Flexible posturing around religion
November 21, 2013 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Our local Salvation Army wouldn't allow their premises to be used for yoga. The person doing it had to badge them as 'relaxation classes' because yoga is obviously the work of the devil.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:59 AM on November 21, 2013

My own takeaway from the article was mostly this, which, wtf!
posted by threeants at 1:09 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

which, wtf!
Or as they say among the Tribes of Galway, wtff!
posted by Abiezer at 1:19 AM on November 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your religion objects to your healthy exercise activities, then you should keep the exercise regimen, and get a new religion.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:26 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Does doing Karate make you a Zen Buddhist?
Does doing algebra make you a Muslim?
Does eating bagels make you a Jew?
Does drinking Chimay Beer make you a Roman Catholic?
Does watching a Tom Cruise movie make you a Scientologist?
posted by FJT at 1:28 AM on November 21, 2013 [21 favorites]

I remember rolling my eyes a few years ago at this CBC story about Christians protesting the inclusion of yoga in a school anti-obesity program:
A school program to fight childhood obesity that includes yoga is drawing complaints from some Christian parents in the Quesnel area in B.C.'s Cariboo region. They say yoga is a religion, and shouldn't be taught in public schools. Chelsea Brears, who has two children in the school system, said her son was asked to do different poses and "to put his hands together." Brears, a Christian, said she doesn't want her children exposed to another religion during class time. "It's not fair to take prayer out, and yet they're allowing yoga, which is religion, in our schools." Local rancher Audrey Cummings doesn't believe Christian children should be doing yoga at all. "There's God and there's the devil, and the devil's not a gentleman. If you give him any kind of an opening, he will take that." The two women have complained to the education minister and the Quesnel school board. But school board chair Caroline Neilsen said the yoga is being taught as a stretching exercise, not as a spiritual practice. Neilsen also noted that children who don't want to practise yoga can do different exercises or leave the classroom.
I'm just trying to imagine the conversations they had at the school board before coming out with the bland but firm statement that translates to "You are nutty and we are not cutting this program just because you think it's a tool of the devil. But feel free to prohibit your kid from participating." There's a whooooooole lot of backstory implied there, especially with the "it's not fair to take prayer out of schools, and yoga is religious too, SO WHY IS IT ALLOWED?"
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:42 AM on November 21, 2013

Hmmm. So these "anti yoga in schools" Christians are also against depictions of the Ten Commandments in courts, right?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:47 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Does eating bagels make you a Jew?

anecdata etc. but that's how I got this way
posted by threeants at 2:01 AM on November 21, 2013 [22 favorites]

The article makes a lot less fun of the actual and genuine concerns about religion and yoga. A lot of yoga beyond the basics involves meditation with a religious chant from Hindu traditions. You can replace the chant with one from your own religious tradition or a neutral meditation, but that means working around the yoga practices being taught. If you get a lot deeper into yoga, there's a lot of philosophy based on Hindu and Buddhist practices to learn about and adapt as the people in the article explain.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:53 AM on November 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Yeah, the "phhhh, it's just exercise" attitude seems to me unduly belittling of yoga itself. Just because there's no church organ involved doesn't mean it's not a form of prayer.
posted by Diablevert at 3:03 AM on November 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Well there is the stretching exercise and meditation and so on, but there can be a lot of religious elements to yoga. (Kundalini energy and so on). And a lot of pseudo-scientific horseshit, too.
posted by empath at 3:49 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

We wouldn't have to have these discussions if Christianity had embraced its mystical traditions rather than either minimizing them or grossly literalizing them. It would've been awfully interesting to see Christian mysticism mixed with Victorian physical culture, especially when it seeped into American evangelicalism!
posted by mittens at 4:04 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Of course yoga makes you Hindu. Then so does being a Christian by way of Krishna.

Seriously, what I got from comparative religion classes was that Hinduism has so many thousands of branches that any religion could be Hinduism if you're a bit flexible.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:28 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

if you're a bit flexible.

