I’ve changed.In more ways that I even imagined.. because I didn’t really expect or plan for those changes.
Yet, I changed.
One thing remained constant, but in it’s constancy, it deepened.
Not asana – no, there have been days (leading to weeks, sometimes) when I couldn’t get moving on the outside, but there was a lot moving on the inside.
Do I make sense? I’m guessing to some of you I do make sense.
Truth is, I changed.
And through me, my yoga, or, my experience of yoga changed.
What is yoga if not to change us?
To break us and to re-create us?
What is yoga if it doesn’t crush us to powder only to lovingly mould us again to a better form that before?
What is my yoga if I were to still hold on to old ideas, thoughts and battles?What is my yoga when I seek liberation but constantly trap myself painful mis-truths? When we are in the battle of righteousness, we need all our tools – mental, emotional, spiritual to get us through.
But once we are at pause, what good is it to hold on to those tools?
A boat is necessary until one gets to the other side of the river, but when a man once crosses the stream, the boat is no longer necessary for his purpose.
Uttara Gita 1.18
How long will be keep scratching open our wounds?I don’t know… it gets tiring, doesn’t it?
I’m different now.
I’ve evolved, I guess… whichever direction I have stepped up or down or side ways.
My mom has been sending me pics from my childhood & youth over the past many days. As I looked at myself in picture after picture, I wondered why and how I had such terribly poor body image back then! Not surprisingly though, I was often overcome with fresh waves of discomfort – largely sadness, at how I spent so many years not truly loving the one person I had to love fully & wholly – ME! Instead , I bought into the ideas of perfection from everyone else, what I should like, how I should dress, what to show & what not to & just ended up feeling not good enough – for anyone or for myself!
When I returned home from University, I had lost a lot of weight. A male friend who knew me from pre-Uni days, admiringly & suggestively objectified me by saying, “I wouldn’t mind coming over to the pool to see you swim now! It would be worth a sight!” I brushed off the sexist remark as a joke (Hah! I know! I actually brushed it off!)… but what he didn’t know was that I wore a one piece swimsuit with extended legs to cover the scald scar on my thigh! What he also wouldn’t know was that it would take me forever to get into the pool and I would wait forever more on the sunbeds until the crowd cleared so I could quickly get into the pool before anyone ‘saw’ me. I’m not kidding!
I think of it now & I hurt for that young woman who had such a terrible time growing into herself and was able to dress up & come across as someone who really had it sorted! I am still just so amazed at how that happened! Best part was how absolutely unaware she was at the time of some really hot gym instructors & members chatting her up while she waited to get into the pool because all she could think of was, “When will they leave?” [I speak more about this in another blog coming up next week.]
A year later, my boyfriend at the time suggested that I needed to lose weight before he took me to meet his family. As I look back, that relationship, which lasted for a quite a long while, and was one of my most significant relationships, was toxic af! It had elements of control, of gaslighting & withdrawal… and everything else that would have red flags about what we know today to be balanced & healthy relationships. Yet, to everyone around, we were the ideal couple… who checked all the boxes! I hid my weight from him. He once asked me to stand on the weighing scale and I refused, heart pounding…. guess how that date ended! Another time, I was hungry and he refused to buy me a sandwich.. lol.. It is funny now, to think that I, Luvena, this Luvena, went through that. But I did.. I think I should title this post “FFS”
Anyway, while admiring attention still came easily by, the background chatter always muttered things like, “You’re not good enough!”, “Thunder thighs”, “Does that cute bra come in a larger size, I wonder?”, “Argh! These jeans don’t fit!” And… the admiration just didn’t register! I couldn’t, wouldn’t & didn’t see myself as anything but lacking!
And now, in 2020, I look back and wonder what I was thinking back then? Why?? Why did I ever have to believe in the crap that I was told about my body? To eventually believe it so much that I ended up being all those things AND loving myself.
Am I done with the work already? Heck no! I still have a few bad days – but mostly, somewhere along the way, over the years, the self loathing had dropped. A few months ago at a YTT graduation ceremony a student told me that I looked beautiful. Since I was wearing a sari, I turned around & raised a surprised & amused eyebrow at Shobhit, my dear friend & fellow yoga teacher and said, “Oh! So this limited effort qualifies for me being beautiful!”
He shrugged & straightfacedly replied, “Of course you’re beautiful!” I was taken aback. He said it less like a compliment more like a fact – our friendship is unique: blunt enough to say it like it is, and compassionate enough to keep it safe, real & caring. Not to mention, we laugh a lot & have great Facebook Lives, but…… he went on to tell me 3 things, according to him, that made a woman beautiful in his eyes:
Resilience (to experience pregnancy and menstruation)
Devotion (motherhood and other roles)
Emotional Intelligence (in all areas of life)
Which is interesting because another male friend & I had a deeply philosophical conversation once – which touched upon our sense of self & confidence – even when we are unaware of it. He said, “A woman who is totally unaware of her attractiveness and yet exudes it with complete confidence alongside holding an intelligent conversation is beautiful and sexy!”
My friend, Jo-Ann, told me this yesterday: “This applies to both sexes and/or all genders. I find women equally sexy when they can converse. I’m not interested in a romantic way but definitely think a sexy woman is one whose mastered the art of good convo. I think it makes any human so attractive.
It gives me pause to think what I feel about how anyone defines beauty. It isn’t about the beauty of anything after all! Resilience, yes, strength perhaps, eventually, the intelligence to have depth of conversation & thought. It is a primal attraction to grounded strength with which we exude every bit of ourselves – all our bodies in unison.
But also makes me doubly certain why we need to be more vocal in our appreciation and acknowledgement of body image issues and the fact that body positivity needs to be reinforced in our children & youth. Fatphobia is real and its talons dig deep and pierce the heart.
The ability to truly own and love and accept ourselves fully, unapologetically and unabashedly is something we don’t need permission for from anyone but ourselves.
May we give ourselves to be whole, loved, loveable, gloriously sexual, generously available to ourselves in every shape, size and limitation and still be totally true to ourselves – and do so with ease, grace & comfort – because the work isn’t easy.
The unlearning is not easy….but it is wholesome & nurturing & has all the ‘Oh So Good’ feels!!!!
There’s a lot going on in India currently. The nation is in a state of uncertainty, fear, confusion, panic and all sorts of things. We cannot deny that there is another view to things that subscribe to the narrative of fear mongering and that this is all unnecessary hype. And yet another view of centrism or fence-sitting.
They all have their reasons. Well, they all are also justified.
Yet, I struggle with this justification. I struggle with the pain I see. I struggle with the cold disregard by some. And I struggle with the indecisiveness of the fence sitters.
In all of this, I struggle with me.
I’m not a spectator and if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m not really silent about my views.
But this time, I struggle.
I struggle because I feel the fear and sense people’s resistance to fully be cognizant of the extent of what is happening. And it is real.
As I questioned my response to the situation, I could not keep the primal fear, anger and hurt aside – even if I told myself that it was OK to feel all that.
And it was because of yoga.
As a yogi, I was frustrated at the silence of those who could speak. I was also frustrated by the blind eye. At the same time, I was aware of the confusion of those placed far away from the epicenter of it all and them assessing, perhaps, if they were a part of this mayhem at all.
