Imperfecting My Practice

I wrote this on my personal blog today. It was a simple journal share about my take on this month’s bullet journal spread. A little bit on the journey of healing through art and then the self-inflicted pressure to comply with ideating, creating and doing… everything from scratch and by myself.

The belief pattern was such that everything had to be a challenge and the easy way to do things was just not comprehensible…. or perceivable even!

As the sunflowers were drawn and filled in with color, one by one, the larger picture came into focus – one leaf, one petal, one dot at a time… The free hand opened up the alter-side of the thoughts as they surfaced. Why did I need to do everything from scratch? Why did I need to struggle so hard? Why did I need to reinvent the wheel? Whose approval was I seeking after all? Was I seeking for any approval at all?

I didn’t think I was… I don’t think I am… but was there an unspoken need to let someone else me me for who I am? See that I am this individual doing this thing, living this life…? I don’t know… Was there a pressure to perfect what I portrayed to the world who saw me? And all this while I was actually not looking to portray any sense of perfection at all!

I had no answers, but the questions were slowly starting to make sense in a confused kind of way. So I continued painting in my sunflowers….

Only this time, I started filling them all over the place – with random pleasure and childlike abandon. I started coloring outside the lines I had drawn just a few minutes ago and then pushed the markers outside of their perfect spaces.

And started thinking about my practice – my perfectly imperfect practice! Does my mat bring out my guilt for irregularity? Does my position as a yoga teacher stress me out to live my authenticity, does my vocal choice demand a political correctness for what yoga is meant to be for me?

Maybe…. and maybe not!

Maybe I live in this perfectly, imperfect and asymmetrical juncture of presence where my imperfection is allowed – even though I resist it. In the end, the perfection comes from constantly reminding myself that in the quest for evolution and rising up from the ashes, it is the imperfection and the aware acceptance of it is the impetus to surge.

What does my practice make of me today? What does it urge me to do tomorrow? How do we evolve collectively?

Now that is a larger question that would require the effort to show up in all my imperfection – willing to do what needs to be done.

Imperfectly yours…

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An Indian Yoga Teacher Speaks

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A large part of this year has been opening up the Yoga Industrial Complex and the various facets of yoga today. I think it would be honest to say that with the various conversations, I must have been naive – very naive, actually, to all that was happening. There were times when I even felt reticent in the face of the aggressive debates and controversial arguments and at other times, I just felt emotionally torn that ‘others‘ were fighting a seemingly just cause on my behalf.

For all the unity that yoga is supposed to be, I felt pretty much isolated and watching in from the outside of the inside – does that even make sense?

But, as it happens with constructive conversations, including some heated discussions, I started drawing in on the various perspectives of the larger issues as well as a smaller ones. Aggressions, transgressions, blatant abuse, appropriation and microagressions. I started being aware and sensitive, not just to those matters that were obvious, but also those in which I seem to be involved and affected but until then, largely unaware.

Earlier this year, Yoga Journal was in the spotlight for racist and exclusive narratives by issuing split covers for the same issue – sharing the cover between a larger bodied, person of color and an able-bodied white yoga teacher. This month, Yoga Journal released their Travel & Culture issue with interviews and features of some of my very accomplished desi yoga teacher friends – that was a great start.

A few weeks ago, an article was published of 19 yoga teachers to watch for in 2019. The article received a bit of heat for highlighting an article where all but one or two were white and able bodied. Needless to say, a big part of the ‘international‘ yoga community made themselves heard around these instances and conversations happened. Some of the voices that made themselves heard were South Asian teachers and persons of color.

Last week, in response to that Instagram list, two yoga teachers (Sophie Griffiths of @feral_and_true & Jesal Parikh @yogawalla) proactively took on the effort to collaboratively issue a fabulous list of 19 Women of Color to watch in the Yoga World in 2019.

This list was brilliant… for a lot of the conversations and conversation starters and the multidimensional approach of the practice AND the narrative. This was important stuff.

Until, I noticed that a lot of the narrative was still focused on the western ideal or western narrative of the desi or South Asian yoga teacher. It was a start and a bloody wonderful start, but in a world where news and culture across countries is so easily accessible and connections are forged with one well-timed and/or well-received Facebook/ Instagram comment, the narrative from an Indian yogi, let alone an Indian yoga teacher, was missing!