See, that's why it's so dangerous!
posted by hydrophonic at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

From the article: "You've been told the whole time to 'Empty your mind! Empty your mind!' And what we do instead is fill your mind with the word of God."

You're filling your mind with something, that's for sure. But the silence is where you get to hear the word of God. Or experience God. Or whatever, call it what you will, but the silence is the whole point.

Words are the antithesis of mindfulness. A word is a judgement.
posted by sixohsix at 4:59 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't do yoga, and you wouldn't believe the flak people have given me about that. (I don't make a big deal or lecture them about why they shouldn't, it's their decision. But harangue me, they do.)

But I have also read articles from Hindus very upset at how yoga has been appropriated by the west as exercise.

I was friendly with a serious yoga instructor who used to work at the gym I used to go to, and there really is a lot of mysticism and such connected with the deeper practice of it, for sure. She was actually very understanding of my position(heh), because she and I were in agreement about what it was.

OTOH I have had spiritual experiences during a spin class. That particular instructor was on the quiet side, and I was able to relax and just hang out with God in my head. That was nice.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:05 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm irritated by the mysticism in yoga classes. If I were religious, I'm sure I would see conflict with the religion that comes up in yoga classes. I'm not sure why so many mefites are mocking the people saying "my religion is banned in school, but that religion is allowed, WTF?" That's the epitome of a fair position to take, if one notices that there absolutely is a religion in yoga: gurus who are said to execute miracles and whose word cannot be questioned, pseudophysics, origin myths, chanting and prostration with the attendant claims that you will literally reach another dimension by so doing, invocations and appeals to deities, and a substantial number of people who practice and proselytize it explicitly as a religion.

The thing is, I love yoga. But Matt Thornton's words on this topic resonate with me:
What we do is enough. You don't need to add too much to it.... All forms of yoga [have] the ability to...change the consciousness of the people doing it. You get a chance to step outside yourself.
The practice of yoga is enough. The physical act of it takes one to a blissful, peaceful state. The poses--and the chanting--do not need to be embellished with pseudoscience and idolatry the way they almost always are.
posted by daveliepmann at 5:09 AM on November 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Seriously, what I got from comparative religion classes was that Hinduism has so many thousands of branches that any religion could be Hinduism if you're a bit flexible.

True; what is Cthulhu if not another manifestation of Kali?
posted by acb at 5:11 AM on November 21, 2013

I'm amused by the idea that American Christianity, Islam, etc. oppose exercise though.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:15 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jeff, did you read the part of the article that mentioned Christian yoga with renamed poses and bible verses? Or the part where Muslims in Iran practice a secular yoga as sport? I don't see religious folks opposing exercise, I see them doing their best to oppose and remove the baggage that comes with it.
posted by daveliepmann at 5:27 AM on November 21, 2013

There's God and there's the devil, and the devil's not a gentleman. If you give him any kind of an opening, he will take that."

This is my favorite manifestation of fundamentalism. "Of course you want a narrow mind! That's how you keep the demons out!"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:41 AM on November 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

Does eating bagels make you a Jew?

It's pretty much the only thing I do that makes me a Jew. I also get drunk on cheap wine and watch The Ten Commandments on Passover, which I call my "minimalist Seder."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:46 AM on November 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Muslims worried about Hindu subtext with yoga can just do PraiseMoves instead. Wait...
posted by phong3d at 6:23 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see them doing their best to oppose and remove the baggage that comes with it.

I just see the same kind of fear and suppression of the ideas that come from other tribes. Wouldn't want to lose mindshare by letting the flock stray away to things that might appeal to them more.

(I am not universally so cynical of religion, but the "you can't be exposed to foreign ideas" that many groups have does not serve the best interests of their own people or humanity as a whole. It's the same place that anti-science comes from.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:32 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

All this really depends upon your religion and your practice.

Some religions and practices are worried about demons lurking around every corner or in every errant action. So they will be terrified that yoga has religious cooties.

Other religions and practices are not really worried. If you are doing it with the intent of exercise and not Hindu spiritual practice, it probably doesn't matter.