Then I saw this…
I thought back to all the conversations around colonization and how so many from my wider audience and those who read my posts, followed my stories, etc, suggested that they were actively doing their own work. In their own practice, in their own space…
In their yoga.
Well, I went through my social media stories of the day, thinking of all the previous controversies over Desi under representation, ‘Namaslay‘ moments, erasure and cultural insensitivities that we have spoken about and multiple instances of silencing South Asian and shutting them down…. but I saw nothing about what was going on in India currently, except from a few. Nothing! No one was speaking about India.
Everyone was still on about tight hip flexors and pinchamayurasanas.
So I go back to the above forwarded comment as I consider, why the western yoga community was not speaking about India? Why is the political situation not being talked about? Why the silence? Where they that closeted in their own pond that they really do not hear of the country that gives them a reason to teach and make a living from (assuming they’re a yoga teacher)?
If you are following things then who are you listening to? Which voices are helping you understand your practice and the harm within and without it? Who informs your understanding of the culture of the nation whose philosophy or thought you subscribe to, even if only partially.
This is important for me because yoga and India are not one single thought – we are not a singular / set kind of yogis and we are not one set of Indians. We are not monolithic.
We are a complex people.
But we are in pain and the yoga community can & does play a role.
Because didn’t all the western resistance use the ‘Yoga is Political’ refrain?
Every time we spoke about supremacy,
…every time we spoke about cultural appropriation,
…every time we spoke about racism, fragility, oppression, colonization, decolonization,….
…every time we spoke of any controversy….
we said, ‘Yoga is Political’
Well, today, yoga is just as political for India. It cannot be apolitical.
Yoga is one of India’s tools for soft power. Although power can be used in many ways, I would urge the yoga community to address it responsibly – on either side of the equation.
I have always urged the non Desi community to be cautious in the narrative they chose to follow. While, a few bluntly told me that they cannot be ‘brainwashed’ or ‘played’, it was plain to see from the media they shared and comments they made online that they were putty – already buying in to the echo chamber they were sitting in but not necessarily ‘getting’ it. They’re not the only ones, though. Many of us have been shocked by family and old friends who have been openly displaying their bigotry and blindness towards the chaos – even while facing the loss of young lives.
What I would ask of you is to remember that we have a spectrum of people and thought in India, just like anywhere in the world. I’d like to ask that you check your privilege and your political bias to understand that privilege and political bias exists in India too. And within that spectrum, while all thoughts are welcome, we stand the risk of being subject to extremism and false narratives of unwarranted xenophobia.
I ask you to be cognizant of that.
Within pockets of the discussion you will find the narrative of victimhood and an appeal for consideration to. White people, please be aware that you see a minority of brown people from India in your country. You see us as one lot of brown people – minorities, voices that are often stifled, sometimes oppressed and facing frequent micro aggression. True as that may be, in India the narrative is not quite the same.
We are a brown nation. Here, in our collective brownness, the color of our skin does bring in prejudices (given our penchant for fair skin!), but it does not categorize us into majority / minority.
However, for a country that is a co-existing blend of multiple cultures, faith and religious sentiments, we are always sitting on the threshold of divisive politics. And our majority / minority agenda gets played right there. On the basis of religion – not faith – religion.
I clarify that it is not faith, because as a people we are programmed to lean towards faith – sometimes blind faith too. We are also culturally, an emotional people entrenched in a patriarchal system with casteism spread over our social fabric – left, right & center. Our generational trauma from colonization is just one side of the story. The trauma from the prejudices internally is more pressing.
Yoga is political because yoga is unifying.
Yet, yoga is being used to promote a sense of identity – especially in a way that western and white yogis would feel an emotional charge when their feminism and idealistic wokeness leads to a politically correct sympathy and empathy for the oppressed identity that they see in desis who promote the narrative of oppression and victimhood.
So, here’s the deal – yes, we come with trauma and yes, the trauma of colonization is still with us in every thing we do and experience. It informs the way we behave in India, our education system, our civic establishments, our daily choices. It also is responsible for the diminished sense of identity for some and the subservience, lesser than and erasure that many of us, and even our parents, still experience in western countries – as permanent residents or visitors. It stinks. And I will never deny that.
Does white supremacy exist? Like hell it does! So check your privilege because unconscious bias is real.
Do pass on the mic while we speak, hear us out, don’t erase our presence and do extend to us the basic civility and equitable respect.
BUT, to place us on a pedestal because of ancestral, historical guilt is simply ridiculous. While you check your privilege and engage respectfully and equitably, do not idolize us. A cultish ordering is dangerous and gives away your power to discern.
That is important. It really is.
Because, in giving that importance to one or two Indian / Desi voices is like negating an entire nation of voices and experiences that are a part of that spectrum.
More important is to be wary of subscribing to ONE voice – especially if that voice, despite sounding so logical & factual in its confidence, is also narcissistic & covertly bullies by manipulating you to respond (or react) with instinctive guilt. What you may want to experience is an awareness, and understanding that perhaps you didn’t know as much earlier. An awareness and gradual peeling away of comfort that privilege accords you. An acknowledgement of history and the understanding of how it exhibits in the descendants of the colonized even today. To have difficult conversations and make your way forward. You do not want to act out of guilt while you’re working on dismantling white supremacy and privilege.
But in my part of the world, in India, the supremacist ideology that is making its presence felt is Hindu supremacy. Where patriotism, which we all feel, is being confused with extreme, nationalist thought. Many do not subscribe to extremist thought but are being emotionally led to feel it because of a perpetuated narrative of anger, loss & victimhood. The beauty of Hindu thought & spirituality is being misconstrued as a religious and ritualistic identity. Ritualistic order at best is superficial yet, as mentioned in the Devi Bhagwatam, is still a form of worship. At worst, it can lead to fanatical violence.
This is the divide that supremacy is creating and yoga, in all its political correctness stands to add to it if not applied conscientiously. Hindutva is the essence of being Hindu – not be deification or ritualistic symbolism and norms. Hindutva is the embodying of thought that ought to show in the behaviors of unification. Yet, presently, the effort of many is to use Hindutva to legitimize the spread of malicious narratives that promote the sense that ‘Hinduism is under threat’… and this, through yoga in the west because to the average white western practitioner, the fabric of Indian culture & social order is not really understood.
The ringing refrain of ‘Yoga is Hindu‘ makes people who have been disillusioned by the organized religion / faith they were born into feel that they are now brand ambassadors of Hindu thought and often end up anglicizing the philosophy or watering it down to their taste. When the spiritual truths of yoga and Hinduism appear to fill a void, it makes it easier to absorb these ambassadors into the culture that is so giving without the need for officially ‘converting’ them and create a sense of belonging and liberation.
I do love that about Hinduism – the thought, philosophy & culture that is giving regardless of faith. But, I’m too close to home to know the fine print and the underlying danger of this generosity. Because it makes people add to the perpetuation of the supremacy quotient in India. The number of white people assimilating Indian culture, cultural symbols, even at the expense of appropriating it is ridiculous. And this ends up being a non-proselytizing form of getting more people into the fold… and to have them support a political framework steeped in the misrepresentation of Hindutva.
This is not yoga. Neither is it Hinduism / Hindutva.
