Who Owns Yoga? ~ Dolphina

Via elephant journal
on Jul 15, 2012
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I admit it. My tail-feathers were seriously ruffled today.

It all began when I posted a picture on my facebook page of me bellydancing at my dear friend’s baby blessing with Thoreau’s exquisite quote:

When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.

A friend shared my picture and quote and then a woman of East Indian descent posted underneath:

Between her and Shiva Rea, I guess blonde chicks are gonna capitalize on all of our traditions and spiritualities . . . Glad to know people out there carrying the Orientalist mantle of Ruth St. Denis forth, self-promoting, and makin’ money. What would we do without them?


Being a “blonde chick” in the world of bellydance, I have faced this sentiment and far worse throughout my career. I have dedicated my life to empowering women through my work and I am part of a supportive community which I adore with all my heart. I also have my “haters” and I have made peace with them.

However, in this case, what gave me pause was her “ownership,” mentioning “all of our traditions and spiritualities.”

Who owns yoga? Who owns bellydance? Who owns these ancient traditions?

Is there truth in her comments? Does someone who was born in India have more shares of stock in the business of yoga?

Is someone from Mumbai better suited to share the secrets of inner peace?

Should Eminem not be allowed to rap because he is white? Is he stealing from blacks?

Should only Egyptian women be allowed to instruct other women to shimmy? And must a woman have dark hair (and how dark is dark enough) to teach others to feel confident about their body?

Is the issue truly about white people stealing yoga, bellydance, music and ancient traditions from the brown/black people?

I personally believe yoga, dance, music, ancient traditions and spiritualities are for all people and intended to unite all humans. Cultures and traditions are lovely, but not when their purpose is to segregate.

With all the struggles we face worldwide, I believe it’s a tragedy to not join together, regardless of color. (By the way, I’m a Bulgarian Gypsy and gypsies are one of the most persecuted races of all time.)

What do you think?

Who owns the ancient traditions? Must we examine the ideas, color lines and religion/culture in order to teach or receive the benefits of yoga?


Dolphina founded her company, GoddessLife, on her belief that every woman is a goddess. During a spiritual quest in the Caribbean, she was involved in a near-fatal boating accident in which she was rescued by dolphins which altered her name and life forever.

Dolphina is a mademoiselle with a mission to make a difference in our world one goddess at a time. A powerful teacher, dancer, author, activist and businesswoman, Dolphina has overcome tremendous odds to create a company who’s sole purpose is to support and empower women.

Dolphina is the creator of the best-selling Goddess Workout Bellydance DVDs and CDs series and is the author of Bellydance (DK Publishing), which has been published in 13 different languages. Dolphina has been featured in over 100 magazines and numerous television and radio shows, including Ellen, Conan, Sex and the City, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View as well as Time, Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Fitness.


Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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59 Responses to “Who Owns Yoga? ~ Dolphina”

  1. craig says:


    I think the important point to BE made here is that your work and passion is a tribute that honors the ancient Eastern arts, giving them more exposure and appreciation in our Western society.

    Feathers ruffled or not, you are an amazingly talented dancer and have a lot to share. You know it’s impossible to make everyone happy, so just keep doing what makes you happy.

    Keep smiling,

  2. Dr Pisces says:

    We are all a dilution of someone else's genes and cultures. Some people seek to preserve, protect and mummify. By doing so, they limit the spread of what they protect, making it elitist, over controlled, politically motivated, and eventually extinct. Where a concept is exposed to the turbulence of the real world, and the changes that brings about, something new evolves and grows. The richness and beauty of the English language comes from this continuing evolution, which has been influenced by all the countries in Europe, India and the USA, and continues to evolve year by year. It allows a huge variety of expression of the vast range of human experience. As an LA transplant from the UK, I would not have the rich cultural experience if I went around saying that everyone should be speaking in Shakespearean. That would be utterly ridiculous in so many ways.

    No, the richness of the world, and the evolution of the human race, depends upon philosophies and cultures colliding. Many many more people have been exposed to yoga through commercialisation than if it were a select club, dependent upon upbringing, culture or some arrogant ideal of spiritual awareness. Many achieve spiritual enlightenment precisely because the commercial spread has allowed them access. Commercialisation is a way to reach new people who otherwise would never have been exposed to belly dancing or yoga. We should be glad that it has.

    As for Dolphina, she's a very special goddess, who believes in what she does not because she seeks wealth, but because she wants to touch everyone through her beautiful soul.

  3. […] level of cultural awareness among some of the yoga set is pitiful at times. And yet, this is the same crowd that tries to come off as cultural and spiritual mouthpieces for Indian […]

  4. Nicole says:

    HOT TOPIC this week- Who owns #yoga ? is cover story of @LAWeekly http://tinyurl.com/6pp2nsk

  5. Amy says:

    Yikes indeed ! My feathers are all ruffled too. Hmf. The peeps who invented the ancient arts, cultural traditions and practices are all dead for centuries now, so it would be greedy and envious of any individual, ruler or land to give in to their selfish human-nature and claim ownership or rights or fees at this late date. God !

  6. Karen Ford says:

    Annie, thank you for your wise words. I wholeheartedly agree. People who have the advantage of White privilege seem to always have a problem accepting what they know to be true. You are right in stating this was not a personal attack. It is an acknkowledgement of what people of color have always recognize. Once something is introduced to the majority, they begin to seek ownership, capitalize on it and then can't understand why anyone else would be annoyed. There are a great number of products once freely used that have been taken away from native people by those who get trademarks. We would like to believe there is no way to "steal" culture from someone else but that is a naive view of the world as it is today. If there is a way to "steal" culture, someone from the majority will find it.

  7. Lydia says:

    Frank Joseph’s research on Lemuria reveals that the 200,000 yr. old civilization from which we came did include blondes. Hawaiians who came from Polynesia and lived with Lemurians recalled their hair to be as yellow as a local bird’s feathers. Survivors of Lemuria fled to Asia as illustrated in ancient Hindu texts, so we blondes who felt comforted by Dolphina’s appearance became part of our own cultural tradition. The artwork of the era is found worldwide, as are Caucasian genes. Sorry, brunettes, the world has included diversity for a very long time.

  8. Diane says:

    I can imagine the response if belly dancing were renamed 'white' or USA belly dancing here in America when in fact it is essentially the same artform. IMO that would be highly demeaning and insulting. I love what Dolphina has done to bring the Goddess into my life. She is beautiful in any color, as am I,

  9. NW IndiaN says:

    you sound pretty stupid because the truth is india invented the first university and I don't care if whites have universities but religion is a completely different matter and for you white people who have mocked us oppressed us and slandered us it is a direct insult to our religion and our people so quit comparing other things which are irrelevant compared to religion when religion is sacred and is our ways of life. you white people have no respect for other races cultures and hinduism has no converts so you need to really mind your own business as I personally cant stand you white people ,you are the main root of all evil and our religion and beliefs is not yours to ruin nor take and change by altering with your false sense of pride and meanings when you are not allowed in our temples period. we pray to our gods because we are of purity and pray you would f off you white people are the devils and should stay the hell out of our ways of life and LEAVE US ALONE!