So does doing yoga make you a Hindu? That depends on whether you think intent matters, and that will depend on your religion and practice.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:34 AM on November 21, 2013

I was shocked when I first started doing yoga at my neighborhood studio to find there were so many quasi-religious elements to it (chanting, platitudes) and that everyone just jumped right in so enthusiastically with the chanting. I was raised Catholic and rejected religion as a teenager.

A friend joked that it's not yoga without the platitutudes.

Around that time I became interested in the neighborhood Episcopal church which is very progressive and activist, but the one mass attended had so much Jesus talk I was really put off. I'll support their activist work without attending mass thanks.

I've continued with the yoga though, tuning out what I see are the more religious aspects. It has been really really good for me mentally and physically.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:49 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Playing bingo does make you Catholic.
posted by Mick at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's fun and all to mock the concerns of fundamentalist Christians, but as a dyed-in-the-wool secularist who believes in the aggressive separation of church and state, I also find the practice of yoga in public schools to be problematic. It would be as if the schools had an aerobics class that incorporated an exercise element based on Catholic genuflection. I would object to that strenuously, and it seems that yoga-as-exercise can be dismissed from such concerns only if the religious origins and elements of yoga are belittled and denigrated.

Yoga-as-exercise is the perfect example of problematic cultural appropriation. A religious practice from a culture that has suffered a dire history of colonial oppression is adapted as a form of low-impact exercise in the culture of the world's greatest military hegemon? This is not cool.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:00 AM on November 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

Does doing Karate make you a Zen Buddhist?

Obviously not. It makes you Ryukyuan.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:06 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

A religious practice from a culture that has suffered a dire history of colonial oppression is adapted as a form of low-impact exercise in the culture of the world's greatest military hegemon? This is not cool.

It's not like we stole yoga.
posted by mittens at 7:26 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

We appropriated it.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of things we have appropriated, but there has been a steady flow of Indian teachers introducing yoga to westerners for a century now. We haven't appropriated it, so much as accepted (at least some part of) yoga evangelism.
posted by mittens at 7:34 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

The local Episcopal church in my town has community yoga three times a week which is led by volunteers--no religious overtones at all if you ignore the fact that it's being held in a church. The point is flexibility and balance and if people are praying, they're considerately doing it silently.

What's the harm?
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:09 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

If a religion's leaders are so deathly afraid of the influence of other religions, that supporting a freakin' exercise and meditation class is cause for concern, then something is seriously wrong with them. Because heaven forfend that their congregants might become well-balanced, aware of their breathing, more physically flexible and/or relaxed. That might lead to them asking... *gasp* ...Questions.

Or women wearing yoga pants. Can't have that.

FJT: " Does eating bagels make you a Jew?"

Not unless they're served with lox and a schmear.
posted by zarq at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yoga pants are the gangplank for Satan to enter my groin.
posted by dr_dank at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

What's the harm?

That's the 64k question isn't it? If I've learned anything from reading the Blue the past years it's that harm is often less about the intent of an action than about the perception of that action. It is possible to walk outside, take a deep breath and mutter 'what a beautiful day' and have someone say "check your privilege, motherfucker!"

I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately, because I injured myself playing sports recently and am looking for ways to stretch and be flexible in order to minimize my exposure to reinjury. Several of my friends practice yoga and have invited me to join.
I'm and atheist and figure I can pretty much ignore the overtones, but I was worried that by doing so I might be offending those sensitive to this appropriation of yoga by the exercise community. I have been assured by my friends that the community that they are a part of is not judgmental about this, but i am still on the fence.
I think this article raises some valid points, and will follow this discussion with interest to hear what fellow mefites have to say about it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Things I did not know: there is apparently a website devoted to pictures of "girls in yoga pants."
posted by zarq at 8:34 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I enjoy the physical benefits of yoga and have learned just to tune out anything that pushes my sceptical boundaries. Eg; being told that there are thousands of pressure points on the roof of my mouth and that by repeating various chants, touching these points with my tongue, would heal parts of my body. I'd like to see the research on that, please. Why isn't it being used to heal all the things?
I do enjoy the asanas and find it beneficial. But I keep a respectful silence at times.
posted by antiquated at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2013

We appropriated it.

