Relates to the growth of yoga practices moving away from Indian origins


Indigenous yoga teacher Reha Kumar calls on instructors to stick to the Indian roots of the practice. Photo / Provided

As International Yoga Day is celebrated in Aotearoa this week, calls are being made to bring yoga back to its cultural origins.

Yoga has grown in popularity across the west in recent decades, but there are growing concerns that the practice does not respect native Indian culture.

The meaning of yoga has been lost by colonization, according to Reha Kumar, an indigenous yoga teacher based in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“If we don’t recognize and respect indigenous yoga, we water down and invalidate the practice.

“The yoga industry is now a multi-billion dollar industry and just a money-making tool that often markets able-bodied white people,” she said.

Native people are afraid to practice yoga

“By promoting indigenous practice, there is not only an appreciation given to the people the culture comes from, but more can be learned and achieved – especially in the area of ​​mental health, which is a priority in Aotearoa.”

Kumar said many native people are too scared to practice yoga because it has been taken out of context, even though it comes from their own culture.

Reha Kumar, an indigenous yoga teacher based in Auckland.  Photo / Provided
Reha Kumar, an indigenous yoga teacher based in Auckland. Photo / Provided

She said yoga is universal and belongs to everyone, but less ownership and more appreciation is “much needed”.

Former yoga teacher Megan Sety, originally from the United States, has been practicing and teaching yoga at Te Whanganui-a-Tara for 20 years.

She stopped teaching it because she could not reconcile the conflict she felt in teaching.

“I think the yoga community in New Zealand, particularly driven by a Western perspective, is not engaging enough or deeply in these conversations.”

Misuse of words, including namaste

Indigenous yoga practitioners highlight the misuse of the word “namaste”, for example, as its incorrect use is now cultural appropriation.

The word namaste means I bow to you and is a traditional Hindi greeting.

“The word namaste in Western yoga is misused in a very deceptive way, as teachers often end the class with a namaste when in fact namaste is an entry point into the class and the meeting. “

Kumar said Indian practitioners like her often rush to say namaste, as if it were a conditioned response.

She herself assimilated into the proper practice due to what she describes as a fear of not being accepted into a practice that came from her own ancestry, as a South Asian minority teacher.

“That’s how I tried to fit in until I gained enough courage to challenge him one day.”

She also pointed out that Western practices mainly focus on the physical aspects of yoga, self-discovery and working towards more advanced postures.

However, indigenous practices focus on the eight limbs of yoga, holistic wellness and spirituality – and can be practiced anywhere.

“In the West, yoga is timed and allocated 45-90 minutes on the mat and inside the studio.

“Indigenous yoga is a way of life that includes physical postures, consideration of your diet, food that nourishes, nurtures and purifies the body. And that includes how you treat others and the world.”

AUT’s Diversity Director, Edwina Pio, said yoga is a philosophy of life that is not limited to bodily movement, but channels an individual’s energy to quiet the mind and achieve calm in a hectic and frenetic world.

“While there is no doubt that yoga has been commodified and commercialized in many parts of the world, the focus must be on the benefits that yoga invokes, be it yoga diplomacy, yoga tourism, yoga therapy or various positive health outcomes,” Pio said.