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. 🙏🏻

Where Are The Indian/SA/BIPOC ‘Safe’ Asana Teachers?

jenni 2

Gosh! Believe me when I say this: I am not following Jenni Rawlings or her blog. But, this link to her latest blog post 7 Prominent Yogis Weigh in on Yoga Injuries and What to Do About Them was shared on a group I am a part of with the comment that the member found it concerning that there were no POCs of prominence featured here. Anyway, someone tagged me – yes, me, the Indian teacher, not a prominent one – and clearly not white or white-passing, so not eligible to have anything constructive to add to this blog, I suppose.

Turns out, to a query on Instagram for this blog post about the lack of POCs or larger bodied teachers in this article, the author replied, “I wish there was more diversity among high-profile senior yoga teachers who actively train other teachers.

So now, you clearly have me hooked because above and beyond the lack of sensitivity and the clear condescension that Jenni had demonstrated in her tone back in July, this post and comment more or less underscores her lack of desire to actually both consider POC (let alone mention them) and recognize or approach the diversity of practitioners and teachers in the community.

Questions that came up for me:

  • Does the author assume / believe that Indian / SA / POC asana teachers do not teach safe practice? Do we not consider injuries or know what to do about them? Do we not train other teachers actively? Is the Indian context of teaching safe asana different? Is it not relevant to the Western yoga context?
  • Do these 7 prominent white and white-passing able bodied yoga teachers know what it feels like to be a larger bodied yoga practitioner? Do they know by lived experience what injury in a big / fat / large body feels like and what to do about it?
  • What exactly makes a yoga teacher high profile? The number of Facebook / Instagram likes and followers? Don’t those numbers increase ideally when you are able bodied & white / white-passing anyway?

This blog disturbs me and I know I might do both Jenni & myself a world of good by just ignoring her posts. But I can’t do that today. Not just for this blog post but for any that continues to perpetuate the disparity and marginalization in the name of existing prominence. It would be so wrong on my part… on so many levels!

Firstly, I am familiar with just two of the teachers on the list – so the others I haven’t heard of. But then isn’t this the exact case for white supremacy and lack of diversity in ‘today’s yoga world‘? If yoga is continued to be represented by white & white passing teachers, and if no effort is made to even reach out & ask Indian/SA/POCs for their input, then needless to say, the playing field is skewed! And yes, so is prominence!

Secondly, the blog post on safety is also quite exclusive. It caters to the stereotyped able-bodied practitioner. In other words, the safety of bigger bodies doesn’t seemingly fall into the radar of the blog. I can understand that it is not the area of expertise of the author, but her insta comment indicates that she is aware of diversity that, in her opinion, is lacking prominence.

The author’s wish to see more of diversity in the ‘prominent’ list, those who are actively teaching safe asana is, well, quite fulfilled already if only she looked them up!

What is needed then? Because the problem is not this blog (although it is problematic as always), the problem is not one person’s obvious colored prejudice and the unadjusted bias against POCs or people of non-conforming / non-stereotyped bodies. It is simple.

It is about the lack of platforming. And it is about the privilege of supremacy that showcases, repeatedly and consistently white, able-bodied practitioners & teachers to supplement their benefits. In the process, the marginalized remain in the shadows, kept there with a pitiful ‘wish’ for more diversity because it is easier to say, “I don’t know they exist!” or “Do they even do this work to keep asana safe?”

And so, until then, we carry on with the pantomime by allowing the White Savior Complex to take us through asana and help keep it safe for us, even if they don’t really  know how to.