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Decolonizing Yoga: Questions I ask Myself As an Upper-Caste Desi Yogi

To what extent is the decolonization of yoga NOT about inserting Indian, or South Asian, faces into mainstream yoga spaces? To what extent IS IT about actively resisting yoga's weaponization and rooting it in a liberatory politics?

These are the questions I ask myself when the dialogue on "decolonizing yoga" finds its way to pop culture and social movement spaces. I also contemplate...

  1. Maybe it's is not about brown people reclaiming a "5,000 year old tradition"?

  2. Maybe it's not about romanticizing yoga's ancient past in ways that embolden Hindu nationalist and Brahmanical (and caste) supremacist projects?

  3. Maybe yoga isn't all about peace, chanting 'aums', and assumptions of purity?

  4. Maybe yoga, like any cultural and social tradition, is layered in coloniality and also has a violent, oppressive, and contradictory past and present that we must reckon with?

  5. Maybe decolonizing yoga is about critically engaging the spaces where it is being weaponized?

  6. Maybe it's about resisting yoga's integration into prisons, militaries, and law enforcement institutions, in ways that advance state violence?

  7. Maybe it's building campaigns that are less concerned with representation and more concerned with ethics related to human liberation?

  8. Maybe the notion of decolonization needs to go deeper than flattened analyses of cultural appropriation that target European and US-based consumption of yoga?

  9. Maybe the journey toward decolonization is about healing intergenerational trauma enacted by state violence?

  10. Maybe decolonizing yoga is about inviting people to contemplate how Brahmanical patriarchy, caste supremacy, Hindu nationalism, and Islamophobia show up in our daily consumption, and circulation of yoga.

  11. Maybe decolonization is about envisioning a yoga theology that invests in healing, freedom, and the liberation of all oppressed communities?

  12. Maybe decolonizing yoga is about building toward abolitionist futures!

These are the types of questions and prompts I bring to the workshops I engage in my decolonizing yoga workshops with yoga students, teachers, and practitioners with the hope that these prompts will help us embody a more liberatory yoga practice.

Below are some of the images I ask practitioners to contemplate in discussions engaging the decolonization of yoga. I hope they challenge us to reach beyond identity and representation and further into questioning the ethical and moral application and deployment of yoga in military and law enforcement settings -- where yoga is used by apartheid, imperialist and oppressive regimes to sanitize their reputations.

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