It is political.
Yoga is political.
The conversation of colonization and the narrative of Hinduism being under threat includes the historical violence of invaders and colonizers who did not just impose trade and societal restrictions but also applied religious oppression on to the indigenous native communities. So we have this generational pain of invasions and colonization. But one cannot and must not discount the internal prejudice and abject application and exclusion due to the caste system that is often ignored in this conversation because it existed before the colonization, remained all through the colonial times and still exists as brahminical patriarchy, hierarchy and casteist exclusion.
While one may argue that it is an ‘internal issue’, it is particularly important to remember in present times because it is this internal prejudice that is the main cause of the distress that the country is facing today. A distress that is communal and is a distress where the oppressor is repeatedly pulling out singular incidents and citing instances of victimhood and persecution on the basis of imagined narratives and fabrications of poor quality news and media.
The current call for resistance against Hinduphobia never ever addresses the plight of the Dalits, Bahujans and the Adivasis. This refrain of Hinduphobia is always from the upper castes who simply refuse to acknowledge their privilege because they stand the risk of losing their sense of erstwhile security and power. In the west, they cry foul over anti-brownness and in India they bring in history to cry anti-Hinduism. Ask a Hindu Brahmin you know what they are doing to check their privilege and if they go and hug or shake hands with or sit and eat with their ‘lower caste’ house help, domestic workers, or others. Just ask…. and see them squirm. Check their friend list for any muslims? Do they ever extend any Eid greetings? Anything? For all the time they spend researching and scraping the wounds of the violent history of Islam and Christianity, perhaps if they spent half as much diligent research into the violence their own ancestors inflicted and still continue to inflict presently, it would be a start.
Yet, they speak about Hinduism and the desecration of Hindu symbols and idols. Do I feel the harm of Hindu symbols and rituals being misused in the west and in yoga? YES! I do! And you’ll see enough & more of my posts, talks and commentaries where I have called out those who have misused and humiliated Hindu symbolism.
But the current shout about being anti-Hindu in the protests and desecration of Om and deities during the civil protests in India and calling it Hinduphobia is not necessarily coming from a place of pain.
It comes from a place of claiming ownership and of manipulation. It is rage – not sacred rage, mind you! It is not spiritual rage. It is a rage of ‘us’ v/s ‘them’. THEY are desecrating OUR idols and OUR DEITIES… but even the Bhagavad Gita and the Devi Bhagwatam speak of the idol being just an external representation of the ONE within. So whatever form is man made, while sacred for those who follow it, is irrelevant to the Divine.
Are these custodians actually saying that the Divine, who is all encompassing and benevolent, unlike the Old Testament God who is angered, is actually hurt by mere mortal stupidity? Where does Hindu philosophy of karuna and nirlipta come in here?
No, this propaganda is merely one of their personal angst and a personification of their own fury and prejudice that is being directed through the lens of religious anger. Extremists exist in every religion – there are Christian extremists, Muslim extremists, Hindu extremists, Sikh extremists, Jewish extremists… Extremists are not the exemplars of the faith within the religion. But every time this us v/s them strain is repeated, it just propagates the misunderstanding that the entire religion is extremist.
And that is just wrong.
I hear some people repeatedly speak about Hinduphobia but never reference their own Islamophobia, even in passing. I was reading through a couple of social media posts today that made me feel physically sick. The author & commentators openly dissected a protest incident and in minutes created a scenario on what, according to them, the protester in the image thought and how it is ‘definitely‘ a way of ‘Hinduism bowing down to Islam‘. The conversation was insistent on making people on the thread buy that idea of an unknown protester in a newsclip being a Hindu hater. Within minutes, eveyrone on the thread was furious at the audacity and how everything was all about a hatred of Hindus. It was instigation happening right in front of my eyes (who cares about what the protestor really thought?!). Who really cares about what the protest itself was all about?
Another facebook author was angry with a movie that is scheduled to release soon about an acid attack survivor. His anger was based on a story published (on a routinely biased and incendiary pro-right website) that suggested that the movie makers had bowed down to Islam and changed the attacker’s name in the script from a Muslim name to a Hindu one. The already emotionally charged readership swallowed it hook, line and sinker and made a noise about anti-Hindu and derailed the social message completely. Why? Are Hindu men not violent and abusive? Has no Hindu man ever been criminal enough to engage in an acid attack? Funnily enough, after the fact check was publicized, the rumor was found to be factually incorrect. The pro-right website promptly removed the article and replaced it with a more factual story to cover their tracks.
In the recent horrendous rape story in Hyderabad, it was the one Muslim accused who was highlighted but his three Hindu partners in crime were not showcased. Why? Aren’t all three equally responsible for their horrendous act? This mis-centering is rampant in Indian media where minority accused or criminals are labelled to generate an emotive response as opposed to justice.
Honestly, ordinary Indians live very peacefully and coexist happily until these extremists come in and sow the seeds of doubt, mistrust and anger and instigate feelings of anger against their non-Hindu friends and neighbors. Why? The reason boils down, one way or the other to of the Mughals, British & Portuguese, Muslims invaders and other colonizers who pillaged, plundered and violated our ancestors and executed forced conversions. We are coerced into feeling and holding on to the pain and anger of a historical memory and we are left holding on to that pain and anger.
We are constantly reminded of the painful violence of Muslim and Christian conversions, of how the missionaries came and violently converted our indigenous ancestors. I say OUR ancestors because I am a descendant of one of these converts. I know of the history from what I have read and researched of my community. It is a bloody history. It is terribly painful and I couldn’t sleep for a few days after finding out.
It is my history and yes, it is horrifying.
But, I am born into a Christian family today. My ancestors were Hindu Brahmins, but we are not. We are one of the Christian minority families are survivors of the violence that is being spoken about. We are the descendants of those traumatized Hindus who had been forcibly converted.
Likewise, the muslim community is being targeted for the Mughal invasions of hundreds of years ago.
But, in today’s narrative, it is none other than us who are being bullied and traumatized as if to be held answerable for the trauma that was caused. We are being held accountable for the crimes that were perpetrated on our own grandfathers and ancestors.
Seriously, how stupid is that?
I speak of this here because the narrative of anti-Hindu is one you will hear often in yoga. We see appropriation by white and western populations of Indian culture, which is often sacred Hindu symbolism. Desi voices speak out about it – the harm felt because of it. It is valid and it hurts Hindu sentiments. It hurts Indian sentiments too.
But to apply the Hindu anger on account of being a minority in the west to Indian non-Hindus is simply absurd.
Hindus are not a minority in India. Hinduphobia is India is practically non existent. But you will find nationalists and fundamentalists shouting it from the rooftops to sway the sympathy meter with one or two choice images and biased and incendiary article links. They provoke, poke and prod their audience to feel the anger and rage and fury and insecurity… and hold on to it. Unlike what yoga and Hindu philosophy speaks about emotions, they encourage people to hold on to their anger and keep stoking this with endless essays of justification.
They feel fear of their privilege being questioned. What you, dear white people, constantly hear of as white fragility, is just the same thing that they feel. The fragility of supremacy and privilege being dismantled right in front of their eyes.