Oh, for gods' sake. We did not "appropriate" anything. Cultural diffusion happens. Sometimes things get used by people in not precisely the way the original people who used these things might have intended. It's not like people are dressing up as yogis and going to Halloween parties; they are practicing the exercise as it's being taught to them, sincerely.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

You folks can constipate your spiritual lives all you want with fear of self-pollution and anxieties over trespass, but I'm still sticking with my decision to experience as widely as possible.

The fact that there are Hindus who are angry over yoga's spread just tells me that there are Bill O'Reillys in every culture — it's such orient-exoticizing to assume that Western Christianity is the only culture capable of producing doofuses.

So enjoy your tut-tutting while I'm over with the folks enjoying the Christmas tree and divine Sufi chants. We'll have latkes for Channukah and gaz to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, and then do some surya namaskars the next morning. Just a little respect, curiosity, and openness sounds to me like the best approach to different cultures.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2013 [14 favorites]

Oh, and that double-f thing could be related to Welsh spelling, where a single 'f' is pronounced like English 'v', and you need double 'ff' to get the English 'f' sound. For examples:

1) fork (Eng.) = fforc (Welsh)
2) video (Eng.) = fideo (Welsh)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2013

Eg; being told that there are thousands of pressure points on the roof of my mouth and that by repeating various chants, touching these points with my tongue, would heal parts of my body. I'd like to see the research on that, please.

Yeah, that stuff annoys the Om out of me too.

Check out The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad. He surveys tons of research into what yoga actually does. A lot of it is great - there's evidence it can release the body's own anti-anxiety neurotransmitters, for instance.

But yeah, there's a ton of pseudo-science crap out there. "This pose is good for X ailment." Well, sometimes it makes sense - locust pose does strengthen the lower back, so yes it's good for back problems - but, though I can't think of an example off the top of my head I've definitely read some variations of that statement that had me thinking "there is no possible mechanism by which that pose could affect that body organ" or whatever.

"Oxygenating the blood" is another one. Many breath exercises are claimed to "flood the brain with fresh oxygen." According to Broad's book they don't do that at all. The "rush" people feel has more to do with the affect on CO2 levels in the blood.

I started doing yoga regularly just this past June. I'd dabbled before but never consistent regular practice. I'm in my 40s and last spring had some health things that had me thinking "hey, I'm still WAY too young for some of this shit to be happening," and yoga seemed like a good thing to try. It's working. My lower back is tons better. I can visibly see better muscle tone. I can fully touch my toes now. It's a nice way to tune out the world for a while, too. (Over the summer my apartment complex brought a teacher to our building for classes up on our roof deck every week. It was a great way to learn.) And yeah, I have twice straight-up found myself starting to cry, out of nowhere, for no reason, in the midst of practice. (The body really does hold emotions in the muscles, it seems.)

But no, it has not turned this atheist into a religious person, anymore than I already was. I'm open to a certain broad concept of "spirit," and my belief is that all religions are based in people's attempts to understand and describe that one same experience. The problem is people getting so locked into their particular understanding and description that they refuse to consider that other roads end up in the same place. Hinduism happens to be pretty flexible in that regard, in the sense that it's main book openly says different people need to follow different kinds of paths, and it doesn't matter because in the end everything is Brahman.

Namaste = may the force be with you. Same thing.
posted by dnash at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Namaste = may the force be with you. Same thing.

No. One is a word uttered daily by real people in a living culture. The other is a phrase from a movie invented by George Lucas. India is not there for the entertainment of the West.

