And Now The Prostrate Position: Michigan State Professor Denounces Yoga As Appropriated Through White Supremacy

We have previously seen protests on colleges to end yoga classes as “cultural appropriation.”  Now Michigan State University professor Shreena Gandhi has written a long critique of white people who practice yoga as promulgating a “system of power, privilege, and oppression.” Gandhi insists that yoga is an extension of white supremacy and the “yoga industrial complex.” Ganhdi co-authored the piece with Lillie Wolff who describes herself as “an antiracist white Jewish organizer, facilitator, and healer.” Wolff has called for “decolonizing” yoga.

Gandhi has cited her “scholarly work on yoga” and argues that yoga classes “allows western practitioners to experience the idea of another culture while focusing on the self.”  The article argues that yoga classes should be conditioned on white people acknowledging their cultural appropriation, being forced to learn its history, and lowering the costs for poor people and people of color.  It appears that the prostrate position will precede the lotus position in your next yoga class.

They add:

Yoga . . . popularity was a direct consequence of a larger system of cultural appropriation that capitalism engenders and reifies. While the (mis)appropriation of yoga may not be a life-threatening racism, it is a part of systemic racism nonetheless, and it is important to ask, what are the impetuses for this cultural “grabbing”? In order to delve deeper into this question, it’s useful to look at the roots of U.S. white dominant culture, the foundation of which is rooted in enslavement of West Africans and settler colonialism. Decades of assimilation and the cultural stripping of Europeans as they arrived to the U.S. produced a white dominant culture. People of European descent replaced their ethnicities (i.e. German, Polish, English, Italian, etc.) with whiteness and the privileges that came along with that identity. This history is especially relevant right now as we are seeing white men taking to the streets in mobs shouting, “We will not be replaced.”

While my comments will likely be dismissed as an expression of privilege, I find this type of analysis to be highly superficial and conclusory.  I remain surprised that such work is treated as a substantive academic contribution by some. It constitutes little more than a chain of stereotypes and political commentary dressed up as pseudo-cultural analysis.  My concern is that criticism of such work is becoming more difficult for academics who fear to be labeled as insensitive or hostile or even racist.

The authors treat the assimilation of cultural influences as a type of misappropriation as opposed to the natural influence of different cultures on a pluralistic society.  As an Italian, I see much of my culture replicated and then expressed differently by non-Italians. It does not bother me because it is part of a process of translation and growth. I will often tell my kids what an Italian dish should look like or how a holiday was practiced but this is not to resist “misappropriation” but to reinforce our own connections to our cultural risks. Indeed, I have found most people interested in the sources of practices, dishes and influences.

The thing I love about this country is its pluralism and assimilation.  There is always a certain translation and evolution even within a culture.  Practices evolve with communities and that evolution extends their reach and influence.  It is not an act of colonialism but translation.
What do you think?


81 thoughts on “And Now The Prostrate Position: Michigan State Professor Denounces Yoga As Appropriated Through White Supremacy”

  1. This is laughable and silly. It doesn’t deserve the time it is given here. You have a teeny, tiny group of people who are developing this hyper sensitive worldview undergirded by the preposterous notion that one culture’s “invention”, “idea” or “practice” regardless of what it is, is simply not allowed and is wrong. One needn’t think about this for long and it’s implications if the world really operated on this kind of logic. This would atrophy human development, destroy the shared fabric that binds world culture together and unites humanity. Should only Americans be allowed to use telephones without being educated that the non-American using the phone has no real right to it? Yeah, that’s stupid alright. Human beings share ideas, practices, mores and customs of all kinds and that is a good thing. I find that having resentment over things of this kind is rarely an appropriate or adult reaction. It is childish, superficial, divisive and encourages disunity of human beings.

  2. The “Yoga-Industrial Complex”?! Professor Gandhi seems to be a devotee of recycling: boilerplate stereotypes and warped jargon from debates about serious issues.

  3. This ridiculous “cultural appropriation” hogwash is merely flotsam and jetsam on the latest pop culture. I can’t think of anyone whose opinion I value that takes it seriously. I’m ready to turn the page already and flush this nonsense to where it belongs. On a deeper analysis, when this folderol takes place in the United States, methinks the people pushing it didn’t attend a school system which subscribed to the whole “melting pot” indoctrination protocol. I recall hearing and learning about the this most unique facet of our Great Experiment in my early years and eagerly accepting the truism that it is indeed our greatest strength.