Worse, one may find essays over wordy essays to prove the existence of Hinduphobia. In fact, what is often spoken of as White Christian supremacy in the West is the exactly what is Hindu supremacy in India where Christians are a minuscule minority. Note that the native Christians in India are not white. So, in simple terms, they are just oppressing and pushing on the agenda of anger and hatred against their own people!
Do some Christian missionaries try to convert? They do! It is their job to do it… One may call it their dharma to do so. And they are bloody irritating, but they do not come door to door all over India. But then again, India is a huge country and maybe they do crazy things in other smaller places – especially the non denominational groups. But I see these one off crazy things collected and shared as media that insinuates that ALL Christians and Muslims do that. That is both an unfair and reductionist view.
During Indian festivals, we have various Hindu committees going to every house collecting mandatory donations for Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri or Dusserah and Diwali funds and all families make an offering. They do this as a community. Because we celebrate each others festivals as a whole community. We eat, drink, celebrate and wish each other for Diwali, Eid and Christmas. And we mourn collectively for victims of horrific crimes and we protest together as a country against that which is divisive.
Yet, our weakness is in our vulnerability to communal threat.
Ask a resident Hindu for a first hand experience of anti-Hindu violence or threat unless it is where they have instigated it (very likely they won’t admit to that). Ask a minority for a first hand experience of aggression & microagression in the face of Hindu supremacy (unless they have also instigated it, which is also rare but very likely they wont admit to that either). Ask people of the DBA community and make up your mind. I am from the minority in India and I have experienced it multiple times over many years! It is damning, shaming and horrendous.
I’m not the only one.
There are countless experiences day in & day out and yet, we are made to feel guilty because of our faith and are made to feel inferior because of historical crimes (that we do not condone or agree with even!). But people today are being held accountable and answerable for crimes of the past… of which they themselves are the survivors, generational trauma nonwithstanding!
It is 100 times worse (or maybe more) for the DBA community. I really cannot claim to know of their experience & trauma because I don’t. In comparison, I still remain a highly privileged Indian.
And just like that the existence of Hindu supremacy is denied and whataboutery ensues.
It is toxic this whole thing and the price of my silence would weigh on me heavily if I didn’t at least appeal to whoever reads this to please think.
Use your discretion.
Use your sensibility.
Yes, if you’re a white or white-passing person, please check your privilege, but use your discernment to consider the privilege within the Indian community too. I’m not asking you to discount Indian voices, not at all, but be prudent with what your hear and see. Is their constantly angry voice that calls out Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu sentiments leaving you with anger or as a yogi / as a Hindu, does it offer you a way to transform this pain using yoga and Hindutva to create peace?
Are these voices just churning your anger and making you spew angry comment and after on social media or is it giving you an avenue to transmute it to something constructive and uniting? Are these desi / South Asian voices just breeding ground for bad-mouthing and name-calling other desi voices that they do not agree with – a mere slander fest that you are happily participating in under the guise of ‘calling out’? Isn’t there are more unifying way of dialogue that seeks to understand the other? Or is slander, finger pointing and name calling the only way out? All in the name of educating the ignorant?
If you are simply adding to 60 or more comments ridiculing alternative thinkers instead of finding it in you or assisting others to find a better way to deal with the pain, then you’re like just playing into the hands of an agenda that is not looking to create peace after all. Question that… what is the propaganda doing after all if not helping other yogis find a better way?
Politics is murky, yet, yoga is political (sigh! this is so painful to keep repeating, but it is what it is!)
Yoga is meant to touch your spirit and help you evolve. Please use your yoga to be mindful of your choices. Just like how human understanding & consciousness is a spectrum, so are our choices. Being pro-right or pro-left is neither a good or bad thing – it reflects how we think and choose. But ridiculing alternative thought is, well, an indication of a closed dialog. Extreme thought however is taking things too far and that comes at the price of eliminating contradictory thought.
Dialogue involves both sides speaking and both sides actively listening. Step back and watch the conversation (as it is usually online). If there is a facade of understanding or a illusion of dialogue which quickly disintegrates into a denigration of any other thought (or religion or belief apart from one’s own), then that is very likely one where communication or dialogue will not be entertained. Those are the spaces where echo chambers are plentiful – the cacophony of similar voices angrily shouting at each other about the other – resulting in stoking the fire of their own anger and discomfort. I’ve seen this in both extreme right and left quarters – both sides only perpetuating a narrative of anger and frustration, neither willing to concede to any effort at peaceful conversation.
The narrative of left or right – is the same everywhere – globally. It is human nature and a bent of mind. Cultural context plays a role but it cannot change an ideology. Harm is harm. When one is so hardened to think a particular way, they will find numerous ways to explain their stand – be it an extremist from the left or the right. It is who they are.
As yogis we aim to see the whole picture – not as a fence sitting centrist – but a balanced, meta view – the bigger picture. It is a blend of the left & right towards the highest good. And that way, we choose our leaders. That way, we choose to lead our families, our communities, our organizations and our nations.
Not by force-feeding – of thought, opinion or law. Not by taking sides. Not by listening to the loudest voice. But perhaps by listening to our quietest one – where we know what we truly stand for regardless of how others would see it. And be kind to yourself in the process.
Political agenda includes your power to support in thought and action as well as with your financial resources. Please be mindful that your financial resources, in all your goodness, are not being manipulated into the wrong hands / the wrong organizations.
Finally, I ask you once again, to please stay tuned. Do your own research – not all Indian media is reliable or unbiased – and the far right / far left media are anyway both biased and unethical in their reporting. And of course, not everything your Desi friends post on social media is unbiased. However, I personally find it interesting to check those very websites that one side strongly castigates as it usually shines light on an aspect that the they seem to be denying. It also gives me insight into the way I think & process information and the kind of information I accept as well as the different ways my friends, acquaintances and those of opposite mindset think.
Politics aside, we still need to live with people and understanding each other will never have a down side. My faith in people, hard though it is, hopefully will stand the test of time!
I’ve been quietly simmering and sitting with my fears for the past many days. It hasn’t been easy. Some days I’ve wanted to just let go of it all. But yoga is much more than emotional balance for me. It is also much more than its political influence. It makes me who I am. It pushes me to anger and frustration but it also gently coaxes me back into its fold.
I close with some of my notes from my Sankhya lessons that I opened up this morning. These are notes from 2018. The pages spoke of perception (pratyakṣa) and how non-perception occurred when one was either too close or too far from the object perceived. He also spoke about how yogin who have put in the earnest work have no emotion and hence no bias to perception ie they are Yogajapratyakṣa – yogic perception, something I know I am still far away from that – that many of us are still far away from achieving. It remains an aspiration in the face of what we face today.
So we have yet another post on social media that is ringing the bells – church bells this time! This post from Yoga Faith claiming that yogic practices & postures are from the Bible and they are out to reclaim them.
Ok.. so this is so not done. SO not done that it is hilariously ridiculous. And if it weren’t for the flu then I would have responded to this earlier – but then yesterday happened. The whole morning & much of the afternoon I sat with this ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach because the day opened me up to various facets of this conversation and the experience of hurt, harm & pain was direct.
