Accountability – an Introduction

When I was a child, growing up in Kuwait, my grandmother, whom I called Atta, had started teaching me to write Kannada. We didn’t go far over the years, but I was familiar with some of the letters. Mangalorean Konkani is written in the Kannada script and I was very familiar with Mama receiving letters from Atta after she had retired and left Kuwait. Atta had taught me to write my name too but I’d forgotten over the years.

A few weeks ago I started learning Kannada with a teacher. My mum and uncle were pleased and sweetly excited – them being naturally fluent…. and me sharing with them fun moments of learning baby steps of alphabets and svaras and vyanjanas etc.

So, my family comes from studying in the Kannada medium before moving to an English Convent High School.

Now, if you see this image 1, that is my handwriting after 4 weeks of Kannada. I’ve written LUVENA. To an untrained eye, with English as the primary language, I have some 6 squiggles corresponding to 6 English letters that MUST read ‘Luvena’! I mean, ‘Come on!!! This is Luvena, whose mother, uncle, Atta AND teacher have taught her Kannada letters!” How cool is that?! I clearly am putting out legit content on Social Media!!! Right?

Wrong!!

‘Luvena’ according to Mama, is correctly written as in image 2 – that’s HER handwriting. THIS overrides any BS I may insist that you believe even if I say Image 1 is correct – because it is wrong.

Now, imagine me trying to teach you to write your name in Kannada – when I clearly don’t know enough (but you don’t know that). And you definitely don’t know at all!

Tell me, do you think I’ll be causing you harm? Fraud, even? Or will you absolve me of any wrong doing thinking I was merely trying to uphold my culture and honor my roots? What would you feel? And then replace my Kannada story with Sanskrit. Would you hold me accountable or would you love me so much to allow me to continue with the misinformation because you’re my friend and worse, because I’m an Indian / Desi / SA / woman yoga teacher? Even if you’re a WP/ non native or a Kannadiga. Please post your responses below .. I need to understand my audience, my students.. and myself.

~ Om

The Break That Matters

I’m taking a break from Instagram for work starting today for a number of reasons. I’ve had lots of fun on Instagram with my yoga & philosophy work., meeting many colleagues, peers and fellow sadhakas who learn from each other. My students are mainly from IG and it serves as a great spot for connections and for sharing. The community has been very supportive.

But it has also opened me up to other sides of the story – largely the yoga story of yogaland – which, believe me, has very little to do with the land of yoga’s origin, and more to do with self-curated & self-oriented versions of the truth disguised as the self-declared ‘real thing’.

If you’re thinking I’m referring to White Supremacy in yoga – nope, that is a bigger problem that we all (even in India) are affected by because of colonization, capitalism and cultural appropriation. All these are hot buzzwords in Yogaland especially in the ‘South Asian’ or ‘Desi’ community because of being disenfranchised to participate fully & safely in their own practices…. but that isn’t where I’m headed.

My concern is with the assumption that ALL South Asians are yoga practitioners OR even teachers… and that ALL SA yoga practitioners / teachers are legit & qualified to teach yoga AND have the authority and legit information on the cultural, traditional, philosophical background of the breadth of yoga that is required to teach it. Yoga essentially may not have certifications, but there IS a process in qualifying teachers (that is not a 200 hr YTT/TTC course!)In the process of decolonizing yoga, the efforts are all focused on selling products to largely white people with purchasing power.

In the ask & process of passing the mic on to South Asian teachers, we have influential South Asians in the West holding the mic – which, to the white folks (who want to do better because they really want to…), seems to be authentic teaching with depth and honor and grace….. because the teaching is coming from a brown skinned South Asian teacher. 😑

But… BUT…..The problem is that not all yoga teachers come from authentic and traditional lineages that qualify them to teach yoga. That holds true EVEN in India – what are the odds that every Indian yoga teacher in the rest of the world has done the work (which means an immersion into a tradition, its lineage, the study – which never stops, btw, and has a backing from a solid foundation of all this under the guidance of a teacher…. and so much more) and not teach from the perspective of lived experience and the wisdom from those experiences. Yoga can be experienced through personal heart break, failed marriages, health conditions, etc but it CANNOT be taught through them. You can use them as examples but not indices that qualify you as a teacher!

So yes, there is a pain involved with my reason to pause from IG for a bit, which, at the moment is flying high on a wave of such nicely veiled and social media marketed ‘spiritual fraud’ at best (or worst) and while I choose to play no part in it, I recognize that the toxicity is bothering me while my students (even the most genuine ones) are lured into tapping into this in their search for authentic teachings. The love & light crafted language speaks beautifully to their pain and the assumption is that “this must be it!” 🙁

They couldn’t be further from the truth.

They’ve never heard me warn openly, though, so it is in a way my own doing, but that isn’t my style anyway. I’ll just keep it cryptic enough for people to do their homework themselves.

I’ve always suggested that people ASK questions, do the research and know that when they reach out to teachers, they don’t reach out to the hype of the ‘number of followers’- because you do know you can pay to get followers, right?

