while standing on a clay-like brown surface inside a dungeon in a slave fortress in Ghana. Built by the Portuguese. Our guide told us that we were standing on the feces, vomit, dirt, food, and waste of the thousands of slaves that were kept in that small dungeon waiting to be shipped away from their home country. The dungeon was roughly 50 square meters. The guards would keep the slaves packed down there and first throw down food, while after some sand. The sand was to cover a bit of the waste and suppress the smell. The captivated human beings would step the mass of waste into that clay-like surface.
One of the dungeons had writing on the wall, which I still carry with me today: “Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be a hero”.
And I swore to myself that I wouldn’t forget or overlook such cruelty, and would do my best to weaken the structures of colonialism, I would do everything in my power to give the Lion a voice.
I stood in front of the gateway of India in Mumbai. Built by the British who colonized India for centuries. India was a dowry from the Portuguese to England, when Catherine of Braganza was married to Charles II.
I ended up in Mumbai partly because of my curiosity, mostly because of my intuition. I had started to take some yoga classes back home in Finland, After a short while a little voice told me that I had to go to the root to learn the truth. My visit and dive into yoga in the heart of Mumbai blew my mind and set things in motion. The experience was something completely different from what I had expected. I’d had this image of a somewhat of an Indian version of a boot camp, body-centered as back home. To my surprise, and everyone back home, we spent most of our days sitting cross-legged, studying the philosophy of this beautiful ancient practice.
The hunter today
The statement about the colonization of yoga usually makes western folks flinch. No one wants to be on the conquistador boat anymore, but unfortunately, many never left. For centuries the three motives for colonizing have been God, Gold, and Glory, and if we take this phenomenon into a closer observation we can see that things have not changed much, maybe the god part a bit. The harsh fact is that Yoga is exploited in the most creative ways, one can freely add an adjective in front of the Sanskrit word and call it yoga. Capitalizing with goat, booty, wine, and beer “yoga” is exactly what a colonizer does. Without failing to mention the Glory what this groundbreaking body-centric form brings upon its creators. This is cultural appropriation at its best, upholding the colonial structures; completely detaching the practice from its roots, and calling it something new.
This practice that requires years of studying and devotion to master, has been colonized into 200 hours of stretching, tacky quotes, and overpriced pants. To bring Gold and Glory for the hunter.
The colonizing and appropriation of yoga has gone too far for far too long. Change is possible, but it requires work, but most of all understanding. Genuinely trying to understand both sides is what is going to move us all radically forward.
The first part to understand in the west is that Yoga is an ancient practice created for the determined ones to persistently practice and eventually reach Samadhi – a word you never hear in white yoga studios in the west. Every day that passes with the ignorance of the heritage and contributing to “beer, goat, nude or booty yoga” the colonial structures are upheld and you are an active colonizer.
It’s also understandable that western people want to be a part of teaching this practice, and that’s completely okay, as long as it’s embraced while appreciating the culture.
The indigenous teachers shouldn’t be excluded and segregated from the practice either, they are the ones who have been exposed to the wisdom of these concepts from early on, because the elements of the philosophy live deeply in their culture.
It’s about time that we start to build a culture of responsibility, where everyone is invited to contribute, but also required to carry the responsibility for doing what is right, not what is easy.
On this International Yoga Day we, Azana Yoga are proud to introduce our most recent development.
In honor of Yoga and its origins, in the following week, we are launching a learning environment Mind – Body – Soul, where we have invited professionals to share their wisdom, without excluding the Indigenous Yoga and other spiritual teachers that India has to offer. You have the opportunity to learn from people who have devoted years to mastering the practice and are willing to share their knowledge with us.
In addition to classical yoga, we also aim to provide other courses from near and far to compliment the journey.
We welcome absolutely everyone into our platform, this is a safe place to grow without having to be afraid if you are flexible enough.
Together we are stronger!
Happy international Yoga Day
Terhi Sofia Kesela, CEO & Founder
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