I’ll be honest, I’m not usually this sensitive, so maybe it had something to do with the Autumn Equinox. Jokes apart, though, I was very disturbed over the many comments that this post generated to the point that I was eventually reduced to tears of hurt & pain. I recall telling myself that this was just another appropriation incident and that it was absurd for me to take it so personally. But I just could not bear it. Eventually, my 17-yr-old noticed my tears and realized that somewhere, somehow, something that wounded me quite deeply.
So as is my wont, I chose to share it here – because sometimes it is this raw pain when shared brings hope for change.
Firstly, about this whole Christian Yoga / Yoga Faith spiel – I think it is definitely a case of misunderstood scriptures by a group of (probably) well meaning folks who picked the wrong practice to appropriate. I think dragging in yoga was uncalled for. Yoga is a spiritual practice long established and existing way before the documented Vedic period in the Indo Gangetic plains. For Yoga Faith to claim, with much audacity, that the roots exist in the Bible because of the meditation & chanting practices mentioned there is preposterous. Blatant appropriation by a white Christian outfit needed calling out and I see that it did happen – a number of my friends and colleagues voiced their feelings ranging from outrage to hurt through various channels of social media.
I was nursing my children back to health after a nasty flu episode. I followed the comments occasionally, but I passed joining in.
But then a couple of very interesting dynamics started playing out. As the dust around the immediate post reaction settled and Yoga Faith issued their quasi apology (pfft! another #eyeroll accompanied by a #facepalm), pockets of conversations on my groups & social media all started with the post-incident chatter.
I woke up to a chat window full of enraged comments at the Yoga Faith apology note and later saw that same apology note torn apart in some other social media groups & threads as well. To some extent it was sensible critique, but soon enough the criticism moved away from specifics to include a generalized group of people – Christians. Mockery and wordplay around christian words and practices including a fair amount of blasphemy directed towards Jesus & other christian terms. I recall sharing outrage in the past over Hindu deities images on bathroom mats but was surprised at having these same people wilfully engaging in exact same volleys without a moment’s hesitation or… empathy… because it is a different religion now? An eye for an eye….
Here’s the punch line – I am Christian by birth. I may not be a 100% actively practicing Christian and may have a 99% leaning towards spiritual philosophy instead of organized religion, but, my faith and deeply personal contemplation does happen as a Christian. And to that effect, those conversations caused pain – and not just tiny wound flecks, but larger hurtful ones.
So, although I still believe that Yoga Faith messed up and hope that they offer a better response and apology eventually, I’ll share here again what I have always said – numerous times. Since my yoga journey, and having read the Bhagvad Gita, I have found immense understanding of my faith – not my religion, my faith. Maybe a part of it is Christian faith, and so be it, but it has not got anything to do with the rites & rituals of the church.
I came across Yoga Faith’s Facebook page and posts indicating yoga asanas captioned with Bible verses as if to equate one with the other. Now, while drawing a connection to yoga from personal experience is open to all, but claiming its heritage to a Biblical verse for ustrasana – no thank you. This is when I’d like to remind Yoga Faith that a great many churches have been spending many years vilifying yoga and yogic practices – so no, save the story… really.
Having said that, there is one part of Yoga Faith’s initial post that I understood – the part on meditation & chanting being in the Bible. And that is true… but that is also true of any other spiritual tradition and/or religion where communing with the Higher self, the Divine involves deep meditative and contemplative practices. Hymns are sung, prayers chanted, and repetitive prayers akin to mantras are chanted on a rosary or maala or tasbih or dhikr. This is true of Hindu, Christian, Muslim practices. I can’t speak for other religions as I do not know. They are not wrong to say that these practices were mentioned in the Bible – especially in the Old Testament – but again, they are silly to claim that the seated postures are described in any details in the the Bible. Sitting at the feet of a master, kneeling or standing do not in any way indicate that Biblical characters were practicing yoga asanas (please allow me another #eyeroll).
What needs to be also remembered is that Jesus was from the Middle East in Asia and I feel that there were many practices that Jesus performed that are rememble yoga. Yoga and yogic philosophy is a Vedic darshana. The arrival or origin of yogic or other practices to/in the Indo Gangetic plain or their spread from the Indo Gangetic plain spread it to other places is still unclear. But the commonality of the region makes is quite possible to have very similar postures of reverence and spiritual obeisance. But conjecture aside, yoga as we know it today, remains to be the practice that has been preserved and conveyed down lineages and traditions from India and Indian sources and as an Indian Yoga teacher (although Christian), I would ardently stand by that to refute Yoga Faith’s unbased claims.
Now, there is also my own personal reflection of how I was able to connect the esoteric and thought philosophies of the Gita and yoga to Christian philosophy – both being very different from Hindu or Christian or other religious rites & rituals. As a philosopher, there are numerous schools of thought, including teachings of Yogananda Paramahansa and other core Krishna schools, where Christ consciousness & Krishna consciousness are considered similar, if not the same – any differences being attributed to the culture of the geographies.
All of this is accepted history and ongoing debate & I get it. Yet, what hurt me was the intensity and harmful statements that were made. The ones that were made without knowing my background allowed me to see the anger, some of it without having full facts and yet allowing me space to share and speak. Those didn’t cause me as much pain. Yet two specific experiences did, and both included me voicing out the harm I was experiencing at the choice of words and sentiments from the majority in the conversations – Hindus (some yogis others not).
It is important to this blog post to specify that the narrative took a Hindu rhetoric instead of a yogic or an Indian one – because the argument cannot stand as Indian v/s Christian (national v/s religious) – to be on par, it had to get to the the Hindu v/s Christian narrative of this entire yoga story.
I could handle that part too.
Until things got ugly. Because it really didn’t take long for the usual suspects of mockery, name-calling and bigotry to start its play. I have seen enough of this sectarian instigation over the course of Indian politics earlier this year and seen many social media trolls hijack innocent posts and engage in bullying and groupism – all in the name of saving ‘yoga’ or ‘Indian culture’ as if to say that if you weren’t a Hindu you were ‘lesser than’ or that you were in a way ‘less Indian’ or ‘less patriotic’ or whatever. The assumption that by way of being born a Christian, I was being supportive of Yoga Faith was just the start of it. My yogic perspective and/or my other points of intersection was cast aside – especially as they were potentially going to defuse the anger that they wanted to continue stoking.
And then came the gas-lighting. Mind you – no apology was ever offered for the harm that I just voiced having experience – not even a half-assed one. Instead there was something on the lines of, “How dare you point a finger at my friends who were mocking you? They are free to voice their opinion on my page since I may agree to some parts of it.” What was left unsaid is that, ‘Since my friends’ bigoted views match mine and we can laugh about it, they are free to opine, but your opinions are not welcome here and you are not supposed to take offense, even though you are also supposed to be my friend.’ Other comments were on the lines of, ‘I’m a Christian and I didn’t feel offended by these jokes so why should you? My faith is stronger & can withstand such mockery….’ And the priceless one, ‘I thought you are a mature and light hearted soul….but….‘
Then there was a last attempt at drawing sarcastic, dark humor at my ancestry and ethnicity – another very common engagement, if not in public forums, then most definitely in private groups and chambers. Anyway, that stung. And my ‘friend’ found nothing wrong in any of it – except for a last comment asking that since she didn’t mean disrespect to anyone and least of all to me, for being her teacher. I think that is what dug the nail right in. The sentimentality of it all – the last straw. I broke.