If you’re wondering why this is important, it is because of one simple fact – an Indian yoga teacher in the West is a part of the Western narrative – a part of that ecosystem, with all its issues and drawbacks, but still fits into the parameters of the Yoga Industrial Complex & capitalistic view – even if they don’t necessarily subscribe to it.

An Indian yoga teacher, well, may have many views and experiences that are similar to their desi contemporaries in the West, but also have many other views, experiences and perspectives that are not being heard…. because in the entire collective voice in the west, even in the conversations around bringing the focus back to the indigenous South Asian faculty, the actual platform is missing. The work done by many local desis is comparable and so is, perhaps, the point of reference – training-wise or even effort-wise. But…. there is still a distance to cover.

I’ll be the first to agree that I have an advantage here by way of exposure and partnerships with teachers in the West, but there’s only so much one can do with prior exposure, industry connections and friendships. The rest is just as organic as everything else. I mean, how do we get to know each other, and all that, right? The larger game players and narrative shifters are all defining the way from the Western perspective – and those, may not necessarily be what the ground reality back home actually is.

From the Honor Yoga Collective conversations, I realized that there was much to share and learn in terms of cultural exchange as well as cultural honor and an awareness and sensitivity to appropriation. I also recognized that the onus to teach from my experience was not necessarily on me.

So it got me thinking about the missing link in all of this.

I realized that many NRIs or Indian-American or citizens of other western countries (of Indian origin) were already living a life far removed from the daily life & story of their resident Indian counterparts experienced. The common ground was a culture that may or may not be conveyed down generations, but the deeper connection exists despite the distance.

This distance is even larger between the stereotyped white person / white yogi (or white yoga teacher) and the average Indian yoga teacher.

The purpose of this post was to start sharing the experiences of what an average (or well,  maybe a little more than average) Indian yoga teacher experiences in India. As I type this I realize that this may not cover all the experiences in one post, so I’ll be consciously considering putting these out in a series of posts as and when I have enough to elaborate on some points or if something more relevant comes up in the process.

So what is it like being an Indian Yoga Teacher?

  • It is hard work & competitive.

I refer to the inconsistency in teaching opportunities and the varied systems of teaching and practice where some communities believe that yoga ought to be taught for free and others feel that they need to compete with their batch mates to make a living. The yoga industry is suffering from the effects of ‘Colonial Extraction‘. By now, not everyone in India is a yoga practitioner so the community really needs to be educated on the value of yoga and answer the ‘why yoga?’ question – but, the same starry-eyed community members will happily entertain the glossy repurposed & repackaged yoga that teachers get trained in the West to share in India. So sorry, the yoga teachers in the West who apply the western lens of modernity and rebellion to all things yoga because ‘yoga is for everyone’ and can be approached differently by different people – sorry, but your misinformed practice (or malpractice) is slowly eating into what little remains of the culture it originates from.

  • It’s hard to make a living with yoga.

Unless you’re working with an established organization where the essence of yoga is not a priority or if you work at an ashram or other well established school where your immediate & personal needs are taken care of, you can forget about making a living from yoga. I speak for the regular yoga teachers, who teach regular yoga asana classes. The few who super specialize and offer personal classes may probably make a decent income but if you’re the sole bread winner and have a family to support, it… is…. very…. hard.

The average teacher offers a quality asana class in India for about $1-3 per hour (yes $1 per class!). I honestly feel sick to my gut when I read the average class rates of mediocre and/or highly appropriated classes in the West starting at $30 and upwards. Sometimes fresh graduates of a YTT start at $30 when the draw is a flexible body and an Instagram account fully loaded with highly contorted bodies.

  • They’re losing their essence.

With all the Instayoga in da house, it is such a pitiful sight to have so many asana oriented teachers, especially the new graduates who immediately lock down their Insta profiles and flood their feed and stories with intricately ‘perfected’ asanas. Sadly, even the graduates from ‘good’ schools end up going the asana way and move away from the purpose of ever stepping on this journey. At the same time, Indian yoga schools are looking to meet the demand of the West and offering watered down ‘yoga courses’ and amping up the yoga tourism business with a flurried rise in yoga certification mills all over the country, especially in the yoga centers of India – Bihar, Rishikesh, Goa, Mysore, Kerala…

  • They’re lacking representation.

In the wake of the modern postural yoga identity, a lot of yoga teachers, like I mentioned in the previous point, tend to identify and exemplify yoga to be a postural aspiration and that too of the stereotyped western able bodied narrative – the ‘love & light’ narrative, as I usually call it. The philosophy of yoga is threatened by the constant application of the able-bodied supremacy with a culture that is promoting fitness, weight loss and an urgency to be outwardly well even if it means they’re breaking on the inside.

