Last week, I finished up a yoga class that I covered for a sick colleague. It was great to see some of my regular clients, and of course, I love shaking up new yoga peeps. After savasana, I thanked everyone for participating in the yoga program at the recreation center because a couple of new yoga studios (THOSE kinds of studios) have opened locally. “I know you have choices and we’re glad you come here. That’s all I have to say.” One of the newer clients said, “How about Namaste?” I may have sounded a bit short when I replied, “No, I don’t Namaste.”
In a world where those of us in the marginalized groups are fighting daily for respect and recognition, it’s important to recognize and remember our privilege.
I’m Mexican. Technically, half Mexican and una guera. That buys me the assumption of white privilege. I also teach yoga, which, let’s face it, in America and most of Europe, is a middle to upper middle class, white activity. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m calling it like I see it.
Now, I can go into the complicated history of Modern Transnational Physical Yoga compared to the traditional, rich history of Yoga and the Eight-Limbed Path but you’ll have to wait for the book. Here’s the sum up. I am not a Hindu. I am not an East Indian though I have several friends and clients who are. I’m the last person to be considered politically correct, but I have serious respect for the deep roots that traditional Yoga has with both Hinduism and India.
To be otherwise is just fucking stupid.
Out on my limb, I’m trying to keep yoga separate from Yoga.
Namaste has nothing to do with yoga. I’ll repeat it for those folks in the back. Namaste has nothing to do with yoga. Namaste is a complex and multifaceted concept with many different meanings. It doesn’t, however, in any way shape or form mean, “The light within me sees and recognizes the light within you.” Or any other claptrap, hippy nonsense I’ve heard. And it doesn’t close yoga classes in India.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with actually saying, “The light within me sees and recognizes the light within you.” I’m not going fucking say it, but there’s nothing wrong with it. The gaffe here is the cultural appropriation and the fundamental misunderstanding of what yoga is and what Namaste is.
Believe me, I had a house full of vegan, hippy yoga teachers almost burn me in my bed once when I started this conversation. Don’t kid yourself, those Zen yogis can cut a bitch if they feel their belief system is threatened.
Thing is, ninety percent of yoga instructors that I have experienced (and I was one of them many moons ago) have zero historical or factual context of traditional yoga, the evolution of Modern Transnational Physical Yoga, or any understanding of Hinduism. If you’re going to teach a thing, even if it’s not really the thing, you should know something about the real thing.
Okay, that made more sense in my head.
If you MUST use it and by must I mean you are too fucking stubborn to EVOLVE, it’s common in some regions of India to use Namaste as a response to hospitality. I may be splitting hairs but dump that hippy bullshit and simply say thank you. It’s pretty fucking generous of folks to come to hang out with me on a Saturday morning or Tuesday evening for an hour of their precious time without booing me out of the room.
There’s a fine line between appropriation, parody, and homage. Most days, I have to Google that shit. Sure, I’d like to live in a world where the expression of appreciation of a specific culture wasn’t a high wire act. At the same time, I understand how people get upshwinkled.
I don’t shine my heart center toward the sky. I don’t wring out my liver or rinse my fucking spine. And no, I don’t Namaste and unless you are a practicing Hindu or of East Indian descent, you shouldn’t either.