Yoga and Colonialism

A personal attempt at understanding

by Ethical Emily

How did you get into yoga? What was it that enticed you to go to that first class? I had a very pushy friend and yoga teacher that convinced me that it would be good for me, and she was right, I fell in love with my practice. But the more I wanted to know the more contradictory became my understanding of this ancient spiritual practice.

It wasn’t until I went to India in 2019, in search of some more insightful learning, that I really saw how the practice and teaching of yoga had absolutely nothing to do with YOGA in its true sense of the word. I realised that yoga and its true meaning was being exploited in western society to such an extent that I began to question my role as a yoga teacher.

I became disillusioned  by the perfectionism of able bodied white privileged men and women on social media that continuously celebrated themselves for leaving their 40k jobs to become yoga teachers.


Photo by David Kuba

Did you know?

The practices we now turn to for alternative health were intentionally eradicated from parts of India under colonial rule to the point that lineages were broken and thousand-year old traditions lost. Yoga has literally been held hostage in the western world.

The exploitation of an age old spiritual practice is what we find today.

‘Yog’ the original term, means liberation from every construct, that of race, gender, time, space, location, identity and even history herself.  Originally intended to prepare the body as a foundation for unity with the spirit. It is not, and never was, a practice aimed at stress-reduction so we can function as better producers and consumers in a capitalist society. The philosophy and principles of yoga are based on the notion of unconditional ‘oneness’, without exclusion. But the westernised industrialisation of yoga contradicts its very meaning.


It is ironic that practice meant to free us has become so confining.  Susanna Barkataki

But really who is benefitting from it and who is not?

To put it bluntly norms in yoga in the western world are directly tied to a system of oppression, namely white supremacy. Teaching yoga without the awareness that it is being taught out of its context, out of its original setting, only perpetuates the white supremacy culture in yoga. It’s not to say that white people shouldn’t teach yoga. Yoga just shouldn’t be claimed, interpreted and reframed to serve the privileged few.

If the true teaching of yoga is ‘oneness’ what needs to happen in society to make that truth a reality?And how can ‘we’ truly be a part of that change?

What if we actually thought out of the box?  It takes some radical thinking and imagination to work outside of our rigid thoughts but, it is possible. In a world committed to exploitation, fear and negativity it seems an impossibility to achieve anything like peace, equality and positivity. But this universal calamity is a manifestation of human greed, disrespect, disregard and the inability of mankind to use his kinder nature.

It’s time for us to realise a life beyond our false egotistical existence. But for this we need a sense of self awareness. An awareness of our own existence within a system. For active change within society we need to be actively aware.



Yoga is not part of a secret club. Yoga is social justice and it is not exclusive. Through self inquiry and self care we can learn to extend this to community care. I believe that as we grow as students and teachers we can expand our own personal growth and our own truth to uplifting the truths of others.

How many times have you heard people say that they aren’t good enough or flexible enough for yoga? To change these attitudes or this injected oppression around the practice of yoga we need to understand that yoga is about attuning to the forces in and around us: A force of unity and oneness. If yoga is a pathway to personal power then we should share this with everyone. Unity =everybody!

What are your opinions and thoughts about yoga as a tool for change? I’d love to know what you think xx

Here are some of the sources that influenced this writing;

The Slow Factory Open Education


Susanna Barkataki


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