The idea of a larger bodied yoga teacher, or one with physical limitations or disabilities is an anomaly – it is disruptive to the common place stereotype.

  • They don’t really actively work towards social justice.

Believe it or not, this one just came up to me. I really, really had to scratch my head & think if this was a point I wanted to add here and I realised that I did want to. Why? Because of all the teachers that I know, I’m still not really sure how many actively move beyond their on-the-mat practice to off-the-mat advocacy of matters beyond asanas & philosophical debate, perhaps. To be fair, Indian yoga teachers are largely focused on their practice and their teaching and hardly know of the larger yoga conversations and controversies outside of the country – even if those conversation are actually about them and may affect them. So when the Western yoga communities engage in social justice, very few of them actually go beyond the shores of their countries and residence and seek to make a difference to the land of the origin of yoga.

  • We are diverse.

Most yoga teachers in India are asana teachers. But there are also many teachers devoted to their self study, svadhyaya, as well as their purpose to teach & learn. We have teachers of the different schools of yoga as well as the different limbs and approaches. It is a pity that while the Indian-American (or South Asian or equivalent BIPOC) teacher is given a platform to engage in diversity in yoga and yogic thought, no one goes back to India to reach out to those voices that have as much to share in terms of content, context, nuance and experience. They could and would definitely benefit from the exposure too with their work!

  • We are contemporary teachers.

Which means that we are very similar to most other teachers around the world with one exception – we are desi. We are practicing an art and a science that comes from a wisdom tradition that is ours and is home grown. We are global citizens, aware of what is happening around the world, but also struggling to come to terms with the generational inadequacy that many of us are not even aware of – a residue of colonization and an inherited trauma scarred in our historical, collective karma. In the process, we often forget that we are the inheritors of this practice, this wisdom – and many times inadvertently are complicit in how yoga is treated and misrepresented in the western world.

  • We are undervalued.

And in all this, the average Indian yoga teacher places a nominal value on their service. And the western world knowingly or unknowingly add fuel to that by continuing to take what this country has to offer by means of yoga – by way of an ‘economical’ exchange. Yoga Teacher Trainings in India come at a fabulous price to western aspirants! We have teachers who are happy to share our culture, norms, thoughts and learnings – sometimes even for free – because many of us believe that knowledge flows… and then have that freely offered knowledge priced and sold onwards. In the end, the disparity between the give & take remains.

There really is a lot to unpack here – and I still have many thoughts billowing in my head trying to settle and blow up at the same time. I also have the real uneasiness of witnessing appropriation and mispresentation of yoga and yogic thought on a daily basis – and the unpleasant taste of defensive, refusal to acknowledge harm when it is called out.

Yet, I do the one thing I really know to do to remain true to the practice and the values that make me ME – values that I have received through my practice, through my teachers and through the timeless scriptures that I have studied – all of which have opened up timeless wisdom as and when I may have been ready to see it. Am I a warrior to stand up for this? Maybe, maybe not… I may not necessarily be a custodian of my culture, but I most certainly can use my space, my personality and my words to share what I experience.

Again, I’m still unpacking all of this – and know that when asked, I usually have something to add on what it’s like to be an Indian yoga teacher living in India… because, well, I am one myself after all!

Yoga – The Commune With Nature

The ‘Day 1’ definiton of Yoga as Union is something most yoga practitioners are given as a standard lecture – both in their teacher trainings as well as in their studio practice at times. Beyond that, if prodded to explain, they describe it with their own imaginative description of defining yoga with various forms of unifying adjectives and adverbs – union of mind, body and breath (though they often get stumped if you asking them what that looked like in practice or if their teacher has demonstrated that to them… ever!?)… They’re right in getting flummoxed, though, as novices, this philosophy is deep work – and steeped in many centuries of tapas and sadhana. So a simple word translated to union doesn’t always get the essence of the practice out to the new aspirant.

But, on a mystic, philosophical lead, after studying various scriptures and listening to various teachers speak on the darshanas as the various commentaries of discourse, there seems to be a common reason to accept that in it’s most basic essence, there is a union involved – and that seems to be elusive as a practical experience.

