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….

This thing called ‘Consent’

As part of Teaching Methodology, I’ve been talking about ‘Consent’ in my recent YTTs (Yoga Teacher Trainings) over the past few weeks. As an Indian yoga teaching in India). All I can say is that as a concept the whole idea of consent in the Indian culture, is sadly, just raising its head. In my observation, there are 2 major things at play here:

  1. The realization that an individual (as well as a yoga practitioner) has agency. (considering the rampant patriarchal bias), and,
  2. The status of a teacher in Indian culture – very elevated (all the more for spiritual gurus and, well, yoga teachers.)

In the Indian context, somewhere along the line, women have been objectified and the basic sense of body boundaries seems to have been lost. This is not the general rule – but socio-culturally, this has been an after-effect of patriarchy. And we see this in varying shades across economic strata.

For women (and yoga practitioners) to become aware that they actually do have a say in who can touch them, where, when and how much, how often, etc, is a new thing. Almost all women who come into yoga studios have a history of abuse, eve-teasing, being groped, cat-called, molested, sexually assaulted or even raped. Sadly, many of them have usually normalized the injurious and traumatic touch with a ‘cant-do-anything-about-it’ attitude. So teaching them about consent and that they can refuse touch is a big thing – novel approach, but much needed.

Even if it means saying no to touch – with sexual connotations or not.

Secondly, the Indian culture, even in modern education systems, largely place teachers on a very high pedestal. This is true even, or more so, for yoga teachers, who are confusingly seen as highly evolved beings who can do no wrong. The irony, of course, they also see them are individuals who possibly do not need to be paid for their seva. (“Wait, isn’t yoga supposed to be free?”)

Anyway, this is important in a yoga class setting, especially in an Indian yoga class context because many practitioners come in with both these beliefs – that they can’t say, ‘No’ to touch and/or manual adjustments if they feel uncomfortable and definitely not say, “no” to a yoga teacher!!

So the western yoga community has come up with this innovative tool, a prospective accessory that yoga classes may choose to use – consent cards – offered to practitioners in studios with the intention of allowing them to let the teacher know if they welcome hands-on adjustments / touch or not.

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Picture Credit: https://kindyoga.com.au/

I’ve raised the concept of consent cards with my YTT students and they seem to be confused in how to use them – the application of consent is tough. I wonder myself how convenient they would be for me to use, because I can be very clear with making my consent or dissent known, but consent cards / stones, might be a distraction. Plus, and this is more important to note that a card can only give so much consent – further experience in the adjustment is only when it happens – how much adjustment is too much? When does the practitioner refuse the adjustment? Is it Ok to refuse adjustment after agreeing to it earlier or even after turning the YES face up?

Well, like all things consensual, the practitioner has the right to refuse manual adjustment or any touch at any point in time

I cannot stress this enough.

Here’s what I suggest teachers do:

Seek consent at the beginning of the class, and definitely during class if you want to offer an adjustment. But my #1 philosophy to train them in is – to simply avoid manual adjustments altogether.

Also, I feel that a 200-hr (RYT200 / YTT200) certification is just not adequate to fully understand manual adjustments and how to offer them because bodies are so different and yoga teachers learn a lot from experience and deeper training. It helps to learn from classroom continuing education as well as self-study and experience, about trauma-sensitivity, mindful teaching and the fact that people are not just their bodies, they are a body with a mind, a spirit and deep and rich emotional history to consider.

So, with the Indian context, I believe we have to address two things here.

Firstly, to educate our practitioners about boundaries and agency (though this doesn’t always come under yoga teaching), but it is important to empower them that way… and secondly, more importantly, to be sensitive to the fact that our society in itself is looking at change – and changing a culture can only happen by engagement, education and walking the talk.

Day 10: Shining Light – Celebrating Diversity

I’ve always believed that yoga teachers need to be a community first and foremost, lifting each other up, supporting & referring each other. I’ve found that trusting and entrusting in each other builds a community based on oneness and inter-dependency where the whole community and the society at large benefit.

As part of my Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge, today is to really shine light on some of those teachers who lift me up and those who need a major shoutout for the work they do and are not normally in the spotlight. I have a few to name & many of them are not even on Social Media – so this is what I’m going to do – I’m going to showcase their work periodically for the awesomeness that they bring into the world & community. Today, this is all about this lovely yogi who brings everything she has to the work she does. Our relationship evolved from a teacher-student one to a present-moment fantastic friendship and I love her all the more because she probably started the Luvena Fan Club (hahahah!) –  Annelise Piers is a hippi-by-heart yogi with a deep driven passion to help women through yoga and aromatherapy. She creates magic potions and always, ALWAYS gives from her heart. She is one of my dearest friends and I think her touch is beautifully healing – on and off the mat! Love you, Anna!!

 


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

I Teach Yoga – with Electric Blue Hair

whatsapp-image-2018-09-28-at-10-42-27.jpegYesterday 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!

Namaste