This attitude is exactly what's wrong.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:57 AM on November 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

My friend and I just had a rather heated argument about whether yoga in America was cultural theft or not. I was on the "heck no, we practice it with knowledge and respect" end of the spectrum until I saw this "criss-cross applesauce" bullshit. This makes me sick to my stomach. I have so much respect (and yes, coming from Ram Dass country out in Northern California I probably also exoticize a little) many aspects of Hindu devotional practices that have been scientifically proven to make us better human beings -- meditation, mindfulness, vegetarianism, yoga... Seriously, what has fundamentalist Christianity brought to the table other than an embarrassing attempt to normalize grown-ups talking to their imaginary friends in public? No, crazy religious weirdos; you do not get to appropriate and bastardize this beautiful, thousands-year-old tradition without people like me directing some serious bitchface at you (though I sympathize with the particular case of it needing to fly under the radar in countries where the dominant religious paradigm is also dangerously embedded in local government).
posted by Mooseli at 10:02 AM on November 21, 2013

Is Bollywood "cultural theft"? I seriously do not even understand this concept, as though certain practices can only ever remain fixed in a certain place/time/mindset. Is it cultural theft when white people do karate?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You got a problem with it, do Pilates instead. End of problem.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:13 AM on November 21, 2013

crazy religious weirdos

Shiva, the Santa Claus of Asana, is/was/will-be the craziest religious weirdo.
posted by 0 at 10:17 AM on November 21, 2013

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda says: "Everyone has a right to do yoga. Everyone — brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya, sudra, gnani, strong, women, men, young, the old and very old, the sick, the weak, boys, girls, etcetera, all are entitled to yogabhyasa with no restrictions on age or caste. This is because yogabhyasa rapidly gives maximum visible benefits to all. It does not stop anybody from acquiring the visible results of practice, whatever their capabilities. Everyone is entitled, irrespective of caste, to follow the path of yogabhyasa even in order to obtain divine virtues and the resulting eight animadi siddhis, and, if one ignores these siddhis, to proceed further on the ultimate path. But many do not agree with this opinion. This only reveals their confusion and the absence of a sattvic state of mind. (The sastras do not forbid yoga for anyone.) Whoever wishes to do yoga has the right to do it."

Modern yoga is not some nasty relic of colonialism, something a bunch of white phonies take on to puff up their egos (although of course there is some of that, because there is some of that everywhere). It is a back-and-forth communication between two cultures, with a rich history, an enormous amount of goodwill, that has helped many, many people. Some people take it on to fix a sore hip, and some people take it on to fix a sore soul. Both things are okay. They enrich the communication, they don't detract from it. The practice itself is growing and evolving, with new postures and outlooks being added, at the same time some folks would like to seek out a more "original" yoga that they find purer, and at the same time as that, some other folks seem certain that there is no real "original" yoga in the sense of something thousands of years old, but rather that there is a modern origin that springs up from the communication between cultures. There is room for all three.

To my mind, the 'appropriation' that happens is overt, and takes place in the bureaucracy world: Take a look at the attempts to copyright poses and sequences, and the lawsuits over that, for how people are very clearly trying to appropriate the practice.

But back in the real world of individuals and cultures, everyone who draws on another culture's religion, adapts that religion to their own culture and history, rather than somehow xeroxing that religion unchanged. Belief and spiritual practice are crazily permeable. It's a beautiful thing, one of our most amazing features as a species divided into separate cultures, and it's sad to see it being characterized as bastardization and appropriation as though those were the only form of embracing the other.
posted by mittens at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2013 [24 favorites]

It would've been awfully interesting to see Christian mysticism mixed with Victorian physical culture, especially when it seeped into American evangelicalism!

"It's fun to pray at the YMCA..."
posted by Ranucci at 10:30 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh mittens, you said clearly and calmly what I wanted to say but was too muddle-headed by exasperation to express. Bless you.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I appreciate that concepts of cultural cross-pollination and cultural appropriation can be difficult ones, but there are a few good rules of thumb.

Culture can be almost any human undertaking. Some of it is meant for public consumption. Some of it has very particular meaning within a culture. Some of this stuff winds up being marketed to other cultures, and some isn't.