A lot of philosophy includes the application of thought and discernment. One philosophical thought around union is the movement of consciousness from the manifest to the unmanifest. A few of my teachers over the years (different schools) helped me unearth an understanding of the movement of awareness / consciousness from the unmanifest to the manifest (here & now) and uniting back to the unmanifest – knowing and recognising that underlying commonness with everyone & everything around us.

And so it is with nature – we are a part of nature (not just as animals), in our ouexistence, our density and our matter. Taking care of our environment is taking care of ourselves. Even if we take the yamas & niyamas – every single one of them applies to our relationship with Mother Earth – our connector to the manifest from the unmanifest. It gives us time to pause – pause for thought.

In short, although yoga is spiritual pursuit, there is much of yoga to experience in the physical and tangible realms too. The experience of connecting our body with our environment – in communion with nature – begins at the gross level, the annamaya kosha, to stir deeper levels of union of the manifest with the unmanifest.

Teaching Yoga Through Science (or the other way around?)

I mainly teach yoga anatomy as well as the history & philosophy of yoga in the YTTs (Hatha/Prenatal/other)…but I’d like to weigh in on the idea that some folks hold of having a sole focus on anatomy & physiology in a yoga teacher training especially coming from an Indian standpoint and returning the focus of the training back to yoga.
Yoga is not just asana – in fact, in the most relevant of yogic texts, the focus isn’t even on physiological well-being, let alone body parts and wellness. I disagree with the clubbing of yoga with what ‘modern yoga’ needs (physical & physiological correctness) because that’s just another way of breaking an ancient practice to suit commercial or dominant culture. Yoga is an ancient wisdom science that works on the spiritual body through the mind and there is no modernization of it by shifting the focus towards body, body and more body. Whitewashing it to suit the logic of the western understanding and demanding strict adherence and understanding of A&P or the hard sciences of movement dilutes and takes away from yoga as a practice and a lifestyle and limits it to suit the agenda of a dominate culture. If one is looking to train as a body movement specialist, then by all means train to the utmost and demand for training in movement, biomechanics, physics and such, but then that is not a yoga teacher training…. at all… not even if the trainer wants to call it that… make that ‘especially if the trainer wants to call it yoga’. It is not yoga and not a yoga teacher training. It is something else.
Essentially yoga needs to have a foundation in the yogic science and philosophy and in itself is a complete science without western science entering to validate it. Saying that you would rather teach a yoga of biomechanics and not give due importance to nadis, chakras, culture, nuance or any other more subtle philosophical sentiments and topics is being selective and isolating… and well, harmful. One can choose to learn & teach what one wishes to based on one’s leaning, but one cannot and should not choose to define yoga and its practices on a whim or personal belief or selective definition – and definitely not when there is a financial gain involved by way of a teacher training program. You cannot defile yoga by eliminating certain parts of it and then teach that modified something as a ‘yoga’ teacher training.
My request to students who would like to take up yoga teacher training – if you are willing to fully immerse in the practice and philosophy and culture of yoga as it is as well as find ways to integrate your study alongside the logical, critical thought process, then please dip into it. If you are looking for a body work or body movement and dynamics training & qualification to only suit the logical side of your understanding and are a willing to have ‘a bit of the philosophy’ for added flavour, then you may want to reflect on why you are signing up for a ‘yoga’ teacher training. They are two different things and yoga is being commodified, diluted and misrepresented in such trainings to suit a more commercialized agenda.

The Power of Namaste

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I didn’t grow up with a namaste greeting tradition. It wasn’t for any disrespect – it just wasn’t a form of our cultural practices. It wasn’t because we were NRIs but possibly because within the community, we largely socialized with the Catholic Mangalorean folks and as friends, there was an open blend of Indians from different states and even people from other countries. There was absolutely no derision towards the practice, but there was also no compulsion or education to apply this – except for greeting the Hindi teacher when she entered the class room in school (I studied in a CBSE convent school).

So, growing up, we really didn’t know the significance of namaste apart from understanding that it was an Indian cultural practice and we were familiar enough with it from Indian movies and our national and cultural events at the Indian embassy.

Well, truth be told, not many urban Indians, both local Indian residents as well as NRIs,  really know the relevance of this gesture today. I know this to be true from the many yoga practitioners & workshop participants I meet at my various talks and events. So I stopped giving myself a hard time over my cultural ignorance around it a long while ago.

That didn’t mean I stopped the process of learning more about it.

