Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Virtue Signaling

Calling-in of practices and language that causes harm and separation. Virtue signaling is a form of glamorization. Virtue signaling is a way of telegraphing your hipness by referencing any of our Indigenous / Black / Asian / Global South / Third-World cultures. Words and phrases such as “guru,” “spirit animal,” “spiritual gangsta,” “boho” or “tribe” constitute “virtue signaling,” which can be thought of as “coolness by appropriation.”

To be clear: I am not saying don’t use Sanskrit language or practices inherent to the yoga tradition. Use them respectfully. Take time to build a relationship with them. Get to know them. And if possible, don’t use them in ways that tokenize, objectify or cause harm.

An example of glamorization that causes harm is when a Western t-shirt company takes the image of Ganesh and puts it on a shirt with a blunt in one hand, a bottle of alcohol in another, a gun in another and a knife in another.

This causes harm in a number of ways. First, it is disrespectful to the many people who see and experience Ganesh as a representation of the divine.

Second, it is harmful because this non-Indian-owned t-shirt company is part of systemic imbalance of power, profiting off something that is not part of their culture by using it in an inappropriate way.

Another example of glamorization is adopting different cultural symbols that become forward-thinking, fashionable or cool when adopted by white people, but when an Indian person displays them are considered backward or traditionalist, at best, or a threat to society, at worst.

We see this most strikingly within the Sikh community, who wear turbans as part of their faith, but in the United States have been persecuted and even killed for wearing this marker of religious faith. White kundalini practitioners can take on and off their turbans as a spiritual signifier with no or much less fear of being harmed.

Glamorization is one way that yoga culture gets exotified, glamorized and portioned-out in ways that disrespect part of the practice without bringing it together in a unified whole.

By Susanna Barkataki

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Excerpt from Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice by Susanna Barkataki. Copyright © 2020 Susanna Barkataki. Reprinted with permission from Ignite Wellness & Yoga Institute. Get your book at embraceyogasrootsbook.com