I have added a new class to my weekly schedule. This class takes place at a hot yoga studio in town that offers multiple fun classes to flow in the heat at, but the studio did not previously offer any Hatha or beginner level classes. The honor was all mine in accepting the class.
For years I have taught primarily hatha classes, in fact out of six weekly classes that I was teaching before quarantine five of the six were Hatha.
When it came to giving this new class a name I went back and forth on what to call it. Do I call it Hatha, and possibly have many potential students not understand what that means, or do I call it something that is a little easier to comprehend such as Beginner Yoga or Gentle Yoga?
There are pros and cons to both options, but what I landed on was to stick to Hatha Yoga, with a Beginner Yoga subtext. The reason being is that as a student who has practiced in studios around the world, when I see a class listed as Hatha vs. a class listed as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Mysore, Power Yoga, etc. I know what each style represents. Of course this took a while to learn, and being a yoga convert (joke) for roughly two decades and a teacher for almost ten years, it is safe to say that I can easily differentiate between styles.
So why would I choose to confuse new students by calling the class Hatha? It boiled down to cultural appropriation. A reality that I hope many if not all yoga teachers have given thought to, if not for a long time in their career, then hopefully at least in the past year or two.
During Covid quarantine, like many, I attended (and am still attending) webinars on many different topics and listening to podcasts as I complete projects around my home, some of which have been about cultural appropriation in the yoga world.
Yoga is ancient. Yoga stems from not one, but multiple religions. Yoga was brought to the west in roughly the 1700-1800’s and has had an explosion in popularity and practice in the past two to three decades. There are so many more styles than what I listed prior, most are not traditional, but creations and hybrids from the 21st century.
Although the classes that I teach, whether Hatha or Vinyasa, are not fully, 100% traditional, I try as best as I can to honor the ancient tradition of yoga by utilizing Sanskrit and incorporating the unity of body and mind throughout all of my classes as opposed to focusing on solely the physical aspect of the asana. I also self study by reading and rereading philosophy books, listening to aforementioned webinars and podcasts, and practicing as much yoga as my schedule allows. I also tend to prefer more traditional styles of yoga and classes that offer spiritual and mental aspects which I then hope is reflect in my class offerings to students that attend my class.
This is scratch on the surface of cultural appropriation in the yoga world. If you’d like to learn more on your own, check out this episode of Yogaland. How do you pay homage and respect to the origins of the tradition of yoga that has brought so many of us in west calm, peace of mind, healthy bodies, and tools to cope with our daily lives?
Postscript – India, the motherland of yoga, is suffering. Covid cases are skyrocketing, an Indian variant is widespread, and crowded cities are struggling with managing the overwhelming amounts of dead, the forest department has even given permission to cut down city trees for crematoriums because they have run out of firewood. India and its kind people need our help. If you have the means to give, you can find organizations to donate to in this NY Times article.