The yoga journey gives us ample opportunity to bow down into namaste. The expected culture of a yoga class often begins and ends with a namaskar mudra, but except for a few schools, not many taught about the significance of this gesture.

Let me begin by speaking for myself. I don’t greet my own teacher with a namaste and this is someone I respect immensely and look up to as a mentor, friend and guide. I am respectful and courteous (when I’m not cracking up about something and being my usual firecracker self), but I’ve not greeted him with a namaste. I will make it a point to greet him with a namaste the next time and see what our reactions are.

Not many of us greet our teachers with a Namaste either – definitely not if they are contemporary, urban yoga teachers…. and well, the teachers don’t always ask for it or greet in that fashion either.

Namaste

The divinity within me bows down to the divinity within you.

So without going into the specifics and etymology of the word, very simply put, the language of Sanskrit and culture of the ancient vedas and yoga have infused a lot of significance into namaste. Unfortunately, not many people really feel that spiritual connection when saying namaste, and the greeting itself is often said in such casual and colloquial intonation and inflection that one is left wondering, if it is of any relevance at all.

My fellow desis would know of numerous other traditional gestures that are now practices with hilarious insignificance, and sometimes irreverence too – the ‘touching elders feet‘ practice, for example, where many people barely bend enough to reach the elder’s kneecap – but well…

Here’s why I’m writing about it despite it not being my culture or tradition by birth.

When I moved to India, there were a number of senior people taking their morning and evening walks in my residential complex. I didn’t know these people, but we would often make eye contact and soon progressed to exchanging smiles. With some women who didn’t speak English or Hindi, we moved on to a generally comprehensible, “Good morning, aunty” and for the rest, a polite nod of acknowledgement as I went on my way to drop the kids to the gate for school or on my way back home from the supermarket.

With some people, however, there was a different energy to the interaction. I couldn’t pinpoint it and the instinctive greeting that was evoked was the humble namaste.

I didn’t do anything dramatic with it. Like I didn’t, you know, join my palms or anything as I said it, but I just smiled and said, ‘Namaste‘. I’m guessing there was a slight bow to my head, and my eyes probably softened or something and my tone must have been softer.

I said namaste… and there was absolutely no discomfort in it.

Gradually, I stopped noticing it, but just for long enough to realize that I only greeted certain people with a namaste…. so I assumed it was the vibe I experienced around them – or that I only spoke to them in Hindi and perhaps that was why a ‘Good morning/ Good evening’ didn’t seem appropriate or in context – but that was odd because that was what I did with some others.

So it got me thinking a bit and made me smile… because I liked to experience namaste in my life that way, although I couldn’t really understand what that experience exactly was.

Then last month happened.

It happened at the next door supermarket where I make my daily pilgrimage to. I enjoy making small talk with the cashiers and the shelf staff, so I know them fairly well. I was standing with my daughter peering at the shelf for some Haldiram snacks when suddenly one of the staff passed by, but not before pausing to look at me and say, “Namaste, Madam ji!

I can’t quite explain how deeply touched I was at his gesture. He didn’t join his palms in a namaskar or anything; his hands were full with 2 shopping baskets he was probably going to home-deliver, but he stopped to greet me. I was full of an unexplained emotion that I am feeling even now as I type these words remembering and reliving that moment. (That was when I knew this blog was on its way.)

And then sometime last week something else happened.

There is this little stall outside the supermarket (the same daily pilgrimage site) where an elderly Sikh gentleman sells kathi rolls and momos as an extension of his son’s restaurant further down the street. The family knew us in passing – regular supermarket customers, etc. and his momos are delicious! It was the day that I went up to him for a plate of momos and this very composed gentleman stood up, smiled at me, joined his palms and said, “Namaste, ji

Again, there was deep sense of something that words couldn’t quite explain.

Over the days, I was warmed by these exchanges of namastes that never demanded anything beyond it, but still made me feel special enough to receive them in the midst of other shoppers, or sometimes when the Silk gentleman would pause in the doorway as we passed each other to join his hands and say, ‘namaste‘.

I grew used to it although I couldn’t explain it then. Today I think I recognize it – a little – although it is still largely incomplete in expression – but maybe enough to share the feeling in its incompleteness?

It was a sense of presence, a powerful sense of belonging of sorts. These people were not family, I don’t even know their names (well, I’m guessing one of them must be a Mr. Singh), but the greeting fostered a sense of connection – a grounded sense of respect. What was it that I felt? A sense of support. I still don’t know where this is coming from, honestly, but it was comforting feeling of family and trust.