The conversation went on to democracy and their individual’s right to mock others if they felt like it. This is where it started really making me physically sick. This group of people felt it was their constitutional right to freedom to mock others.
Now here’s where the political needle spins. This conversation is happening in India. And these are Hindus – the ethnopolitical group in power, the majority. And on the other side two of us on the receiving end of this mockery – the minority. It was this dynamics that was in play – whether they knew it or not, it was… because everything that happened on that thread is what everyone in the west calls a supremacist attitude of oppression due to the power of privilege– make that unchecked privilege.
As an audience it is important for us to work against supremacy and unchecked privilege. Please bear in mind that I always speak for yoga, but in this skewed yoga industry where everything in the WEST seems to be of relevance, the Indian narrative is often forgotten. The Hindu narrative of yoga in the West where Indians & South Asians are considered the marginalised minority, in India they are not – they are the majority and engage in as much of a supremacist attitude just like the larger white population in the western world do. It is this unchecked privilege that is used every.single.time. and they can get away with it – and in the western context, the marginalized are being given a platform to speak.
I have tried on various forums to indicate how many NRIs (Non Resident Indians) engage in this political instigation by gathering white allies who have let go of their Christian identity by their own choice (good for them!), who have found renewed faith in Hindu philosophy (again, great going if they’re happy, go for it!) but who then go on to blindly follow these individuals with skewed supremacist views without knowing the cultural politics that occur on ground in India – they’re just removing white supremacy and replanting it with their allyship in India. I once mildly suggested that people watch out of the ‘brainwashing’ to which I was patronizingly replied, ‘Don’t worry, Luvena, I can’t get brainwashed that easily!‘
Gosh! Did I just vent? I guess I did… it was just too much… too much for me to handle yesterday. I cried from the hurt of being shamed and for the refusal of a ‘yogi‘ to see the harm that was being perpetuated. I was hurt by a student who pulled the rug from under my feet. I don’t know which one was worse – was it the mockery, the humiliation or the open agreement by liking the mocking posts and at the same time continuing to victim shame. Maybe the romantic in me felt humiliated by a student, who was also a friend. Regardless, I took it personally. I was offended. I was hurt.
This is ugly – this happens.
So, to the white people reading my blog post – here’s an invitation. The next time an Indian/SA yoga teacher speaks, please use your discernment. We all have diverse views, ideologies and sentiments. Some of us are far right-wing fundamentalists, others are far left leaning, yet others are neutral and many others just don’t care. Not all of us are Hindus – we have Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, atheists, etc too and some of us are yogis others are not. There are a group of severely marginalized communities in India who are not even considered in organized religions – the dalits, the bahujans and the adivasis – who are not included in these conversations of social order and hierachy. (I am aware that many DBA speak for themselves and I have better privilege in comparison and I do not wish to bring their story in to gain any advantage at their expense. But do learn about them.) It is beyond Hinduism but it is contemporary Indian.
Make an educated and informed call about how you would engage with us – what about us speaks to you? Is it our authenticity or is it our vulnerability in situations? It is OK if it is the lack of either too 🙂 Recognize that the ones considered a minority in the U.S. / UK / developed Western countries are largely the very affluent and privileged majority here in India and compared to the local residents and are not necessarily engaging in equitable practice always. Many of them live well cushioned lives in the west and assume a place of authority to speak on behalf of all Indians – especially the ones living in India! The do not! They also don’t necessarilygive back to their country as you would think they do but then they are often not expected to either. Do your homework. Ask questions. Be wary of the ones who gang up and bully others who do not agree with their POV or those who label any one with an alternate opinion as antinational or Hinduphobic. That is again not true, yet it is a commonplace argument. The moment you say anything that could pose as an alternative perspective it is labelled as Hinduphobic to shut down the conversation and effectively get the individual to second guess themselves and stimulate sympathy in the western audience. This, even if the person in question is Indian.
And to all of us, it would never hurt to be kind. Making a point, even a strong one doesn’t have to make anyone stoop so low that below the belt slurs and pejoratives are the only means with which you can operate. Slander and libel are not the way to create any kind of positive change – or is it that positive change is something that is not the goal?
India is diverse and the narrative is as diverse as her people. If you’re standing in solidarity with us, then please do add this to your list of work in this space. Until then, yes, Yoga Faith needs to do better.
After my blog post last week, I was overwhelmed by the supportive comments. It was a whirlwind of activity – and many shared the blog – possibly because the post contained raw emotion and anger. I couldn’t really explain all of it, but the parts that I could I did. While some of my other desi friends and I sat with these shared thoughts, we were all in agreement over the hurt and anger we felt. We were also deeply aware that the pain and rage – sacred rage – was towards a deeper, more historical and inherited past. It was the pain of our ancestors – one that has not necessarily healed with time.
As a people, we come from a region that is rich in spiritual nuance and tradition. It has also been a place of deep esoteric richness along with indigenous wisdom and knowledge that is beyond a place of logical cognition. Our land has been geo-politically transacted with over the centuries and by way of being ‘open‘ to external influences perhaps left the door open for too long with the idea of atithi devo bhava – अतिथिदेवो भव: – ‘The guest is God’.
Nevertheless, the colonial history of India is one that defines a lot of present day Indianness – the way we are presented to the world and also largely how we are ourselves. And we are not just what you see us to be. We are complex and diverse in what makes us the way we are. By and large, despite and in spite of all the domestic challenges in our country of origin, our inheritance is a deep imprint of that colonial past. Sadly, the generations immediately post colonization were left to barely pick up the pieces as the next few generations slowly tried to make sense of things . Not many of us recognize that our inherited trauma is slowly showing up today – some of us are unable to deal with the microaggressions that trigger this unindentifiable sense of violation, others see it but are not equipped with the tools to deal with it or challenge it… and then there are those, that slowly but strongly recognize the violation and voice out the inherited pain that is born of our history but presented in our today.
That is why we speak out. That is why I spoke out and said what I said.
And I am not done speaking just as yet.
We are defined by our history. We are sentimental about it too.
Colonization was not a joke – not even a dirty one dripping in dark humor. It was a period of demeaning humiliation, thievery, dominance, supremacy and an ongoing, deeply painful process of breaking down our confidence and making us strangers in our own land, deeming us undeserving of the right to our own property and constantly being at the mercy of the white saheb. The guest we welcomed into our homes had turned into a lord who systematically tore away at our sense of individuality, culture, belief and identity. Our ancestors lived this reality and never really had an opportunity to claim the reparation for those crimes.
They just moved on, but the imprint of those aggressions have been conveyed down the generations initially by way of grudging ambivalence and the obvious social, psychological and cultural sense of inferiority. However, one lasting impact of colonization and the post-colonial experience is that while the colonized people are still reeling with their inherited postcolonial trauma and learning how to deal with it in the current generation, the attitude of supremacy amongst those who were conditioned to benefit from it has not been dismantled. The bias, micro and macroaggressions continue to happen, unconsciously as well as intentionally – often coming from a place of strong denial and resistance / reluctance to see the harm that one has caused. Many of us are all too familiar with present day descendants of the colonized who have an attitude of inferiority around white people. I have seen it often in many of my parents’ generation. I think I may have observed it in some instances with my parents too. But, it happens. All.the.time.
