When the British colonised India in the 18th century, Yogis were discriminated and tortured due to their spiritual aspect. The British intention of was to dehumanise low class Indians to oppress and control them. They denied and took out of Indian ethics, values, philosophy, and spirituality to make Indians feel inferior to the Western values. In the 19th century when the British started to work on policies of conciliation for the Indian cultures, Indian officials and intellectuals agreed with the British to create a “new tradition” of India to show it to the world; something traditional and Indian yet something relatable to the Western world. Traditional Hatha Yoga was selected to be re-created (i.e re-appropriated) with more physical aspects because physical exercise such as gymnastics was extremely popular and weighed in the West at that time, so it naturally was in India (it was imported and implemented in India by Western colonists). That eventually became a similar form of the current Yoga that most of us know. The modern Yoga is a creation of India, and respectable Yogis and philosophers in India refined and reconstructed by linking this physical activity with traditional Yoga Sutras as national tradition. However, the initial project was controlled by the British and highly influenced by Western cultures. Sadly this mindset has built Western Yoga (Asana-focused, highly commercialised), which has been dominating the world and it still stirs the yoga community with cultural appropriation today. If someone thinks Yoga is just a physical practice, or knowing other aspects of Yoga and thinks they can cut the physical training out, they are still bound by the past violent colonial project, consciously or not.
Some Yoga fundamentalists say “Don’t learn from white people, look for an Indian teacher”, but things are not that simple. South Asian communities already received a strong wave of Re-imported Yoga from America and this kind of racial typecasting doesn’t work anymore (and it could be simply racism, obviously). Not to forget to mention that there are genuinely amazing Western Yoga teachers who have been learning, teaching, and promoting Yoga with deep understanding of philosophies and histories. Despite your skin colour or where you live, the fact now is that it is so difficult to avoid Western Yoga trend completely unless you consciously make decisions. So what do you need to do to get yourself out of it?
Learn Yoga, Not Only Asana
First basic yet essential step is to learn that physical aspect of Yoga is only one out of 8 limbs of Yoga. Stop treating Yoga as a physical activity. Accept that it is a spiritual, philosophical path for your life. During the British colonisation, the ethics of Yoga was completely demolished with violence. If we ignore the non-physical side of Yoga, it means we are subconsciously justifying the past colonists’ mindset. Read Yoga Sutra or on Yoga Sutra, and history of Yoga. Connect yourself with the authentic Yoga.
Liberate Yourself From Superficial/Materialistic Yoga Trend
Do not be so obsessed with Yoga fashion, which was created by Western Yoga and its capitalism. You do not need to wear Yoga pants or look slim to practice Yoga, unlike a lot of yoga clothes brand advertise. If you are happy wearing yoga pants, and if you know that the brand is ethical, go ahead. But if you feel you NEED to wear them to attend a class, ditch that mindset. If you feel ashamed about your body, or your teacher/classmates make you feel your body shape is not beautiful enough to do Yoga, do remember that Yoga is for every body, not only for young, slim, pretty female who are heavily advertised in commercialised yoga studios and fashion brands frequently.
If your Yoga teachers (or public figures you follow online) are highly materialistic, such as always wearing high-end Yoga fashion, promoting a lot of non-Yoga related products online such as perfume, watches, staycation giveaway etc, they may be great Asana teachers but may not be Yoga teachers, you may want to take note of that. Another example; if a studio promote their “luxe/exclusivity” with extremely high rate, we may get tempted to check it out, but we shouldn’t; they are materialising Yoga and over-profiting, just like how Western Yoga has been stepping on traditional Yoga for their own benefits.
Respect Its Birthplace, but Avoid Exotification
It is still not uncommon to find people who have Indophobia yet love Yoga practice. This has been a deep issue in Western Yoga. For example, people would swear by Yoga practice when famous (non-Indian) Hollywood celebrities mentioned Yoga, but once they are home, they avoid their South-Asian neighbours. This habit is spotted in Asia too. Maybe you can ask yourself; are you in love with Yoga but not willing to appreciate the Indian communities and cultures as a whole? Is your affection and admiration for Yoga filtered by Western or Pop cultures? If you like to learn and practice Yoga, make sure to pay respect to the origin and people who are related there.
Second thing to self-check is the usage of Sanskrit words, Om, and Mantra etc. Completely excluding it is bringing you back to Asana-centric Yoga. However, overusing them without fully studying them “just because it’s cool” is exotification, that can lead you to cultural appropriation. Exotification is not equal to a real love and respect towards the culture. It is simply fetishising Yoga, and your Yoga practice will be derailed by doing it.
As a bottom line, I would like to stress the first topic again; keep studying Yoga. Once you start practising 8 limbs of Yoga, and learn the history of Yoga, your urge to decolonise your Yoga practice will naturally find you.