Anyway, sharing this because MAYBE you would be drawn to yoga some day – sooner or later – maybe never! Or maybe someone you know and care about might? Then remember:

1. Ask your questions… be a smart shopper/consumer if that is your preferred word.

2. Read the teacher’s bio. Does it include their teachers name? Does it include their lineage / tradition they belong to? If it does – Google the lineage name – does it make sense to you? Some vague randomness is not a lineage. Just because an Indian sounding name added with a ji or maa added to it doesn’t make it authentic or indigenous either. My domestic staff’s name is Devi – she has no idea about yoga or asana or anything apart from her rituals & practices. Yet, I can easily say Devi is my teacher and get away with it if people don’t know better and ask me. Yogic traditions exist because students share openly about their teachers. If said teachers are vague about it – chances are, well, you know what the chances are, don’t you?

3. It’s OK if they haven’t had a formal teacher but teach asana after having learnt from many other non indigenous teachers. It is OK. But, be honest and say that – don’t fake a lineage, because…

4. If you don’t belong to a lineage that teaches the wisdom in a particular sampradaya, then you do not have the authority to teach it.

5. Worse, they shouldn’t be capitalizing on it!

6. Even worse, they shouldn’t be butchering the tradition if they themselves do not know how to pronounce, practice or align with it.

7. You don’t have to dress up as an Indian to look the part. Being real shows up better than sanskaari outfits.

In all my time on social media and listening to various ‘yoga teachers’ who are lauded & applauded, I have come across only 3 teachers who are on IG & Facebook with a solid background in their study and practice and worth their salt – of these 2 are of Indian origin. I don’t think any of them have over 4/5000 followers (yet!) – I wish they did. There are many other acharyas doing the seva in teaching here in India- daily. I am currently studying with 6 such teachers (1 is on Instagram and has a few hundred followers) – but the depth of their class!!! mind blowing!

If you’re thinking that you don’t want to have all the jnana (wisdom) of yoga & just want to do some asana for flexibility & back pain – and so the above points might not apply to you, actually, they do. If you’re thinking this doesn’t affect yoga in India, it does.

When Indian teachers who maintain the true form of the teaching are not given their voice & platform & who are instead spoken for by people who do not have the qualification to teach it, a couple of things happen:

a. The culture & tradition that these teachers so want to preserve gets trampled & distorted due to incorrect translation having applied lived experience instead of the actual teaching of the sampradaya.

b. Socio-cultural currency is transferred into the hands of poorly or unqualified but appropriately brown skinned tokenized teachers.

c. We like to buy back phoren goods – we like to buy the fancy phoren yoga too. I’ve seen it, I know it. I was once asked by a local yoga teacher if I knew Kino. I didn’t at the time. They told me that her videos were popular and I should look at them etc. I failed to understand why I needed to. This, from an Indian yoga teacher.

This has not been an easy post. This also, will invite many to question my observation. This post will also invite DMs asking if I am speaking about X or Y or Z. (I’ll ask them to do their research) This post will also invite DMs saying that I am right or wrong.

Bottom line, I don’t really care about fragility at this point in time because self- reflection clearly has been a missing trait. Satya, Asteya, Aparigraha…. everything has been trampled upon. I’m staying true to dharma. Let the rest take care of itself.

And we talk about Ahimsa? Well, ahimsa has not even been considered! The harm that is caused by individuals who cash in on social media popularity is deep and I am deeply hurt by it for my students and for those who may reach out to yoga sometime. The need for integrity and authenticity in yoga is something that needs to exist – otherwise, we might as well write our own texts and teach them! No accountability expected!

If you’ve heard me out this far in my ‘yogic’ rant. Thank you for your time & patience – whether you agree with me or not. 🙏🏻

Day 11: My Yoga – My Ethics – My Actions

Image result for ethics yoga

There were 2 prompts to today’s challenge truth.

Where have you forgotten what yoga is? Where are you remembering who you are with your ethics and action?

As I pondered over them, I was a bit flustered as I tried to understand where I had forgotten what yoga is. It is an uncomfortable question for a yoga teacher to really reflect upon. So I sat with it. The second question was easier to answer when you thought about it. To sit with it and see how it sat within you and what surfaced…? Different story.

So I sat with these questions knowing that somehow an answer would emerge.

By mid-morning, a friend connected me to an argument on social media about body diversity and body acceptance. I knew what I had to say, I knew what I was being called to do.

But I paused as I questioned myself, “Is this a battle to pick? Is it worth it?”

Every cell in my body knew that I had to bring a voice of reason from the pavilion, so I took another pause to consider what I actually wanted to say. I trusted my tact as well as my ability to diplomatically be able to put some ‘diversity & inclusion’ thought into that discussion.

Where have you forgotten what yoga is? Where are you remembering who you are with your ethics and action?

I think I have come to that point in life where my yoga practice is starting to show up as shades of my personality and who I really am, and not necessarily talking about my asana. Still evolving, of course, but grounded in that strength and knowing. I often forget that I have the backing of this wisdom that allows me to stand, but slowly, I remember that too. The power of that wisdom and the grounding in those values is that strong – I sense it now. But I recognize that I have to remind myself often.

To be steadfast with that moral compass of doing what is ethical and with integrity… that is yoga. Not an easy path… uh-huh… but worth the effort… and definitely worth the impact.


 

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.