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DEAR YOGA TEACHERS

Embodying Liberation

While I am humbled and grateful to have had very kind and wise white teachers, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Thin white women are still the gatekeepers of the yoga world and it is time for a change. Not only does it deface the original meaning of yoga to dominate its power financially and aesthetically; it perpetuates harm to the people who need and deserve to access the profound psychosomatic benefits of yoga: children, Black women, non-English speaking people, disabled men, folks in captivity, trans- people, and the like.

The costs associated with earning yoga teacher certification is a barrier to recruiting teachers who can do meaningful and powerful work in their communities. I would challenge yoga studios and practitioners to consider how they can contribute to offering more learning opportunities to Black teachers as means of removing the financial burden, expanding the reach to traumatized communities, and ceasing to monopolize the voice in the yoga community.

In my experience, yoga teachers can often pretend to colorblind. It stems from political correctness and may be well-intentioned but again it is undermining the power of yoga. How can we say we practice yoga and deny what we see in front of us? (avidya) Is that not a form of stealing someone’s precious identity? (asteya) Does it not promote a sense of community (kula)- when we have the capacity to hold and celebrate differences rather than focusing on our similarities? If we are to achieve a state of enlightenment (samadhi), it will require that we get uncomfortable and observe and reckon with that which lives in us- bias, misogyny, fear, all things, unconscious, unloving, exclusive, afraid of change or difference…just like an uncomfortable side crow.

This would require yoga studios to shift from power of one to the tenderness of many. Classes and sequences should be intentional and serious about moving beyond asanas and maximizing the opportunity to responsibly connect students to a sense of collective compassion.

Questions to consider around racism discussions in the yoga world:

– Who’s in the room?

– Who has decision-making power?

– Who has the authority to empower others? Do they use it? Can it be decentralized?

– Who’s voice is missing?

– Who should be listening vs. speaking?

– Who is doing more of the labor?

– Which do we communicate: you’re allowed to be here OR this space was made intentionally with you in mind?

– Do our teachers reflect the type of students who need yoga the most?

– Are our teachers living their yoga?

– Does our dharma reach towards liberation for ourselves and others?

– How are we creating space for rage, anger, grief?

– Does your yoga practice make you more complicit in the face of injustice or does it ignite your inner warrior and defender of truth?

My question to yogis in the United States: what are we really doing if we aren’t changing lives?

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