That condescension well smothered in the wrapping of logic and movement science is exactly where that blog post went last week and had gripped us right where it hurts the most. The frustrating part is that the OP as well as her supporters are all seemingly logical academics who choose to defend the original article. They are also very likely the ones who choose to continue this humiliation and continue to sell their brand and benefit from yoga – the term as well as the bastardized practice that is left in their possession. Their tendency seems to exclude from the practice any and all spiritual context, nuance or sentiment and a refusal to see that the yogic culture is based on just that.
Yoga cannot be explained through a logical movement science process. Asanas may be approached by body movement science principles, but body movement can not and will not be yoga. Especially not the modern innovated practices. The reason is that yoga is not just the asana version of postural practice that the left-brained western world wants it to be – so that it can make sense to them. So, most of the western teachers who are looking at yoga are looking at it solely as a physical practice to understand the accessibility of asana and it stops them right there. They are stopped at the rupa of the practice where the whole purpose of yoga, and even asana for that matter, is to get in touch with the arupa and no amount of movement science and anatomy can help us figure that out. Building a yoga anatomy concept of breaking down asana into a logical buddhi based approach is only satisfying the kama manas and intelligence. Staying put there will keep the practitioner in a fragmented state of understanding the individual pieces of the jigsaw and not allow you to evolve into a meta Manas view. Yoga takes evolution away from the logic based fragmented ‘physical’ to the united, whole view of the non-local, non-logical.
So, while creating a brand new, innovative movement practice is seemingly available to all, please refrain from calling it yoga…. which has a systematic path in various lineages and traditions spread all over India. Some of these traditions are well known and others remain sacredly guarded wisdom. So, as far as Krishnamacharya’s influence goes, there is much that he knew and experienced as an Indian under colonial rule to know what he was doing when he gave yoga to the western world. A part of the world that was only interested in taking what was not theirs to take, to fragment it even further and still call it yoga. All in the name of logic.
I can feel my frustration here enough to say that if one wants logic, go pick on ballet and gymnastics – there should be sufficient practices from the Eurocentric white world that will benefit from this approach. Why not leave yoga to the illogical, emotionally charged desis who are the inheritors of the practice after all? Why go into our homes and say our interior decor is all wrong? And then go on to humiliate us after allowing you to come in and pilfer?
Not all critique needs to be logical. Nuance and sentiment plays a big role. And again, if one does not appreciate the energetics and emotions behind yoga, the practice, the culture and the history behind it all (yes, they all have to be considered in the same breath)…. well, why not just leave it and go do something else! Or.. just don’t call it yoga so you can sell an exotic practice steeped in Orientalism. Why is that so hard to get? Why do we have to keep hearing arguments on why it is OK for people to steal?
Phew! deep breath, Luvena…
Next, I spoke about the harm and hurt. Harm and hurt are not just physical. We all know that. Now, bring into the fold someone who finally, after generations of internalized pain and oppression, is strong enough to voice and shine light on hurt and harm caused by a white person.
Boom! What just happened?!
You see, this voice has been suppressed through oppressive behaviours for generations and eventually, someone would have to say, ‘Ouch! That hurts!‘ Right? Wrong!
When this voice is met with denial, resistance and a defensive explanation for why this hurt is misplaced, then the privilege is left unchecked and the individual has now, demonstrated to the voice that they are right in their actions, no apology offered, take a hike! The OP’s choice & style of response is open for everyone to see. It is not secret – the blog and other social media posts are all under public settings. This attitude of ignoring the voices of concern from the people who are voicing their hurt is problematic. I don’t need to explain the logic behind it now, do I?
It is disrespectful, condescending and outright haughty. The OP’s ready engagement with all the supportive comments from other white people who found nothing wrong along with the ready tip to ‘please ignore these voices that speak up‘ was … *lost for words here* – maybe my logic driven academic friends would help me find a word here for this feeling?
So yes, we are voicing hurt feelings and in the face of those who say, ‘Don’t just say you’re hurt, prove it with facts and figures and rational observations’. I wish I had words to express the deep shame and lack we feel when we are trying to say that there is no quantitative figure to the experience of what we are being made to endure.
A lot of yoga, yogic thought, our culture and practices are steeped in bhava – bhava that cannot be accounted for. We are finally voicing the hurt that our ancestors experienced and are looking to heal from it. It is our inheritance, this pain. And many of us, today, are looking to heal this wound for ourselves, our children and for our ancestors. It is how we are wired. It is what we do – as a people.
We do not expect you to fully understand it. It isn’t exactly logical to understand, but we do appeal to you to at least step out of your inherited sense of superiority and privilege and realize that we come from a place of non-logical sanskaras and for that, we ask that you respect our pain. Yes, you do need to sit with this discomfort but ignoring us and our concerns is not going to shun or shoo us away like a pest (yes, you made us feel that way – I’m speaking to you, Jenni Rawlings. You may have made a seemingly logical but ill-researched, self-serving post, but you made us experience deep hurt by picking on an old wound only to make it bleed afresh.)
And so, we speak up – our voices are getting stronger and one will not be able to ignore us completely for much longer. We exist. We ARE. And we are because we carry that legacy of doing right the way we see it… the way we feel it. Because we are called to. If you don’t agree, please step aside and make way. The victimization ends here. This is our journey to walk and complete and if you won’t help, then please don’t add to the obstacles.
Credit to Jyoti Solanki (IG @jyotigini ) for helping me find the right image.
Ok, so this question is not for the yoga teachers & practitioners in India.. lol… So the context is more western… but do read on, either way, because it impacts all of us…
I recently spoke with a yogi of color who was associated, work-wise, with the pretty problematic lululemon & Yoga Journal. To the suggestion of divesting these whitewashed businesses of the opportunity to tokenise & monetize off desis & POC (and of course culturally appropriate), she asked me 2 very pertinent questions.
First, if there was a BIPOC brand with an equal global reach (comparable to lululemon and/or Yoga Journal)? And secondly, who would we have as role models to look up to if famous people of color like Naomi Campbell or Oprah had not connected to the labels and networks and brands that they did. She didn’t think she’d be where she is had she not seen brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal.
Funnily enough, Yoga Journal is always in hot water with the desi / BIPOCs simply because of their tone deafness & refusal to actively create change and showcase Desi & POC faces. lululemon similar stories. I have had peers, friends who have been working with these organizations for years to help their management from the inside out to help effect sensitized change – but…. yeah… but!
But today my thoughts are really drawn to the second comment this teacher made. Where would we be if we didn’t see brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal?
This is what I heard instead:
“Where would we be without Yoga Journal?”
“Would we be successful enough?”
“How would we have shot up to fame and fortune?”
Of course she didn’t say any of these words, but there is this undeniable sense of being saved by these white businesses because, hey! Are there any BIPOC businesses with that kind of reach?
Straight cut answer? No there aren’t!! But any guesses why??? Because the white washed YJs & lululemons have denied us that space – rightful space, if I may! The crumbs they offer by means of split cover images and the occasional brown face they sprinkle like seasoning being the few role models the community is expected to lap up in the name of diversity, inclusion and representation.