Perhaps this came from the time when Mr. Singh told me that I could Paytm him later for my 3 plates of momos as my phone was left charging at home and I didn’t carry cash. Or maybe it was his smiling customer relationship skills of telling me I really didn’t need to worry about payment. Or was it the time he brought in a plate of special biryani that his wife made and packed a takeout for us to taste knowing he would meet us in the evening? Or perhaps it was that time when we didn’t take our grocery bag and that store staff told me to leave it behind and he would get it delivered at home?

Or was it the sheer presence of goodness and goodwill that was present in the humble namaste? A power that has the ability to reach beyond the confines of what is proper and what isn’t and connect us to the deeper fabric of life – and deeper still to the underlying essence of what it means to be a spirit taking a human form?

Whatever it is…. it just is.

तत् त्वम् असि or तत्त्वमसि

Tat tvam asi

That art thou….You are that

Namaste

Naked Yoga? To be or not to be…

This thought’s been long brewing but last week something snapped. I came across an Instagram post of a yogi I followed and she was naked. Completely naked. But here’s the thing.

1. Nothing on her body surprised me – I had all those bits on my body too.

2. Nothing about the image surprised me – I’ve seen naked bodies all my life – personally & -professionally – naked bodies – alive & dead – in the room, on the lab table, in text books images as well as media showcasing highly graphic & provocative imagery as well as body positive movements. Well, an anatomy teacher really can speak body parts without flinching… but… this was different.

This one upset me…. on a very different front.

I felt offended as a yogi.

The picture was supposed to be a symbol of body positivity, acceptance and a rebellious act against body shaming, etc Her body, her pictures – I didn’t care about that. But the caption included a reference and gratitude to yoga for allowing her the courage to do that & the ongoing conversation and comments with people signing up to practice with her or learn from her to be able to come to that level of courage and/or body acceptance.

Now, hang on a minute.

I agree with a lot of people working in various ways to make peace with their bodies and learn acceptance and self-love, but…. that is not yoga. Yoga can help amplify the process, but it is not the reference point for nudity and instagram following.

Anyway, the algorithm apart, I was offended for the culture of yoga.

I felt hurt & sick to my gut that a practice that comes from a place of conservative society is used to navigate body positivity through nudity.

Like, seriously?

Do we have to be naked to truly accept our bodies?

And more importantly, why did one need to connect the power of yogic practice with the attitude shift to pose in the buff on IG?

While I’m quite the liberal for an Indian or even for an Indian yogi, I do understand the culture of my roots and of heritage. And this felt offensive & disrespectful. I may be your liberal Indian yoga teacher in contemporary times, but I’m not radical to disregard the sanctity and devotion – the honor and respect that I was trained to offer to the practice or the culture of my practice. I do not mean ritualistic – I mean respectful.

What I fail to understand is how some of the yoga teachers seem to talk yoga philosophy and yogic wisdom, but it seems rather textual instead of fully living it. And others take a very tangential approach by making references to certain yogic terms and terminology, but basically working on other aspects of holistic wellness and referring it to yoga – but painfully, not practicing yoga or honoring it.

Practicing yoga doesn’t mean you suddenly dress in Indian clothes, put on a bindi or tilak and dress in a sari or dhoti – heck! even I don’t do that! But it certainly does not mean you work on body acceptance, post nude pictures and claim that to be a result of yoga. It is not.

I’m not suggesting that yoga teachers across the world observe a set code of conduct that includes behavior, but a certain level of decorum especially attributing it to the origin and roots of yoga could certainly be worked in…?

As for me, I pose for the camera, yes…and I love it… but  most certainly, I am not going to pose naked in the name of yoga. I would probably feel it disrespectful to my teachers, my lineage and my students to do that. I may be liberal, but not at the cost of disrespecting a tradition and culture of the practice.

What This YJ Issue Got Me Thinking About

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Earlier this month, a lot of the Western Yoga community expressed their upset and displeasure at Yoga Journal’s split covers on their Leadership Issue – some issues having plus size, queer, teacher of colour, Jessamyn Stanley and others featuring Maty Ezraty another fabulous able-bodied, white teacher. Both teachers are wonderful in their own spaces and in the work they do, but yoga activists in the community, many of them known to me, called out Yoga Journal for this because it had been observed over numerous occasions in the past that YJ was being exclusive in their coverage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) teachers or other teachers from marginalized, minority sections of the yoga community.

