American fitness fanatics who think striking the lotus position is a victimless crime had better think again.

A Michigan State University professor says that yoga as practised by the overwhelming majority of white Americans is a "cultural appropriation... intimately linked to some of the larger forces of white supremacy". It has "washed away" its spiritual Indian origins, says the academic.

Shreena Gandhi, a religious studies professor at the college, has co-authored a paper with Lillie Wolff, which claims that the commercialisation of yoga in the US over the last two decades has meant that its true meaning has been lost.

Wolff describes herself as "an antiracist, white, Jewish organiser, facilitator, and healer".

The pair argue that yoga plays into an "orientalist construction of the 'west' as progressive and superior and the 'east' as spiritual but inferior", in their December paper Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation.

They add: "Few white people make the connection between their love of yoga and their desire and ability to access traditions from historically oppressed communities of colour."

The study says that the true meaning of yoga is "all about yoking the mind, body, and spirit in order to remember our innate oneness and connection with universal consciousness".

But most white US yoga teachers know next to nothing about Hindu tradition or Indian cultural history, say the authors. The teachers focus only on posture and breath control which, Gandhi and Wolff argue, is only one-sixth of what should be taught.

Yoga has been sucked into a consumerist societ, as "the explosion of yoga studios, yoga video, apps, yoga pants, and other yoga swag over the last two decades is evidence", claim the authors.

Makar Sankranti 2018
Shreena Gandhi adds the US yoga industry has washed away Indian people from an activity they invented Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

They write: "This modern day trend of cultural appropriation of yoga is a continuation of white supremacy and colonialism, maintaining the pattern of white people consuming the stuff of culture that is convenient and portable, while ignoring the well-being and liberation of Indian people."

They add that Indians and others are actively priced out of yoga classes in the US.

The pair write: "The cost of Western yoga classes can be prohibitive for low to middle-income people. This often includes people of colour, including recent immigrants, such as Indian women to whom this practice rightfully belongs.

"The result of this reality is that Western yoga is often represented and marketed in mainstream culture by thin, white, upper middle-class, cisgender [a person who identifies with their birth sex], able-bodied women."

The women argue that white US yoga teachers can get in contact with the true meaning of yoga by learning its history and respecting its traditions.