Her words bothered me – I felt the cut deep within.
So I’m going to say it out loud & louder one more time.
I’m a Desi yoga teacher. My voice is clear and needs to be heard. I am taking up my rightful space to speak up on behalf of myself and my community. This is a face & voice you need to hear in the conversation of yoga, culture & representation.
Because we desis exist! Because our contribution needs to be acknowledged and we aren’t just talking about asana here – we’re talking about a practice and a lifestyle.
We’re talking about us.
We don’t need the likes of Yoga Journal & lululemon to save us – but they do need to clean up their act. Don’t capitalize off us – UPLIFT us & offer a platform! Don’t tokenize by picking on one model who checks your box of corporate diversity, open your eyes & look at the wider array of people – real authentic people!!
But what am I getting at again? Is is a plea to white businesses to again take the cues and use it to strengthen their position without making the change? Maybe that is what would happen in some cases.. So what is the alternative?
Perhaps collectively supporting desi & BIPOC businesses and doing so consistently. We have all sorts of businesses – teachers, mental health providers, LGBTQIA+ activists, speakers, product craftspeople, educators, musicians….. so many of us doing such diverse things – inside & out of yoga. Support them… uplift them… engage with them…. with US!
I do see the need to work with whitewashed orgs, especially the ones who are looking at making changes from within and I am happy to help – as are many other teachers and activists in the field – but that alone is neither the solution nor the means. It has to be a multi-level and multi-pronged approach. Clean up the gentrification of yoga. Support, encourage and uplift the communities of the original people.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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….
Yesterday I streaked my hair an electric blue and magenta.
It was a deviation from my erstwhile choices of red, pink, purple – yes, still a bit outrageous, but in a sedate kind of way.
This time, it was blue (and magenta).
And not just blue (and magenta) – it was also a neat uber close crop on one side – a neat woman undercut to compete with my son’s from just the day before complete with sexy long fringe side swept and splashed with panels of electric blue (and magenta).
My mother loved it. My brother loved it. My kids love it. I love it.
So why this blog?
This blog, because I triggered a reaction – in some others and then, as I noticed it, in myself.
The reaction questioned my choice – the looks ranged from surprise, to appreciation, to a second-look and wow… and at the other end of the spectrum brinking on envy, nonchalance, refusal to meet my eye, or a quick look to my hair followed by an uncomfortable silence.
And these reactions were from other men and women alike.
Honestly, I was amused – really, I was. I was amused at the stark discomfort that some people felt at my extreme comfort I had in being me.
But more than amusement, it was the realization that stereotypes are always going to challenge a shift. And what exactly was the shift here?
3 panels of blue streaks?
So let’s see…. Did that make me any more or less of – a mom? or a mother of teens? a mother of three?? an Indian woman/ mother? a yogi? a yoga ‘teacher‘??
Or was it just that it was incomprehensible for a woman who ‘supposedly‘ facing so many challenges in life, to go out and have her hair done… and colored in an outrageously, wild and defiant color? Ermm… or was it just not fair for her to be unapologetically herself, happy, in-charge of her life, taking each day as it arrived every morning, fixing the fu*k-ups and still showing up to life – on and off the mat? With that 100-watt smile that is her trademark and a laughter more infectious that the viral that seems to be doing the rounds?
So what gives?
Either way, I don’t think my yoga mat disapproved. I don’t think my asana faltered any more in my arm balances than they were wont to. I don’t think my practice judged.
But I guess, somewhere in being triggered by the unspoken judgments where breaking free from preconceived ideas and stereotypes simply because of me being me, I had fallen prey to it.
And, well, it stirs the pot of upset and inner frustration. (Even yogis get upset and frustrated, in case you were wondering – at least contemporary yogis who can still call a spade a spade!)
But, well, operating from values mean a whole lot more than the trigger that upsets and frustrates. So, The Curvy Yogi still shows up – every day, every moment. She shows up with her flaws, with her imperfect perfection and her perfect imperfections…. she shows up with her mat and without, with her smile and her laugh and her gathered wisdom and learnt knowledge… and she shows up with that authenticity and integrity that form the crux of her being.
And yes, of course, she shows up as the Indian mom who teaches yoga and trains yoga instructors in electric blue & magenta hair!
I love it because it is so intuitive and customisable. I love it because it has been a flashlight showing up my personality, quality and traits… as well as my eccentricities, biases and not-to-favourable attributes.
As a pitta-kapha, I get to enjoy my spirited personality as well as diplomatic tact – I take my natural courage and spearhead through life, taking charge and moving forward headfirst into whatever I need to address- and then sit back and think about ‘what just happened‘ later.. Oh wait, that’s my Aries nature, I think.
Regardless, Ayurveda has taught me to understand myself much better. I’ve come to learn what I’m naturally good at and what I tremendously suck at.
Last week, was the time for reflection – no, it was time for some traits to reflect back on me…. and the week was brutal.
I’m not sure what exactly had caused the imbalance, but I was in a heightened mood of volatility – not angry or raging, but hot and intense. I was exacting, scrupulous and feverishly meticulous. And that was just the pitta speaking. When it came to flex, I was at my kapha best for being bull-headed and stubborn – reluctant to let go and angry at myself for being so.
My body rebelled by retaining a stubborn inflammation in my feet, that surprisingly would completely disappear during my asana time…. and the doctor’s question, “How is your stress life?” just about validated my suspicion that the inflammation was because of the stress that I was subjecting myself to.
I didn’t realise how harshly I was berating myself until I found myself, in the dumps of a bad day, speaking with a friend over some common work, rushing to save a sheet we were working on… but not before making sure all the alignments were proper and the bold & italics were in their rightful cells.
I was unwell, I was angry (at the blood report, at the doctor, at the suspected blood culprit, at the prospect of endless other tests…), and other appointments going for a toss,…. I was furious at being out of control… that I was ferociously and vehemently being stubborn to not give up until I had the mere Excel sheet under my control.
Was not a joke, no it wasn’t.
Imbalances are real – and even if you don’t subscribe to Ayurveda, our personalities are even more real. Our thoughts really do make up our reality and I realised that my thoughts were being critical – hypercritcal …
I realised that while yoga was helping me this week physically, I had skimped on the deeper aspect of yoga that I was not paying heed to.
While I was called to being compassionate and yogic as a principle, I was not applying it to me.
Oh, the kind of self-depreciation, self-doubting and self-criticising words I kept repeating in my head. Even my acceptance felt like it was just to challenge my own self. I was fighting with myself.
And I wasn’t going to back down.
Until that reflection really caught me like a deer caught in the headlights.
I caught myself.
And it was time to get down into the much to disentangle myself from this mesh of self-reproach and castigation.
I turned back to the mat – my confidante, my ally.
And I turned towards the philosophy of yoga – my yoga…. for that solace that comes from knowing it is a source of comfort and faith.
I chose to work through my imbalance and really allow the yama & niyama to work through me. I chose to allow myself to be kinder and more compassionate to myself – to soften my heart towards myself just as I would to others.
I’m reconnecting with myself this coming week – through the yama.
And I’ll be reminding myself to just be a little more gentle with me – this is a lot, this is work… Just let me be kind to myself as I go through this.