IF YOU one of this week’s spiritual-elect — self-appointed cultural purists devoted to pointing out ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘misappropriation” whatever the case may be, and upbraiding the ‘yoga community’ for ‘not being more inclusive and representative’ (or worse), ‘costing a fortune and not catering to different body types’, — you may wish to reflect on the history of puritanism in South Africa, and my own yoga journey.
In order to maintain ‘white privilege’ the architects of apartheid devised a grandiose scheme whereby the character of tribal and ethnic groups ‘would be preserved’, albeit under the pretext of culture. The unique and distinct peoples of South Africa, the faces of whom seemingly adorn a well-known art deco building in Cape Town, were presented with separate homelands, under a segregationist system introduced by Hendrik Verwoerd. All to maintain the ”integrity of culture’, and to avoid the dreaded cross-pollination which has characterised much of the past century including our own.
Enter the interlocuters of a contemporary movement known as ‘wokeism’, who appear to vigorously object to any instance of ‘hybridity’ and ‘cultural influence’ , if only to serve a political purpose — namely media exposure for a campaign which locates itself within the global ‘black lives matter’ movement. All for the sake of convenience and keeping the pot on the boil, (and who can argue with this strategy?)
To add some context, I started my free yoga journey some years ago at an ashram in Beverley Hills. One cannot get more ‘up-market’ than that. Hollywood itself is replete with cross-cultural influences, (some of which may, like the black face of the 1920s, cause offence, whilst others like the face of Mickey Mouse have universal appeal).
After a long hiatus, I found myself returning to my yoga mat, with another free yoga class at the Scalabrini Centre offered by an Italian yoga instructor by the name of Laura Anjali. The local revolution in freebie yoga classes didn’t end after Anjali left Cape Town.
When my attendance at ‘paid sessions’ at Virgin Active became unaffordible, I turned to costless yoga videos on Youtube, and began practicing at home.
A Tamil friend of mine suggested a particular Hatha Yoga guru, offering ‘authentic yoga‘ and whose videos were also freely available. I was then drawn into the gratis events surrounding the International Day of Yoga, joined several free yoga festivals and participated in many outdoor sessions, some for love, some by donation only.
Earth Child even have a programme whereby one may sponsor children to practice yoga in the townships.
Reading the brouhaugh surrounding a City yoga studio, punted by a news outlet at the centre of a multi-baby scandal, I counted nearly a dozen false assumptions, most of which boil down to a variation of any of the following:
Yoga is exclusive
As my own journey with costless and free yoga practice demonstrates, yoga is for everyone, and you don’t necessarily require any money.
Yoga should only be practiced in India or by persons of Indian descent
Much like the Asian game of Chess which conquered the world and is played nearly everywhere, Yoga has entered the common global lexicon and exercise regime, alongside Cricket and Tennis. Similarly tattoos and dreads.
People will get offended by my weight or body type
The whole point of yoga is to embrace the inner journey that arises from the physical limitations of the body. Don’t get put off if you are overweight, but then don’t go about destroying other people’s spiritual health practices just because they are willing to get up at 5am to do sunrise yoga on the beach, while you prefer to stay in bed.
People should be offended if I embrace hybridity and cross-pollination
While there is much to be said about traditional yoga practices, new styles of yoga are constantly emerging. Getting caught up in the correct naming of asanas (or poses) can be a huge distraction (but is recommended, especially if you want to appreciate the new Skywalker Pose). Of course there is nothing to beat acquiring a working understanding of the conventional, but demanding that we all cowtow to convention is just plain idiotic.