July 23, 2014

A Discussion on the Cultural Appropriation of Yoga. ~ nisha ahuja & Toby Wiggins {Video}


In the coldest winter month this year in Toronto Ontario, over 80 people crammed into a small local Yoga studio (while a hundred others tuned in through live stream), propped up on bolsters, eagerly awaiting a workshop titled You Are Here.

The workshop’s name would perhaps imply attendees would be learning about mindfulness techniques or meditation. Yet, these large groups gathered for a different kind of awareness teaching, rooted in the practice of a yogic path.

nisha ahuja, who shares Yogic Medicine, Reiki, and Attmic Energy Healing, as well as sharing performance as a theatre maker, actor, voice-artist and arts educator, settled in to guide a two hour workshop addressing the controversial topic of cultural appropriation, and how it relates to Yogic practices.

Speaking to the ways that Westernized practice is deeply entangled with colonization, racism, and capitalism, nisha encouraged participants to look beyond physical practice, considering the ways that the whole spiritual path of Yoga is often overlooked. The workshop aimed to begin a collective acknowledgment of the cultural roots, histories, current conditions, and meanings that are often ignored for the sake of a quick fix and subsequent capitalist gain.

Participants explored their own positioning around the ways that power works to privilege Western Yoga, while simultaneously devaluing Yoga’s vast practice, developed in South Asia. The response to this workshop was tremendous. Both challenged and illuminated, attendees soon wanted more.

In the following months, nisha worked with local filmmaker Toby Wiggins, to create a short teaching tool that could disseminate these teachings to a wider audience. The result is a free, fully subtitled video titled “You Are Here: Exploring Yoga and the Impacts of Cultural Appropriation” available online.

In it, nisha continues to work with these complex issues, answering questions like, “what is Yoga, and how can it be taught,” “what is cultural appropriation, what are its roots, and who benefits,” and, “what are strategies to address cultural appropriation?” Although sometimes difficult, this work undertakes necessary and often disregarded aspects of our Yogic practice as it exists in the contemporary world.

It is well worth the watch.

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Photo: YouTube, Toby Wiggins

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nisha ahuja & Toby Wiggins

Toby Wiggins, the filmmaker, is a PhD student at York University, Toronto in the department of Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies. His areas of research include queer theory, feminist cultural production, critical race theory, perversion, and psychoanalysis. A white genderqueer transman who grew up rural and working class, Wiggins is also a community-based activist and artist. Connect with Toby here.

nisha ahuja is co-founder and co-director of Soma Ayurveda + Integrative Wellness , a social enterprise for wellness, education + equity, which shares a growing number of online and in-person resources. She shares Ayurvedic Medicine and Body Work, Holistic Yoga, Reiki and Attmic Energy Healing and is also an actor, physical theatre creator, playwright, singer/songwriter, and art, wellness, and justice educator/facilitator, having shared these offerings across Canada, the USA the Netherlands, and India. She is dedicated to dissolving the boundaries between art, traditional/ancient medicines, spirituality, and politic, and believes that art and healing practices are revolutionary and fundamental to our collective liberation.

nisha is known widely for her video “You Are Here: xxploring yoga and the impacts of cultural appropriation” and in Toronto, for sharing her Self-Healing Through Yoga Series several times a year, co-manifesting the Ayu-Yog Meditation Retreat For Women and Trans Indigenous Peoples and Peoples of Colour (with Sairupa Krishnamurti), as a facilitator/member of Brown Girls Yoga Collective, and her summer series Yoga in Dufferin Grove Park, as well as across North America for her workshops on wellness, spirituality, theatrical practices, justice, racial justice, and addressing cultural appropriation. Alongside collaborator/contributor M. Jet Feather, a Black and Cherokee justice, healing, and Dharma practitioner who has contributed to nisha’s spiritual journey immensely, and other Yoga and justice facilitators with Bending Towards Justice, nisha continues to bring these offerings to spaces across North America. Find more info here.