  4. So I was thinking about India – the things I they export that I like – food, music, fabric design, literature, film. Yoga isn’t one of the things I like although I have seen many of my friends – particularly the older set — benefit greatly from it healthwise (and they don’t know a damn thing about Hinduism).

    Ravi Shankar RIP

    I am drawn to Tai Chi and qi gong. I guess it’s a matter of time before some savvy Chinese builds his/her/zer academic career on how Westerners have appropriated these practices….

      1. Colleen Shakti is a Western woman who so fell in love with Indian dance, that she spent years of her life living among Rajasthani gypsies to learn their ancient style of dance. There were no schools teaching this; the girls grew up simply absorbing this style intuitively from their mothers, aunties, and sisters. The gypsies became family to her, and she showed them respect.

        She is now famous for not only putting on beautiful exhibitions, but also for teaching women around the world Odissi and Rajasthani dance. She also instructs how to properly use mudras. For instance, if you are an American dancing a fusion style, you will look weird if you are dancing in a relaxing rhythm and then inexplicably use the mudra for Shiva the Destroyer, just because it looks pretty and you have no idea what it means. It’s like Peace and Oneness and Flowers and DESTROYER.

        According to the standards of the Left, Shakti is misappropriating a vanishing art form from these gypsies, and based only on her ethnicity, she has no right to learn such movements from anyone outside of her own racial ancestry. That is such a racist standard to apply to life.

        And I do not consider those women who take dance classes and randomly mix up mudras because they have no idea what they mean. They are fans of a beautiful style of movement, and do not understand the language. It’s like an American smiling as she dances to a song that’s really singing about heartbreak. It’s not misappropriation. They are enjoying themselves and this is the exchange of ideas. People overseas like to collect American mannerisms, jeans, and whatnot.

        It’s like the cultural osmosis along the ancient silk trade routes is now global.

        1. Darn it, I think I posted the wrong video. I can’t watch them at home due to limited bandwidth:

  5. When the hell are we going to stop listening to these clowns and just act like Americans. We should just go about our lives like we always did and just ignore these people.

  6. I know that Indian Prime Minister Modi has encouraged the rest of the world to practice yoga. Yoga is for everyone is official Indian foreign policy. I also know that academic criticism of “cultural appropriation” is nonsense and claptrap deserving only of mockery.

    1. I feel so sorry for our children. We grew up interested, for a while, in something like yoga. Until something else came along, like Tai Chai. Then to the next. Now we have oddballs declaring a sinister background to everything. The current “white supremacy” foolishness (I think it has to do with having a black Presdent and then a white one) is so bad we find ourselves watching old movies, reading books by older, well-known authors. If I’m reading a book and the buzz words start (global warming, inequality) I stop reading and go to something else. I don’t like listening to today’s news readers, so I read a lot on the internet. I’m wondering if Bob Mueller will still be doing his thing after Trump’s second term!

      Any recommendations on good books will be appreciated. Thanks and hang on to yourself!

  7. What the Left calls “cultural appropriation”, used to be called the exchange of ideas. Shall we just stop culturally misappropriating the wheel? Who descended from the first early man who invented it? Shall everyone stop meditation, as that comes from the East? Shall soccer be banned from Europe? What is allowed to be used in America? Is she going to complain that the Spanish Riding School is in Vienna?

    Some people just take yoga to relax, and not to conquer. Shreena Ghandi should try it sometime.

    The standards of publishing papers has been a scandal for years. There was a study I heard about discussing how rare it is for any work published in the Humanities to actually be referenced for anything. Oftentimes, the one or two citations are for the author’s subsequent work. People publish just to publish, and the content is absolute garbage. It is true that there are certainly valuable articles out there that have not been read or referenced. For everyone one of those, there are hundreds of articles like this, on the misappropriation of yoga, or the rhetoric of Twitter.

    1. Oh, and there are photos of Shreena without a sari, but in Western outfits. Cultural misappropriation.

    2. We are seeing with the professor the symptom of blind adherence to political ideas expressed by a weak-minded individual. She certainly proves Cipolla’s second fundamental law of stupidity” “The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.” In this case being elevated to the status of a visiting professor, is that characteristic.

  8. This essay of the professor explains in part the reason for tuition being increasingly unaffordable, that they hire useless academics who serve only to bring trouble to the university and its students.

