I’m happy to talk about yoga and cultural appropriation. I have only my own experience to offer, which I've written briefly here. If you have further questions, please feel free to send them.
I would recommend contacting Carol Horton and Matthew Remski, who would both be far more erudite than me on this topic.
(Here's my story.)
For my undergraduate degree, I dual majored in Religious Studies and Psychology. The Religious Studies department at the school I went to, Northern Arizona University, took a history of religions approach. That means I studied the development of religions: how they started and grew. Each religion, each culture, was considered with the utmost respect.
That’s how it came to pass that, when I first studied the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali under Bruce Sullivan (a student of Mircea Eliade and the author of the Historical Dictionary of Hinduism, Sacred Objects in Secular Spaces, and others), I was fully convinced that yoga in the U.S. was a thoughtless appropriation, a weak caricature of one of Patanjali’s eight limbs. For the next ten years, I would have nothing to do with it.
Then I developed a massive combination of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety grew into panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and finally agoraphobia. I tried everything to get better, especially for my son who was fast becoming a toddler and needed a functioning mother.
Everything I read about anxiety, which was a substantial amount due to my academic bent, said do yoga. After years of suffering and suicidal ideation, I finally gave up my perhaps self-righteous animosity toward American yoga and tried it. And yoga made all the difference. Because of yoga I was able to get into treatment. That whole story is in Yoga to Ease Anxiety.
But I was still wary of cultural appropriation. So I determined to learn everything I could about how yoga started and grew, and how it came to be what it is now in the U.S. It took five years for me to feel like I had a decent grasp on the subject, and From the Vedas to Vinyasa is the result.
Now I am conflicted. I love yoga. I love the history, the philosophy, the depth of yoga. And I love the practice of yoga, even knowing that modern postural yoga is a far cry from what the ancient or even medieval yogis practiced. It gave me my life back and provides me stability every day.
But at this point in time, right now today, I can’t stand and do not want to be associated with the business of yoga. The commodification and exploitation of the practice makes me angry and anxious if I spend too much time thinking about it.
I absolutely believe that the practice and study of yoga can benefit those who are called to it in this crazy, stressed-out age. There are great teachers out there, who can help people develop a worthwhile practice that will in turn help them mature emotionally and spiritually and find equanimity.
However, it’s a buyer-beware situation. In stripping yoga down in order to commercialize it and make it appealing to the masses, the yoga industry is peddling a form of yoga that can end up being sped up, competitive, body shaming, and devoid of substance, as well as ego-aggrandizing rather than ego-taming. What passes as yoga in many gyms and studios can do as much harm as good, physically and mentally. (The Science of Yoga by Wm. J. Broad and Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr provide two very different perspectives on this.)
I continue to practice and teach in a style that used to be the norm in the U.S., when yoga was counter-cultural, but is now far slower and less acrobatic than the types of yoga that are currently most popular. Other than that, I am growing more reserved about my interactions with modern yoga culture and focusing instead on turning the effects of my yoga practice toward building a quiet, peaceful life of love, joy, and creativity.