My introduction to yoga in my late 20s helped me to manage my life path to this day as I approach 77 (I teach yoga – its appropriation by the white wellness industry is a form of colonialism, but we can move on, 3 January). Marrying, moving to South Africa and starting a business unfamiliar to me caused high stress levels. With luck I was recommended to an ashram offering classes. That 75 minutes of calm, yoga postures and gentle music just once a week saved me from burnout.
The philosophy of yoga by Swami Venkatesananda and Swami Sivananda taught to the founder members exemplified original integral yoga. Volunteers are always on hand to make sandwiches for the undernourished, and teachers regularly go into informal settlements to demonstrate breathing exercises and basic yogic asanas to help asthmatics and generally show a way to better health with movement. They also run a programme for disadvantaged children. Today, having moved away from Cape Town, I have still been able to find a teacher from that original ashram. They have teachers and students from every background. To me, the teachings signified the true nature of yoga and the eight limbs.
Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa
• Your article makes the valid point that yoga should be more widely accessible across social groups. However, the yoga of ancient texts resembles the yoga widely practised today in name only. The classical yoga of Patanjali, which is mentioned in the article, makes little reference to physical poses, let alone stretching sequences.
Modern yoga, commonly understood as a physical stretching practice synchronised with breathing, arose in India just over a century ago from a combination of local and foreign influences. Its history has been documented in great detail by the scholar Mark Singleton in his book Yogabody, and summarised in a shorter Yoga Journal article.
Yoga, whether ancient or modern, is not one codified practice and will continue to evolve within the lucrative wellness business. Making wellness more accessible is a worthwhile goal, but before we speak about appropriation, we should be clear about what exactly is being appropriated.