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January 16, 2022

A Guide to Identifying a Culturally Appropriate Yoga Studio:


My name is Nirja Parikh. I am a certified yoga instructor, physical therapist, Ayurvedic life consultant, and an Indian dance teacher.

When I first began auditioning for yoga jobs, I was not selected despite having a multi- dimensional understanding of what it means to practice and teach yoga. I realized it was because most yoga studios cared only about my capability to do hard poses. This was a symptom of the fact that the western world has only glamorized the physical positions of yoga, and the multi-billion dollar “athleisure” industry behind it.

However, they forget that Yoga, in its true ancient art form, is 5% hatha (or physical asanas) and 95% “way of life”. The yoga industry we see today does not pay homage to the land and people where yoga came from. Ironically, yoga has become a hobby of the new-age upper class, even though once of the fundamental tenants of yoga is to dis-attach from worldly pleasures.

However, I am optimistic that change is coming. I’ve been inspired by a small group of yoga masters, who are finally speaking out about this and getting heard. So as I hone in my yoga practice, I have started incorporating elements of the Hindu culture, including Sanskrit chants. I began studying the Vedas, Bhagvat Geeta and Yoga Sutras in depth. Rather than treating yoga just as a profession, I consider it my lifestyle. I try to instill yoga into each day of my life – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

If you too are on a spiritual journey to better understand and practice yoga, here is a guideline to identify a culturally appropriate yoga studio:

Questions to ask the studio owner:

  1. How long have you been a yoga teacher and where did you get your training?
  2. What inspired you to learn yoga?
  3. What cultural and spiritual aspects of yoga do you include in your practice/studio?
  4. Where does yoga comes from?
  5. How do you acknowledge the roots of yoga in your studio?
  6. What measures do you take to make your studio inclusive?
  7. Are you a minority owned business?
  8. I see you are selling Maalas, what is the significance of them?
  9. Which limb of yoga speaks to you?
  10. Have you read the Bhagvad Geeta and/or Yoga Sutras?

Things to observe in the yoga studio:

  1. Are Hindu Gods, such as Krishna, Shiv, and Ganesh, used as props/decorative pieces throughout the studio without a clear explanation as to what they stand for?
  2. Are South Asian symbols, such as OM, Namaste, Swastik, used as decorative pieces in a respectful manner?
  3. Does the studio have diversity of teachers, both in race, gender, and in subject matter expertise?
  4. Does the studio cater towards people of all different levels, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds?
  5. Are objects such as Maalas, incenses, bindis being sold without a clear explanation or homage to where they come from?

 Observations during your Yoga class: 

  1. Does the teacher take their time to warm up the body properly before going into challenging poses?
  2. Does the class have people of color and different sizes?
  3. Does the teacher acknowledge the roots of yoga?
  4. Does the Teacher start or end the class with Namaste? And if so- does she explain what it stands for?
  5. Does the teacher offer modifications for yoga asanas using blocks/straps?
  6. Does the teacher notice when a students is hyperextending or hurting their joints and know how to correct?
  7. Does the teacher attempt to pronounce the asanas in Sanskrit?
  8. What kind of music does the teacher have? Is it American Pop songs which can be distracting or instrumental?
  9. Does the teacher include a pranayama technique in class and acknowledge that yoga is more than just asana?
  10. Does the teacher include time for Shavasana in their class? And if Shavasana is included, do you face an Indian Sacred object/god?

Reflections post leaving the studio: 

  1. How does your body feel?
  2. Did you feel intimidated?
  3. Did the teacher or studio owner incorporate more than just the physical part of yoga?
  4. Did the teacher/studio owner force you into positions that you were not comfortable in?
  5. Are the classes affordable?

When Time magazine ran a cover story on the science of yoga, it reported that “fifteen million Americans include some form of yoga in their fitness regimen—twice as many as did five years ago.” Yet one wonders if any of the fifteen million are getting out of yoga what they should.  I hope this article inspires readers to question their own yoga practice, question yoga studio owners and teachers, raise awareness and spread the light!

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