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. 🙏🏻

Why Desis Need To Talk About #BLM

Warning: Angry, frustrated rant from a Desi yogi

Image by Patrick Behn from Pixabay 

Do you want to understand how the #BlackLivesMatter movement affects us in India today? And why it does? And why it is not someone else’s problem?

First, you’ll have to accept to open your mind. If your bigotry is going to argue that your prejudice is well placed and that the movement is blowing things out of proportion, I’m call you a Grade 1 as*hole right now and you need to unfriend me – straight away. And while we remain unfriended, go get an education on history & on compassion… and on social media etiquette.

So..

  1. Just because you have lived in the US or in Europe and haven’t experienced a racial / racist slur DOES NOT mean anything. It means, largely that your blindness to your privilege has made you indifferent to the daily truth of everyone else. The privilege of being of an ‘upper caste’ in the India is what largely carries you to remain in favor of the ‘white man’s goodness’ – a remnant of the supremacy of our colonizers.
  2. For all your NRIs who think that by living in the US/UK for a ‘decade’ of the ‘4-5 decades’ of your life and to never have seen racism there – it sickens me to my guts at your lack of education and your reluctance to learn because, you are THERE because of Black lives lost to give you the opportunity to go there. And, your 4-5 decades is peanuts because the history of black oppression is way before your dada pardada’s time… 400- FOUR HUNDRED EFFING YEARS! Also, after going there, your brown skin AND your ‘Indian black skin is better than African black skin’ hierarchy is again what gives you the privilege to be a MODEL MINORITY there. Make no mistake, you’re not necessarily favored because of you – but because conditioning is such that you are a better minority to befriend that the Black community who do not even get the benefit of decent education. But wait, why would you effing care, right?? You do the same thing with Dalit rights, muslim rights,minority rights, etc right here in India? You are USED to using your privilege because you were RAISED to be blind to others pain.
  3. For our UK desis – your blinkers need a special strengths of cleansing solution altogether! Do you know how many Indian lives were killed during the British Raj & even before? Remember Jallianwala Bagh? How many Indians were starved due to rationing that meant that Indian bellies were not entitled to be fed? It is easier to welcome you with open arms and say, “You are one of us” instead of making reparations or even apologizing.. And for the blinded UK desis, hahah… the jokes on you! When the sahib has hugged & taken you under their wing, of course, racism doesn’t exist, right? RIGHT?? Right!
  4. Let’s talk about privilege again..  because your easy access to potentially everything here in India – education, jobs, cinema tickets, medical facilities, hotels, food, news, etc etc… is all because you are favored because of your caste – you may not carry it as an ID card, but you sure do carry it in your names as identifiers! And if you think your skin is not an indicator, ha-ha-the-effing-HA because you bloody well DO! You know how you look different from someone who is lesser privileged than you. If I know how I look different how come you don’t? No one can say, “We don’t see color! Of course we see color!” We need to see color and check our privilege. Do you? Here’s a quiz question, “Chor kaise dikhta hai?” Do you see a fair, robust, healthy looking chor? Exactly! Check your privilege! And also check your family name and the names of those who agree with you – yes, your family names identify your STATUS and your place in the food chain. If that is not an eye opener, then I don’t know what is!
  5. Now let’s come to ALLYSHIP. Standing up against racism does not mean that all your white friends are racist. If your feed has ALL your white friends making snide remarks against the #BLM movement, then, sorry, but you’re in quite a lot of sick company. Thankfully, my list has almost all my white & white passing friends & acquaintances who are aware of their privilege – have known 100% that their brown & black friends do experience racist slurs, exclusions and passive aggressions on a daily basis. Why them? Everytime I enter the US – having all my papers in place, spending tons of my hard earned money to their economy, etc – I feel a sense of tension until I clear passport control. The bias is obvious – and I am a tall, fair Indian with light eyes… still makes me feel second class. Imagine what third class feels like?
  6. White Supremacy – heard of it? No? Don’t believe in it? This is where your miseducation comes into strong effect. White supremacy is what led us to be colonized and to set the tone for everyone to come under the tone of skin that is superior – a.k.a. White Skin. It is where we have our penchant for all this white and fair and … in a videsi roop, it tells us that the White guys are superior. It is what the Middle East does when they look for US/UK/AUS/NZ Native workers who may be HighSchool grads or even flunked out of school but hey, if they have the right accent, they get the salary – but the brown skinned desi gets the grunge labor and zero promotion. So when our desis of privilege (yes, our fair skinned compatriots) get treated like equals, it is easy to think you are one of the white people and join hands to point fingers at the Black guys who are ‘thugs’, ‘thieves’, ‘looters’, ‘criminals’, ‘uneducated’… what else? Help me out here.. yeah.. you know all the words you use otherwise. Add them in the comments, go ahead!
  7. Some of you haven’t heard of slurs against your desi brown skin? Or your accent? Wait, let me some of my desi bhai behen who have lived there longer than you and born there too – so way before you or your parents were there… let them tell you what they have experienced every day of their lives… and then let me call my black brothers & sisters to share their stories… It didn’t happen to you because you came in with loads of money, have big businesses and perhaps are so blinded by the love of your prejudice that seeing it in your idols makes you both .. EQUALS. Ugh!!!
  8. And finally, because I just cannot find it in me to type through my tears of anger & fury at some of you who I called friends (note CALLED), George Floyd is not ONE death. The deaths and murders happened systemically & systematically for hundreds of years… just as they  happen in India to SO MANY… but for 100s of years, we had no camera, we had no internet and we were just too polite to get you’re a*s dragged for making little of such a humiliating and painful end. Like a friend said, recently, this needs just one word, “ENOUGH” – if you do not understand the pain behind it, you just need to get a real close look a mirror and ask yourself the eternal question that many of us, yogis and non yogis, ask once in a lifetime…. “Who am I?”

Footnotes: not reading back for typos right now… too angry.