184: Is Yoga Cultural Appropriation? with Shailla Vaidya

It is common knowledge that yoga originated from India, and has been practised in India and South Asia for millennia. It is only recently that yoga has gained popularity in the Western world. Over time, people within the yoga space have adapted it to cater to different needs and trends, and today, there are many different forms of yoga that exist which can be very removed from the original practice of yoga as it was intended. This leads to the complex question – Is yoga cultural appropriation?

Dr. Shailla Vaidya joins Shannon as someone who is of South Asian descent and was raised in the yoga tradition to share her perspectives. Dr. Shailla Vaidya is a Physician and Yoga Therapist, who practices Mind-Body Medicine in Toronto, Ontario. Shailla teaches medically-informed therapeutic yoga to yoga therapists internationally and offers a variety of programs that combine the science of Western Medicine with the Eastern Mind-Body practice of Yoga.

In this eye-opening and straight-from-the-heart conversation, Shailla really opens up about her own personal experiences of what it was like to grow up in the culture of yoga and then to step into a Westen yoga class. She also talks about what we can do to honor the tradition of yoga and share it in a way that is respectful of its heritage and history, and the culture it comes from while acknowledging the challenges that come with it

Being respectful, culturally sensitive and appropriate is something we all constantly need to learn and work on. This interview is a great starting point to think about some of the issues around yoga and cultural appropriation. 

Key Takeaways:

[7:16] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Dr. Shailla Vaidya.

[8:32] Shannon and Shailla share some context about the situation at the time of recording.

“It is such an important turning point that we really have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What is the way forward”.” ~ Dr. Shailla Vaidya

[11:51] Shailla shares a bit about her background.

“I’ve been doing yoga my whole life, it’s not something I learned to do or came across – it’s something that’s a part of my culture.” ~ Dr. Shailla Vaidya

[18:59] How does Shailla combine yoga and medicine?

[24:55] Where did Shailla’s journey begin with the understanding of cultural appropriation with regard to yoga?

[29:38] Shailla shares the experience of when she really felt the pain of cultural appropriation in yoga.

“How is it okay that you can use these symbols when I was repeatedly bullied and shamed and put down for my culture? How is it okay that you can do this as a white person, and make money off of it?”  ~ Dr. Shailla Vaidya

[34:02] Colonization is a part of India’s history, and there is trauma carried by people of this heritage and culture, as a result of that.

[36:55] Shailla defines cultural appropriation.

“I was happy that other people are enjoying other cultures, that they’re appreciating other cultures, and yet, I’m still struggling with ‘Is this appropriation?’, or why am I feeling this pain?”  ~ Dr. Shailla Vaidya

[38:38] Shannon and Shailla discuss why she felt like an imposter in a yoga class and at yoga conferences.

[41:55] What does Shailla wish yoga teachers knew? Shailla shares some of the practices that exist in the Western yoga community that are inappropriate.

[48:45] Un-learning things we have always done can be difficult, but it is something that we need to do. Shannon shares her experience of trying to un-learn saying ‘namaste’ at the end of a yoga class. We need to always be questioning and learning.

[52:49] It is also important to recognize when we’re profiting off somebody or someone’s culture.

“You have to understand the history and the culture of India, because you’re teaching something that is based in and from Indian culture, and you have to understand what was done to these people.” ~ Dr. Shailla Vaidya

[56:07] Shannon and Shailla discuss some ideas on how we can be a part of the solution.

[1:01:02] Who should we be seeking to learn from?

[1:07:25] How can we respect and honor the traditions of yoga as we bring it into our lives?

[1:12:13] Shailla shares some of her struggles around how people practice yoga in Western cultures.

[1:18:24] All of us need to do the work as we learn what’s okay and what’s not okay.

[1:20:22] What are some questions coming up for you after listening to this interview?


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