The recent launch of the Decolonizing Yoga website has got me thinking a lot about the commodification of yoga, the homogenous nature of many yoga spaces, and the commitment I made many years ago to teaching yoga in a way that is relevant, appropriate, and accessible.
I am constantly asking myself the question of whether or not my service matters. Whether my teaching is making a positive contribution to my community and my world. And whether or not I have a “right” to be teaching yoga at all. This is definitely a reference to the powerful and polemic practice of cultural appropriation and the reality that many folks teaching and practicing yoga today do so in a way that is almost entirely divorced from the spiritual roots of yoga–which vary widely but have in common India as a birthplace and essential sacredness as a central theme–and in ways which are often quite exclusive.
As a white woman from the US teaching yoga in the US, I struggle a lot with questions of cultural appropriation, even as I also struggle with the fact that I did not inherit from my family of origin any healing traditions whatsoever. The process of assimilation that my Irish and German ancestors underwent upon settling in the US ensured that by the time I came around, our only traditions were “American” (read “white,” read “individualist”) and anything but healing, integrated, connected, liberating. This is not meant to erase the reality of white privilige that is afforded me.
However, to be completely transparent, the almost daily struggle that I face in questioning whether or not I have a “right” to be teaching yoga is rooted not in the complexity of cultural appropriation of healing traditions but in the less popular but no less political topic of body supremacy. That is: as a bigger bodied woman, I struggle just about every time I step into the seat of the teacher, with some very real demons. The ones which say that I have no right to be teaching yoga “looking like I do.”
Being a bigger bodied person, I consider teaching yoga to be in some ways a revolutionary act. I love teaching yoga and I love the opportunity it offers me to connect in real ways with myself and an ever-increasing community of people. I also do this work because I have a clear interest in challenging thin supremacy and heteronormativity in yoga spaces and in general.
Through Yoga for Queers, I especially love the opportunity to offer donation-based yoga in a non-traditional space that is (hopefully, ideally) welcoming to folks who may not feel as welcomed in the typical yoga spaces of the day – be they gyms or yoga studios. The fact that the folks who volunteer to demonstrate handstands as a means of inspiring and encouraging others are just as likely to be bigger bodied, hairy-bodied, or genderqueer makes a really big difference for me as a teacher, and I believe for the other practitioners in the room.
It is the kind of space we’ve been able to co-create during more than two and a half years of Yoga for Queers that keeps me going. The opportunity each week to gather with y’all and blast out some amazing, heart-centered offerings which change us and change our environment – that keeps me going. To know that some Queers and Misfits had never ever done yoga, or had sworn they would never do it again after so many disempowering experiences, and that in Yoga for Queers they have found it possible to connect with their bodies, their spirits, their community in liberating ways – that keeps me going. This and more helps me feel courageous and strong enough to offer something like Warrior Camp at the studio next week – to offer myself as a teacher who can (lovingly, non-violently) kick some serious butt – as much as the next (thinner, “fitter”) teacher. Or to post pictures of myself blasting out yoga poses versus choosing online stock photos of people who look more like they “should” be doing yoga or whose poses might be “more inspiring.”
So this week’s class is devoted to daring. To having the courage to do what each of us is meant to do, is afraid to do, wants so desperately to do but sometimes needs a little help and support to make happen. We will explore some daring and challenging poses and if its right for you to push your edge in trying them out, you’ll have the support you need. If daring for you looks like owning and acknowledging your limits and exploring other variations or modifications of the pose, I hope and trust you will also accept the challenge to offer your fullest form as it is in that exact moment.
And hopefully I will inspire some of you to join us for one or more days at the studio next week for Heart and Heat Warrior camp. Several Queers and Misfits have signed up for the whole week, so I promise you’ll see some familiar faces (in addition to mine) and I promise you’ll have the support you need to offer your fullest and receive all the gifts that come with daring to shine.
See you soon.
Next week, Monday-Friday, 7-8:30 am daily
*A week of firey and energizing morning practices designed to help you
build heat in your body and focus in your mind as you
commit yourself fully to the work of your heart*
Special perks including Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle support for those who commit in advance to the whole week. Drop-ins welcome.
Click here for more info.