The Film

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**Please note*** In the video nisha makes reference to Tannis Neilsons’ sharing about the stages of Colonization. These teachings come from POKA LAENUI who expounded on the teachings of VIRGILIO ENRIQUES. nisha acknowledges and apologizes for her error in misunderstanding the roots of these teachings and the erasure of these individuals and their collective knowledge from Turtle Island (aka North America) and the Philippines . Resource Page:

nisha would also like to acknowledge the oversight and complexities of not discussing the essential conversations needed about caste and casteism within South Asia and South Asian diasporas, including when addressing the appropriation of yoga. Castism has led to the exclusion of people being denied access to spiritual teachings and spaces, and also denying the spiritual practices, rituals, traditions that come from Dalit and Advasi  peoples that have been historically co-opted into mainstream Hindu practices, including some yogic practices and philosophies. Yogic Practices, as noted in the video, come from a range of lineages even within the South Asian context. The use of Sanskrit can feel deeply harmful to those who have been historically oppressed and excluded from accessing spiritual practices and rites because of caste. When nisha uses sanskrit in her public sessions she acknowledges this complexity and shares mantras from teachings of Nada Yoga/Sound Yoga with the understanding that each syllable opens and nourishes nadis (energy channels) and  marma points (equivallint to acuppressure points) connected to these channels, that are activated by the movement of the tongue, lips, and mouth through the sanskrit syllables and phasings.  This video covers some basics in understanding cultural appropriation of yoga, however the conversations, dialogues, learning and un-learning of caste-privledged peoples within south asian context and diasporas needs to continue in order to reduce harm on those who have and continue to experience violence and oppressions through caste.


0:00 – Introduction

1:05 – What is yoga, and how can it be taught?

3:15 – What is cultural appropriation?

4: 25 – What are the roots of cultural appropriation?

9:50 – Who benefits from cultural appropriation?

12:57 – What are the potential losses and harms?

14:12 – Tannis Nielsen and the 5 steps of colonization

18:08 – What are strategies to address cultural appropriation?

23:20 – Credits


8 thoughts on “The Film

  1. Isn’t it just simpler to ban whites from the practice of yoga? I think the focus should be used towards legislation to prohibit this, it can really help stifle appropriation by non-POC using spiritual practices for capitalistic means. I think it is a feasible goal, especially when many privileged white cis people living in Turtle Island are becoming aware of their privilege. I think the application of yoga for this privileged group just simply can’t be done without it being problematic.

    • How, do you not find banning a group of people based on their skin color problematic? By policing white people the way they have unfortunately policed other bodies of color doesn’t make things better and isn’t honestly a viable solution.There are plenty of people who are white that hold yoga as a healing modality and do not commoditize it. Open discourse about cultural appropriation and privilege is best practice.

  2. A Brilliant piece of work Nisha! Hazaaron pranaam! I share your pain around the cultural appropriation and the foremost ‘appropriators’ are often our so called gurus:(
    I am a disciple of Yogacharya Krishnamacharya and Desikachar. it would be nice to be in touch with you.


  3. This is a very nice and informative video. I very glad to see “Yoga” given proper attribution as well as this video has done it.
    On that note I wanted to inform all interested in this subject of yoga about the DVD “History of Yoga: the path of my ancestors” that was released January 2014 (if you’re not already aware of it, that is).
    The “History of Yoga” DVD is available (and some videos about it; the launching of the DVD etc.) at…
    It’s available from, of course (for $1 more than the above).
    It goes back 6,000 years from the Harrapan civilization of Indian history of yoga to this century.
    It’s 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I’m hope you consider getting it. It is very pure and very powerful.
    Bill Lathrop

  4. Thank you so much for speaking to these issues on your video… I have been working with Cultural Appropriation issues since high school when Gwen Stephani sported the bindi. Then when yoga boomed in studios and is a constant struggle between benefitting health/stress and also appropriation and bastardizing practices that are tradition having long time life … Old school for sure. Have been speaking to this for some years and wondered what would be effective action to work with transformation on the current phenonemon of rampant cultural appropriation in the face of huge racial dehumanizations and crime, racial discrimination and wiping out origins, racial ethnic religious discrimination and practicing the same traditions like taking the cream of the coffee or malai. I have been cracking jokes, but it’s been difficult – and for years! I grew up studying with my father who was leading hatha yoga mostly in our home and mandir in the community … It was a blessing. We were also in the Bible Belt of Texas so it was hard … I totally get the hiding and struggle of acculturation and racism/religious discrimination … my father always said it wasn’t the people themselves … when I was young but the environment. It helped … I was also mixed – half Indian half Filipino … Both cultures strong. However the struggles that kids who grow up here with are on a whole other level and it’s like a slap in the face to see sacred practices and disciplines being whitewashed on a huge level in the industry. wanted to go around to yoga studios in 2004 but didn’t have a packet 🙂 I wanted to flyer with a letter of consideration around appropriation … Let it go, studied in India… Didn’t go to studios … then on occasion would, to practice and as an experiment … It’s not easy and also was good. Except the last class I went to I could barely breathe … So much came up around race … or lack of consideration for recent racial hate crimes … In our identity…convergence of spiritual bypassing … Call really I feel for inclusion not exclusion … the mispronunciation of a term swadhyaya and Namaste (which gets me every time) but it actually impacted my health … I was thinking inside … I don’t think this is good for me … And wanted to walk out but finished the class… I was just reflecting on it pretty deeply, like satire for requirements … To become a “yoga teacher” … also even calling people yogis when it actually means more than attending a class ;), and other scenarios that would both educate but break down this current standardized version of cultural appropriation and commodification of yoga (asana practice). and then I came across your video … Thank You for this work and your contribution and breaking it down in accessible and information that’s helpful in transformation. Much love

  5. Thank you so much for this video!
    I’ve always felt an intense discomfort every time I heard “Namaste” from a person who obviously doesn’t come from the culture. It seemed so ridiculous to me that it makes me laugh hard in my head.
    I also wanted to thank you for making this video, it made me understand about myself.
    I’m japanese and my father taught me since I was a little kid the Zen, Ying Yang, Ki, and self improvement etc. Nowadays people from other cultures got interested in the way of living or sometimes as an alternative medicine and they get degrees to practice whatever and they can’t resist to hide their superiority complex. They sometimes come to me and start explaining what it is and I always wondered why I felt so belittled and unbearably uncomfortable.
    Thanks to your explanation, I understand that cultural appropriations were the reason of my irritation.
    We need to make this world an environment where everybody’s culture is respected with dignity and that parents teach children how to appreciate others cultures without offending it.
    I think it’s time that media in the West acknowledged other culture’s positive side instead of picking only on a negative side and making people believe that they are the best in the whole world.

    Let us all embrace diversity and spread love so that one day we can obtain world peace!

    • Well…the thing is that the japanese culturally appropriated zen, _yin_ yang (onmyo), and ki from the chinese chan and taoist traditions and then applied the nihonjinron and political pressure to form their own system of “zen buddhism” and monasticism that twisted the original chan monastic tradtition into a tradition where monks eat meat, can marry and can live fairly secular lives if need be to be more of a part of the society, meiji restoration bastardized buddhism in japan…modern zen is a perfect example of cultural appropriation.

  6. Thank-you for a really great video. I honestly think we should renamed Western Yoga as something else. ‘Bendy Pilates’? ‘Western Asana Yoga’? Anyone else have any ideas?

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