I’m nervous about my next yoga series.
That’s a good thing.
I just started a yoga series for the Christian season of Lent that explores Christian prayer practices, yoga movement (asana) and breath (pranayama), and some of the teachings of yoga (yamas/niyamas).
It’s a lot to bring together if you want to approach all those aspects with integrity. I actually woke up in the middle of the night contemplating whether I should even be doing this series given the widespread cultural appropriation of yoga in the West. (For more on that, read this article “How We Can Work Together to Avoid Cultural Appropriation in Yoga” by Arundhati Baitmangalkar, which spurred this deeper reflection for me. Again, the deeper reflection is a good thing. I’m grateful.)
There are all sorts of problems with white, western teachers and studios and how they use yoga – a long, rich, spiritual tradition that is embedded in the culture of India – to further their fame and profits. I do the same by having a business that sells mindfulness, yoga and meditation as part of my services. I also add another layer of complexity by sometimes combining Chrisitan and yogic practices. The problem here is that Christianity has been and is used as a tool of colonialism, which has been used to oppress people from India and across the globe.
Although I’ve been practicing and studying yoga for nearly 18 years, teaching it still doesn’t come nearly as easily as Christianity, the tradition in which I was born and raised and in which I have an advanced degree. I lean very easily into that tradition and do not work as hard as I might to present the fullness of the yogic tradition. I have realized this is cultural appropriation.
Since I know better now, I am trying to do better.
Even though the traditions are richly and wonderfully different, they also share something at their core: liberation. They both invite us – in varied and wonderful ways – to question what the world tells us we are, and they help us embrace our true selves. They give us the tools to build communities based on the inherent worthiness of all, rather than systems of oppression.
So, when I consider planning a series such as this, I now ask myself the question: Are these traditions and practices working to liberate us from the trappings of things like wh*te supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia and other systems of oppression? If yes, then I can proceed, though still with lots of caution.
In the coming weeks in my Wednesday morning yoga class, we will work on the systemic conditioning that there is one right way to do practices such as prayer, meditation, asana and pranayama. Because if there is only one right way to do those practices and you cannot meet that ideal or expectation, then you are excluded (or exclude yourself) from those liberating practices.
The system is very sneaky, right?
So join me (with all my fear and trembling) to lean into the richness of these traditions in a way that is less about the “shoulds” and more about the liberation their spiritual and historical traditions offer us.
Do you want to give up the “shoulds”? Join me for my weekly accessible restorative yoga class Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. EST. Start by signing up for your first class free.