It's the last two categories that it is useful to be careful with. Cabala was heavily marketed to non-Jews, but, in fact, makes almost no sense outside a Jewish framework. Arm and forehead phylacteries likewise have a very specific meaning within Judaism that would be utterly perplexing outside it. Potato latkas, in the meanwhile, can be separated from the Jewish people and eaten by anybody without any loss of meaning. Jews probably didn't even invent them (but, oh man, did my mother master them.)

So cultural appropriation is anything that is recognizably a product of another culture, has a particular meaning within that culture, but retains its recognizable cultural history while losing its meaning when adopted by outsider. Native American headdresses are in this category. Fry bread? Probably not.

Some culture is evangelical -- its creators actively seek to share the culture with outsiders and get outsiders to participate. It's usually something that's robust enough to survive all sorts of permutations. Food. Poetry. Movies. A lot of this is intended for outside consumption and outside participation.

So how do you know? Well, if it's something that is being marketed to you, and where there are no barriers to entry, and nobody from the culture that created it seems bothered by it, it's probably okay. If it's not, people will usually speak up. If you're not sure, do some research, ask around, and if it seems controversial, it may not be culture that's meant for sharing.

Yoga? It's a large discipline. Some of it is meant as a Hindu ritual. If you're not a Hindu, and Hindus would prefer that you not do it -- well, there's no law keeping you from doing so, but you're going to come off badly, and I'm not sure what you're going to get out of it. A lot of yoga, however, is meant as exercise, and is actually based on European theories of health from the early 20th century, and is extensively marketed to the west, and is largely divorced from any ritual practice. This was brought to American largely by Indian cultural evangelists, and there doesn't seem to be a significant number of Indians who take issue with it.

From the article, it doesn't seem like most of the people taking issue with non-Hindus doing yoga are Hindus -- which is successful in part because it is an exceptionally robust, welcoming, and flexible religion -- but non-Hindu religious people who are freaked out by the idea that they may accidentally be practicing another religion. And fair enough. If they are worried that doing to Sun Salutation is accidentally causing you to praise Surya, the Hindu sun deity, then don't do it. There are a lot of ways to exercise.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've heard that yoga turns you into a retired professional wrestler.
posted by zakur at 11:16 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, just like web hosting.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:36 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not worried about the religious part. But should they really be allowed to practice medicine?
posted by surplus at 1:34 PM on November 21, 2013

“There's God and there's the devil, and the devil's not a gentleman. If you give him any kind of an opening, he will take that.”

I knew someone once whose sister believed this so strongly that not only would she not do yoga (which, if you believe in the Christian devil in the first place, is not unreasonable) but lived her life terrified that she might accidentally perform a yoga pose without knowing it, thus letting the devil in.
posted by hattifattener at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vaguely related : Drunk Yoga Poses
posted by jeffburdges at 2:14 PM on November 21, 2013

Damn right yoga can be problematic for (religiously observant, with different issues depending on whether one is deist or otherwise) Jews. Different branches of Judaism have different opinions as to whether Hindu-type Yoga can be kosher.

I personally know some of the authors of two books on "Jewish Yoga" (There is also an Alef-Bet Yoga for kids). Unequivically I can say they are not coming from Halakhah/Jewish Law knowledgeable viewpoints. Of the three authors I know, all are more New Age than religiously Jewish, and all have stated to me that they created their various Torah or Alef-Bet Yoga instructions because Judaism is lacking a physical-mystical tradition.

Except, as mentioned in passing above, Judaism is NOT lacking in a physical-mystical meditation practice. It's true it was somewhat obscure, and quite different in form depending on which Jewish major ethnic tradition (Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Mizrahi) is followed, but there is a real practice available. Hassidic Judaism calls their version Hitbonenut, and there are much older traditions, such as in the books of the prophets, and Abulafia's (c. 1240-90), using postures, breathing, and Alef-Bet and other foci. Kabbalists had (and may continue to have) many different physical-meditative techniques.

The Jewish tradition was and is a secretive one, and only open to select scholarly men, usually on the basis of their family lineage. It's long past time to open it up, just as Talmudic study has been popularized.
posted by Dreidl at 7:09 PM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is it cultural theft when white people do karate?