I expressed my upset on Instgram & Facebook as well….and some of my other teacher friends – prominent and well respected in the western yoga community (Jivana Heyman, Amber Karnes, Susanna Barkataki, Dianne Bondy, and many others) – raised it to YJ, who eventually issued a statement on the matter.

Well, when I read that statement, I felt that it just used all the essentially ‘politically correct’ words in a group of sentences – words that perhaps Jivana or Susanna must have said in their conversations and posts, and then issued a statement to hopefully settle the matter with the masses.

Anyway, after my initial frustration with the incident – I eventually realized that was even though the exclusion extended itself to me too (as an Indian / brown/ plus-sized teacher lacking representation) technically, my feelings on the matter, might not actually matter to YJ. That didn’t stop me from voicing my feelings.

But, I thought about a couple of things:

  1. We lack yoga glossy magazines in India. And the ones that we do have lack in quality – both aesthetic as well as content. Magazines like YJ glamorize and beautify the yoga industry to the extent that when we desi yogis travel internationally, we pick these publications.
  2. These magazines highlight a very able-bodied asana approach of yoga, interspersed with a few points here & there on wellness & spirituality, but largely commercialized consumerism of yoga-wear (usually not the plus sizes, but can find something), yoga bars, packaged teas, props and asana classes – all wayyyy to expensive for the average Indian yoga teacher, who… cough cough… anyway earns wayyyy to little to afford those programs.
  3. These programs may complement Indian yoga teachers who generally face a dearth of quality educational programs (with structure and regulation) – but unfortunately, the expense (not to mention visa, travel, accommodation, etc) that makes it highly inaccessible. The research put into a lot of yoga-related aspects in the West can be a great add on to Indian yoga teachers’ practice, teaching & training – and of course so much more knowledge sharing that can happen the other way round too.
  4. There were a few comments on Social Media that said, “YJ is a publishing house” and “I wouldn’t worry too much about what YJ thinks and prints because they’re only printing about yoga – they’re not necessarily yogis…”

Now this is where I actually got uncomfortable. YJ is a published magazine – printing issues and e-magazines about yoga. They have subscribers all over the world – including in India. They were making money printing and publishing stuff about yoga (yogic or not) but they had a responsibility to uphold the values of yoga.

It really got me thinking – within India, we have our fair share of exclusivity – both within and outside of yoga. We didn’t have as much as BIPOC issue, but we certainly did buy in to the ableism that is perpetuated in mainstream media. I was looking for an image of an Indian teacher in ashwasanchalanasana (equestrian pose) on Google this morning (Go ahead and try it! This is what I typed: Indian yoga teacher ashwasanchalanasana / equestrian pose) and any guesses on what I came up with?

We are just so under-represented in the yoga world despite being from the country where yoga originated and are buying into the supremacy of ableism and further allowing it to define who we are as teachers ourselves.

I can imagine that not many Indian teachers may be dipping into the history of yoga to resonate very strongly with the effects of colonialism and cultural appropriation that I am referring to – but they wouldn’t deny that we have bought into the idea that yoga is a huge business in the western world and the consumerism of it is slowly seeping into the Indian yoga community too.

I find so many Indian teachers tagging superstar yogis of the US and being a part of asana challenges and getting their bracelets and tights and all of that. Yes, it builds community and I’m all for that, but I can’t help but feel that this is largely coming from the place of ‘acceptance’ or just not feeling accepted and falling into that vicious cycle of succumbing to a stronger power.

What would it take for the yoga industry to bring the focus on the land, people and culture where it originated? The source from where they make their millions from? Or what would it take for us, Indian teachers, to actually behave in a way of being accepted by ourselves?! Taking full ownership of our skill, our exposure and our heritage.

This isn’t the part where we say if we’re Indian so we’re born yogis – no way! We’ve had our fair share of those kinds. We’re talking about Indian teachers of substance. Teachers who really live and work their purpose in the way they teach, practice and continue to learn. Indian teachers who really contribute to modern yoga with a strong foundation of knowing their roots and heritage – and if they don’t know of their yogic roots & heritage, then to at least begin the inquiry! Not many TTCs & YTTs in India spend adequate time on teaching about the history of yoga to their teachers in training. I guess even the schools assume that asana is the way.

Well, a lot more where that came from – but for now, I’ll leave it at this… and remain with my thoughts….