I would like to address the topic of Cultural Appropriation in Ayurveda. Have you ever heard anyone say:
"Namaslay the day" or "Let’s go for a yoga workout"
Well, that might be cultural appropriation.
I want to make it clear that by no means does it mean ‘this is part of my culture and no one else can have it'. I also want to address the fact that I may have too at some point culturally appropriated the science.
Cultural appropriation is when someone takes an idea from a culture without acknowledging where it has come from and treating that knowledge with respect. This happens not just in the wellness industry but also in fashion, film and food.
I definitely think people have good intentions when spreading this wisdom and I don’t think people’s intentions are to culturally appropriate.
So, how exactly has Ayurveda been culturally appropriated?
1. The language
The translation of Namaste is 'I bow to you' and its not just a 'greeting'. You in fact have to put your hands in a prayer position too. It should be used in almost a divine way and seeing it being completely taken out of context and used on a T-Shirt saying 'Namaste Bitches' is rather disrespectful. A lot of brands do this, and again I am not saying they have bad intentions, I am merely saying that there is a large gap in the creation process of this item: they are missing either a) representation from someone from Ayurvedic culture or b) looking up the historical background of the words they are using.
Many Ayurvedic practises have been mistreated, for example, yoga is sometimes misunderstood as merely a physical activity. In truth, the physical aspect of the practice is only a small part of it; it's mostly a spiritual experience designed to heal the mind, body, and soul while also assisting us in aligning with the universe.
Some spaces treat sacred languages the same way they treat sacred items – without knowledge or respect for what they’re using.
Many people include sacred artifacts into their yoga practises without comprehending their importance.
It's sometimes an attempt to give a yoga studio a "genuine" feel, but employing a spiritual object as nothing more than a piece of décor is a dead giveaway that you don't understand authenticity.
Anyone who utilises a cultural artefact they are unfamiliar with should do their research to learn where it came from, what it means, how to interact with and use it, and how to care for it.
For example, everything utilised in healing or spiritual practises, such as scriptures, crystals, and Buddha statues, should be maintained with care.
For example, deities and sacred symbols are regarded with respect in India. They're always placed on a pedestal, never on the ground, and an altar is usually built for them. This altar, as well as everything goes on or near it, is meticulously maintained. The altar is usually a sacred sanctuary in the home, rather than a common or random location.
Many Western yoga studios try to imitate the East by adorning their walls with statues of Buddha, Ganesha, Laxmi, Patanjali, Shiva, and other deities, regardless of how or where they are situated. In India, for example, you would not sit with the soles of your feet facing an idol, your professors, or a senior citizen. This is not just discourteous, but also embarrassing. However, we see idols strewn about yoga studios with little reason other than to decorate the area.
4. The Origins
It's important to acknowledge the fact that Ayurveda has South Asian origins and find ways to give back to that community.
It is equally as important to appreciate the Ancestors that have been before us that have helped us shape this practice. We need to be aware of the fact that we have been granted this knowledge from another culture.
Going back in history...
Ayurveda means 'Science of Life' and is derived from the Vedas, the ancient sacred writings of the Anyans. AYU encompasses all parts of life, from conception to death, as well as all facets of our being. VEDA is the deepest level of knowledge or learning, the wisdom of this aware cosmos that we may all perceive in our own lives.
Ayurveda began as an appendix to the Vedas, the Atharva Vedas, and dates back over 5000 years. The wisdom of ancient India is contained in these Vedas.
Modern medicine is primarily concerned with diseases and their remedies, rather than with how to preserve good health. In any country where a doctor is readily available for consultation, disease prevention is a low priority.
After Muslim invaders invaded Northern India in the 11th century A.D., the Golden Age of Indian civilization came to an end. The invaders murdered Buddhist monks they deemed heretics, wrecked universities, and set fire to libraries.
Ayurveda was likewise challenged by British colonizers in the 19th century, who banned Ayurvedic practices. The East India Company actually outlawed all Ayurvedic institutes in 1833, as they did not recognized as a legitimate medical practice.
But, despite centuries of suppression Ayurveda, however, survived.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations hosted a conference on "Third World Medicine" in 1978, and it was decided that Ayurveda is the ideal system for developing countries. Its low cost, utilisation of native herbs and cures, adaptability to any environment, and decreased reliance on pharmaceutical products are all positive elements for the global population. There is hope that a global medicine will be developed with Ayurveda as its foundation and appropriate blends of Western, Chinese, and traditional native remedies in each location.
I will leave you with this last thought...
If you are practicing yoga or using other Ayurvedic practices really read up on the history not just to not be culturally appropriate, but also to deepen your practice.
Language has so much power. The words that we use have the power to change us and to subconsciously program our minds. So, if you are using words such as ‘Namaste’… have a look at what it means... it might just transform your practice.