    I say we hold Ms. Gandhi to her own approach and denounce her as appropriating Western culture by her English language use. Her only remedy would be to shut up.

  9. Send her back to lndia. Fire her, at least. And let’s take all those modern conveniences like cars and computers back.

  10. The good professor is a contradiction of yoga. Yoga is one type of exercise, discipline, whatever that is found in almost all societies. These exercises have developed to teach the individual to focus inwardly in order to master one’s self and thereby contribute less destructively to society. The main point is to master one’s self. This professor is 180 degrees from mastering herself. She is a negative contribution to our society. The future of mankind lies in cross fertilization, exchange of ideas, etc. We need more Heinz 57s. Did anybody check if she is in the country legally?

  11. Canada, which apparently is run by SJWs, already beat the US on this one several years ago. Pay attention USA – we do not want to emulate our weak arse neighbor on this issue.

    Yoga class cancelled at University of Ottawa over ‘cultural issues’

    “A yoga instructor who says her free class at the University of Ottawa was cancelled because of concerns over cultural appropriation believes the student union’s issues are misplaced.

    Jen Scharf said she’s been teaching a free yoga class for the university’s Centre for Students with Disabilities, which is run by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, for the last seven years.
    Jen Scharf uOttawa Yoga

    Jen Scharf says she focuses on the physical benefits of yoga and doesn’t play up the spiritual side of it, which she says some instructors can be guilty of. (CBC)

    When she checked back in with the centre in September, she said she was told by them the class wouldn’t be happening because some students and volunteers were uncomfortable with the “cultural issues” involved.

    “I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India,” she said on Sunday. “I told them, ‘Why don’t we just change the name of the course?’ It’s simple enough, just call it mindful stretching.… We’re not going through the finer points of scripture. We’re talking about basic physical awareness and how to stretch so that you feel good.”

    1. Oh, that’s so sad – taking away a free yoga class from students with disabilities.

      This victim profiteering and scaling is such a self destructive paradigm.

      India is not harmed when university students practice yoga. Students are harmed when a free therapy with physical benefits was taken away.

      I personally love different styles of Middle Eastern dance, and took lessons for years. My instructors were Middle Eastern. They would call it “sharing” rather than misappropriating.

      What a condescending, intrusive, controlling world view.

  12. Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Claptrap masquerading as thought published by Michigan academic, exposes how absurd theories are promulgated instead of ridiculed.

  13. Frankly this type of so called academic paper is absolute tosh. It is a set of absurd phrases constructed to baffle and bewilder masquerading as thought. I do not know which is worse the original perpetrators of this abomination or their supporters and fellow travellers. Furthermore the idea that a university professor authored this rubbish is just frightening. Even more disturbing is the idea that they have been appointed to a position where’re they can influence others. This renders any view of Michigan State University I might form in the future as starting from the negative.

    1. Are these actual “academic” publications on this link, or are they from The Onion? I mean, like “Dialectic neocapitalist theory in the works of Madonna.” Is that for real? LOL!

  14. First, we don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals. Second, these examples are remarkably lucid compared to much of the rest of the paper. Consider this final example:

    “Inasmuch as masculinity is essentially performative, so too is the conceptual penis. The penis, in the words of Judith Butler, “can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (Butler, 1993). The penis should not be understood as an honest expression of the performer’s intent should it be presented in a performance of masculinity or hypermasculinity. Thus, the isomorphism between the conceptual penis and what’s referred to throughout discursive feminist literature as “toxic hypermasculinity,” is one defined upon a vector of male cultural machismo braggadocio, with the conceptual penis playing the roles of subject, object, and verb of action. The result of this trichotomy of roles is to place hypermasculine men both within and outside of competing discourses whose dynamics, as seen via post-structuralist discourse analysis, enact a systematic interplay of power in which hypermasculine men use the conceptual penis to move themselves from powerless subject positions to powerful ones (confer: Foucault, 1972).”

    No one knows what any of this means because it is complete nonsense. Anyone claiming to is pretending. Full stop.

    1. Gary T – I just read that twice and I have no idea what she said or was trying to say. Most importantly, her thesis advisor did not either and was too chicken to question her about it, as was her committee. That is a nonsense paragraph and the committee should have jumped all over that.

    2. The penis has been what it is since inception! Now it’s being analyzed? Discussed as an entity all its own.

      1. Sandi Hemmings – if the penis is being analyzed, then the vagina should be also. To the same depth, pun intended.

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