You know, I've started doing karate recently and this is something I think about. I'm less concerned than I might be because I have some notion of how we got from the formation of shotokan karate to me running about in a university rec center thousands of miles away from Japan. In some sense, I know who sanctioned my participation by sanctioning the instructor's participation and so on, but what authority does having formalised karate give you? At the end of the day, isn't my participation still at least a bit appropriative?

(To be honest, I suspect I'd be way more conflicted if we did things like formal bowing, but we don't, so maybe I'm just giving myself a pass.)
posted by hoyland at 8:43 PM on November 21, 2013

Hoyland, the Japan Karate Association, the governing body of Shotokan, explicitly and intentionally sent its instructors overseas to spread their karate all over the world. (The Kodokan did much the same for judo.) Many other karate styles (e.g. Isshinryu, Gojuryu, Uechiryu), particularly the Okinawan, spread largely due to Marines returning from WW2, sometimes teaching with the formal blessing of their instructors, sometimes not. (That, of course, is similar to many Okinawan karate instructors such as Motobu as well.) There are cases of guys who trained as little as a year being granted "future" ranks, intended to be assumed in due time, so they could be representative of a given style in, say, one coast of the United States.

Even in the worst cases, I'm afraid I don't see the negative "appropriative" aspect of this kind of cultural diffusion. The formal practice of karate in Japan/Okinawa is only a few short decades older than it is in America. It was "appropriated" from the Chinese in the first place by the Okinawans, then from the Okinawans by the Japanese, undergoing dramatic change each time. Notably, karate, Shotokan in particular, was explicitly used as a tool to drum up militaristic Japanese nationalism and regimented obedience in the lead-up to WW2. This is precisely the time when the practice of kata went from a one-on-one or small-group individualized transmission of specific fighting concepts to large-formation mimicry stripped of original applications. So it's a little weird to say it's the American practice of karate, not the Japanese creation of modern karate, that constitutes problematic appropriation.

But what makes sharing of practices problematic in the first place? It's what cultures do when they meet. Is it cultural appropriation when Western boxing is taught in Japan? What about Brazilian jiujitsu, which originated as Japanese judo, was transformed in South America, then re-exported back? I'm genuinely confused as to what my actionable response should be, for instance, when someone says that yoga is an example of hegemonic cultural appropriation. Stop doing yoga? Only do yoga if taught by an Indian Hindu as a religious practice? Apologize to my (Western) yoga teacher? Send money to her (Hindu) guru, who I've never met? It almost seems meant as a kind of conversational moment of silence, or an empty I'm-more-culturally-aware-than-thou admonishment.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:36 AM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not to mention that if koryu bujutsu ryu (and it is hard to imagine a practice more steeped in Japanese notions of traditional identity) will accept white people as students, and at least some of them will, karate is perfectly fine.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:45 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So it's a little weird to say it's the American practice of karate, not the Japanese creation of modern karate, that constitutes problematic appropriation.

Well, I think this is the thing. Certainly that I'm doing karate while having no cultural ties to Japan is not an issue for the 1950s JKA. But am I wrong to wonder whether/if/how the presence of American soldiers as an occupying force influenced that?* Anyway, what gives me pause is the ritualised aspects of karate that are seemingly very Japanese, for example bowing to the front, symbolically to Funakoshi and past masters. What does it mean to do be doing that in a US context? I'm definitely wandering into someone else's cultural practices without much context.

*I have no idea if there were non-Japanese practicing karate before the war. For all I know, some American who went to Japan to promote baseball was involved in karate.
posted by hoyland at 5:26 AM on November 22, 2013

I've never once seen a coherent argument for worrying about cultural appropriation, zer bearing on actual suffering, pure noise. In fact, we need more cultural appropriation, and intentional perversion, of religious dress, art, iconography, etc.

Related : Saudi men arrested for offering free hugs in Riyadh
posted by jeffburdges at 7:43 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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