Cultural appropriation and 50 years of Light on Yoga

Yoga, originating from ancient India, has transcended cultural boundaries to become a global phenomenon. B.K.S. Iyengar’s seminal work “Light on Yoga” has played a significant role in popularizing yoga worldwide since its publication fifty years ago. However, amidst its widespread adoption, the issue of cultural appropriation has emerged, sparking debates on the commodification and misrepresentation of yoga.

Understanding Cultural Appropriation:

Cultural appropriation refers to the adoption of elements from a marginalized culture by members of a dominant culture, often without understanding or respect for the cultural context. In the case of yoga, its spiritual and philosophical roots in Hinduism and other Indian traditions have been diluted or disregarded in its commercialization and mainstream representation.

Light on Yoga and its Impact:

Published in 1966, “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar is a comprehensive guide to yoga practice, encompassing asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), and philosophy. Its accessibility and detailed instructions made it a seminal text for yoga practitioners worldwide, contributing significantly to the popularization of yoga outside of India. However, the book’s emphasis on physical fitness sometimes overshadowed the spiritual and philosophical aspects integral to traditional yoga.

Cultural Appropriation Critique:

Critics argue that the global yoga industry, fueled by publications like “Light on Yoga,” has appropriated yoga from its Indian roots, turning it into a lucrative business while disregarding its cultural significance. Westernized yoga often strips away the spiritual and philosophical dimensions, reducing it to a mere fitness trend or wellness practice divorced from its origins.

Misrepresentation and Stereotyping:

Furthermore, mainstream representations of yoga often perpetuate stereotypes and exoticize Indian culture. Images of predominantly white, slender bodies performing yoga poses reinforce Western beauty standards and erase the diversity of yoga practitioners globally. This misrepresentation not only distorts the practice but also marginalizes the voices and experiences of Indian and South Asian yogis.

Cultural Respect and Authenticity:

Advocates for cultural respect in yoga emphasize the importance of acknowledging and honoring its origins while practicing and teaching. This includes learning about yoga’s cultural and philosophical underpinnings, recognizing the contributions of Indian sages and practitioners, and supporting initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion within the yoga community.

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusivity:

Despite criticisms of cultural appropriation, yoga’s global reach has also facilitated cultural exchange and mutual understanding. Many practitioners and teachers strive to honor yoga’s roots while adapting it to diverse cultural contexts, fostering inclusivity and accessibility. Initiatives such as decolonizing yoga and promoting diversity in yoga spaces aim to create more equitable and respectful practices.


Fifty years after its publication, “Light on Yoga” remains a cornerstone of yoga literature, inspiring countless practitioners worldwide. However, its legacy is also entwined with debates surrounding cultural appropriation and the commodification of yoga. As the global yoga community continues to evolve, it is essential to navigate these complexities with sensitivity, respect, and a commitment to honoring yoga’s rich cultural heritage while promoting inclusivity and authenticity.

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