an opportunity to share ideas and cultural awareness."

-"An exchange of mutual energy between source culture and the other culture."

Examples: For example, buying a set of chopsticks to eat with is perfectly acceptable. Using those same chopsticks as a hair accessory is not.

What is cultural appropriation?

-"Is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your

own personal interest.” -"Often the people doing the appropriating belong to a privileged group, while the

people they take from belong to an oppressed or marginalized group."

Examples: Purchasing a piece of jewelry or clothing that may have important cultural significance to that culture, but simply using it as a fashion statement. It could be taking a photo of a ritual ceremony simply for the sake of getting as many likes as possible.

From Kemet to Bharata Yogapedia explains Dravidian "A peace-loving and agrarian culture, the Dravidians appeared to be more advanced than the Vedic Aryans who, according to legend, invaded the Indian subcontinent around 1500 B.C.E., forcing the Dravidians to the south of India. As a result of the invasion, the cultures became mixed and the Aryans absorbed many of the Dravidian traditions. The practices and traditions of yoga that are part of the Vedic tradition today likely have Dravidian origins."

Further proving the Dravidian-African connection: Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami of Nidumamidi Math has said that "Yoga was a contribution of ancient Dravidian traditions and that it existed much before the Aryan invasion of India."

~Corpse pose - comes from Kemet when they prepared the mummies. The alternative name Mrtasana is from Sanskrit मृत mṛta, "death”.

~Yoga / Sema Twai - The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to yoke,” or “to unite”. The Kemetic phrase for yoga is Sema Twai meaning "union of two lands." This is in reference to Lower Egypt (Set /Setian, Lower Self-physical, sexual, ego) and Upper Egypt (Heru /Horus), Higher Self-mental, spiritual, universal consciousness). The union of Heru and Set is yoga.

~Namaste - a salutation to Divinity; First, it's helpful to know where the word comes from. Namaste dates back to Old Sanskrit, which is found in the Vedas (the ancient texts that modern Hinduism grew out of). That's according to Madhav Deshpande, a professor emeritus of Sanskrit and linguistics from the University of Michigan. The oldest part of the Vedic literature comes from what is now Pakistan and the northwestern corner of India.

The first part of namaste comes from "namaha," a Sanskrit verb that originally meant "to bend." Deshpande says, "Bending is a sign of submission to authority or showing some respect to some superior entity." Over time, "namaha" went from meaning "to bend" to meaning "salutations" or "greetings." The "te" in namaste means "to you," Deshpande says. So all together, namaste literally means "greetings to you." In the Vedas, namaste mostly occurs as a salutation to a divinity.

~Mala Beads - "Don’t wear on the outside of one’s clothing, personal reminder that

G-d is near; It is important to note that in mālās, these gemstones are not just fashion statements but part of a deep, scientific practice meant to balance and harmonize. Each different gemstone has different energies or meanings tied to them. Because of this, the user of these beads is usually very intentional with what beads they choose. By being intentional they can really hone in during their meditation on different energies. In addition, another important facet of mālā beads is that they can be incorporated into necklaces or bracelets, depending on what the user deems fit for them. But simply rocking them for fashion without having any intention behind them dishonors their sacred origin. Again, mālā beads are more than fashion statements, they are specific spiritual technologies. If a jewelry company is owned by a non-South Asian, and sells and profits from mālā beads, taking from and without giving back to this thousands of year old tradition from South Asia, that is cultural appropriation because it causes harm to the source culture and its people."

~Sanskrit yoga/asana names - have proper pronunciation when speaking another language as it is a sign of respect.

"When white English speakers fold words from other languages into their lexicon, they're often seen as cultured and worldly (and funny!). But for people of color, it's a totally different game."

"To be able to pronounce Sanskrit words correctly, you’ll need to know which sound each combination of Roman letter and diacritical mark represents. Here, Rosen shares a few sounds common in the standard yoga vocabulary."

1. Ṛ Pronunciation: “RI” An Ṛ in a transliteration of Sanskrit, like in “Vṛkṣāsana,” is what’s known as the ṛ-vowel. Yes, vowel. The Ṛ followed by another consonant is actually pronounced like it’s followed by an I, as in the name “Rick,” making it “vrik-SHA-sa-na.”

2. C Pronunciation: “CH” A C in a transliteration is pronounced like the CH in “church.” Sometimes you’ll see the H included in the transliteration to help English readers, other times not. A few common yoga words with the “CH” sound: Ardha Candrāsana (“are-dah chan-DRA-sa-na”), Cakra (“cha-kra”), Marīcyāsana (“mah-ree-chee-AH-sa-na”). See also 4 Sanskrit Words Yogis Often Mispronounce

3. TH Pronunciation: “TA” Conversely, TH in a Sanskrit transliteration is never pronounced like the TH in “the,” but rather like the Ts in “light.” The correct pronunciation of the word “hatha” for example is “ha-ta,” not “ha-tha.”

4. Ṣ, Ś, S Pronunciation: “SH” or “SA” Both Ṣ and Ś are pronounced like SH in “shut.” For example they sound the same in Vṛkṣāsana (“vrik-SHA-sa-na”) and Śavāsana (“sha-VAH-sa-na”). S without a diacritical mark is pronounced the way it looks, as in āsana (“AH-sa-na”). See also Why Studying Sanskrit Is Worth Your Time

5. V Pronunciation: “VA” or “WA” If a V is at the beginning of word like Vasisthasana, it’s pronounced the way we’d pronounced it in English like the V in “valley.” If, however, it follows another consonant, as in Adho Mukha Śvānāsana, it’s pronounced like a W (“ah-doh moo-kah shwa-NAH-sa-na”).

Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation

Shreena Gandhi, PhD, a religious studies professor at Michigan State University, and Lillie Wolff, an advocate with Crossroads Antiracism, emphasized in their 2017 article “Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation” that the goal of these conversations should not be for white practitioners to stop practicing yoga, but rather for them “to please take a moment to look outside of yourself and understand how the history of yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to larger forces”—such as colonization, oppression, and the fact that a devotional practice that was free of cost for thousands of years is now being marketed and sold."

"Yoga was often used as a tool to show the British that Indians were not backwards or primitive, but that their religion was scientific, healthy, and rational. This was a position they were coerced into, and unfortunately reified colonial forms of knowledge – that knowledge must be proven or scientific to be worth anything. Beyond its utility, yoga became popular, in part, because it reinforced European and Euro-American ideas of India. Early Indian yoga missionaries played on the orientalist construction of the “west” as progressive and superior and the “east” as spiritual but inferior. Yoga became — and remains — a practice which allows western practitioners to experience the idea of another culture while focusing on the self."


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