Yoga Feminist Yoga

We live in a society where whiteness is centered. The practice of yoga is centered on whiteness. Any bodies that don’t fit within this realm are marginalized. What is the intersection between the two? As a feminist praxis, yoga can be a tool to fight for social justice that is not reproducing colonial or anti-black shadows of oppression. In a book called Yoga, the Body, and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis, the author challenges the capitalist, Westernized form of yoga that excludes any body of color. The platform of yoga can be an exercise of serious social reformation.

It is through this exercise of mindfulness people of color can feel empowered and strengthened to move confidently. Through flow and power yoga that is inclusive and centers the bodies, beings, spirits and voices of PoC, yoga can transform the landscape of what we observe as pure exclusivity.

Through intention, reformation and guidance of folks from marginal communities, we may find justice. Justice is something we must commit ourselves to in these practices of doing and being. Peace and energy is maintained through the recognition of doing what is true and appropriate. Yoga is a communal well-being effort. It is revolutionary through collective liberation.

[1] Yoga, the Body, and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis. Ebook.

Blurred Lines? No. Crossing Boundaries in Yoga

*Trigger warning* This article will have content that is disturbing and sensitive.

She froze. “You don’t want to create a disturbance,” Ms. Evslin said. “You’re not sure what to do. And, you’re processing everything. Like, ‘What do I say? How do I handle this?’” [1]

“The merits of the women’s statements are debated by some yogis on social media” [1].

““We assume that yoga is this big mysterious thing, we have to be spiritual to do it and if there is something we don’t understand, we’re going to trust what the teacher tells us,” said Rachel Brathen, a well-known yoga teacher” [2].

Not all of the recent scandals have been sexual; some have involved financial impropriety or the physical abuse of students. During his workshops, B. K. S. Iyengar, who died in Pune, India, in 2014, openly slapped and kicked his students while telling them, according to the Times of India, “It’s not you I’m angry with, not you I kick. It’s the knee, the back, the mind that is not listening.” [3]

“Devotion to the guru is meant to symbolize devotion to the teachings, not to the man. But in the Western context gurus become rock stars, and students compete to curry favor with them. This gives gurus significant influence over their students, which is sometimes misused.” [3]

These are a collection of situations that were voiced and shared. Several more go unreported. These represent the unethical acts involved in this practice. It also underlines the misogynistic culture that forms within the world of yoga. There is a clear power hierarchical structure with the guru at the front and students learning, but this is further reinforced as the teacher controls the actions and movements of each student. Therefore, this practice needs to be carefully taught diminishing the political dynamics that are involved. Ethical and moral ways of doing yoga are necessary to establish a healthy, natural and harmonious environment. But, the changes need to be seen, not just talked about. This means that there needs to be a shift – a major shift – in the way this practice is taught, discussed, and even shared. It is scary, honestly, how deeply rape culture runs into every segment of society. It’s challenging to inhibit these actions, when some people have learned to be the way they are from childhood. Or when society does not put consequences to these actions. Teachers, gurus and people with power continue to perpetuate the violence through their authority. And it is not just in yoga; it’s rampant all over.

Yoga is a practice to cultivate openness and peace. Therefore, the identity politics of the teachers must be the priority. There needs to be more of a knowledge sharing that comes around in learning yoga. The words, the actions, and the movement need to match.

Boundaries are clear when there is discomfort. If there is a sense of something ‘wrong,’ it usually is wrong. Due to heightened sensitivity of the ‘Me Too’ movement, we are nearing slightly more awareness. But there is still questioning involved in whether something was not okay or too much. This is due to the lack of confidence instilled in women to not question authority and to regulate themselves, rather than question what’s actually happening. This happens everywhere. And now, yoga is spreading this even more. How do we stop this? By raising more and more awareness, dreaming of a world where women are confident in their abilities and practicing yoga where it is truly sharing love, energy and flow.

Sometimes, I feel like I spewing out so many big ideas, but they seem too big. Is it wrong to be so idealistic? Through idealism and optimism, I know dreaming can result in positive change. Dreaming gives us the possibility to achieve new boundaries. Boundaries that are respected. Clarity in unity. Remain idealistic. Imagine more.

Reference [1]
Reference [2]

[3] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/yoga-reconsiders-the-role-of-the-guru-in-the-age-of-metoo

Decolonizing Yoga

Normative whiteness. Dominant European Beauty Standards. It’s everywhere, especially where I live and practice yoga. Southern California is filled with hip peeps exotifying and trying to demystify the experience of colonization. Colonization seeps into the fabric of our society. Yoga is a constant reminder of that colonization and oppression. It represents classicism, ableism and exclusionary practice. It accentuates ‘otherness.’ As Martinez frames it, ‘otherness’ is the ability to objectify a part of self, another person, and/or a group of people that results in an imbalance of power. Yoga often erases the South Asian roots or even appropriates South Asian, Indigenous and African culture [1]. A study done in 2016 showed that Indigenous scholars have asserted that the authority to speak for or teach the knowledge belongs to its own knowledge keepers and scholars, and not to outsiders [2]. Oppressed groups are usually placed on the level of being listened to only if we frame our ideas in the language that is familiar to and comfortable for a dominant group [4]. This is how yoga has been translated into a form of a whiteness. The narrative of yoga has been co-opted by an erotic desire to control the oppressed. Yoga has turned into a site of systemic oppression. This post will go into the YOGA INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Sound similar to something? Prison Industrial Complex.

So, how do we practice yoga without it being marred from it’s actuality? This is through intentional and deep understanding of the practice. We have to challenge the power dynamics involved in this practice by uprooting the violence involved in doing yoga in such a superficial manner. Westernized yoga is a tool for oppression if not challenged. I asked someone who was working with me at a yoga studio what *this: Lord Ganesha* statue means and their response was, “Peace.” Nope. You’re all wrong. This is where the lines blur of respecting the authenticity behind yoga and the classicist undertones involved in appropriating it. Usually, it’s just a ton of white people leading the classes and owning the studio. Now lets mirror this onto the prison industrial complex.

The prison industrial complex accentuates the presence of racism, colonialism and slavery. Anyone deviant from the norm -white cis male, able-bodied – is a risk to normalcy. Anyone presenting deviancy from the norm is thrown into prison. Thus, instead of understanding the issues at the roots, the system further perpetuates the racism and locks them behind bars. I mean, nothing really can speak against these facts from 2016, “…people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.” Furthermore, Angela Davis states, “imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color” [5].

Westernized yoga is forming the yoga industrial complex. Have any of you heard of the Caron case that happened? To give you some background, here is a summary: Caron wrote a post on her experience as a white woman teaching a class with one black woman. “She imagines her yoga classroom not to be a space for that body or Black bodies, as she specifically states that Black students were few and far between, as were African American instructors, though she notes the “sizeable number of Asian students.”
Her description of the Black female student shifts in the post from ‘fairly heavy’ to
‘heavyset’. She felt that the African American woman’s (unspoken) “despair and resentment and then contempt” must have been directed at her presumably for being thin, white, and a regular yoga practitioner. Moreover, she describes this Black woman as hostile and understands that she, the author, would be the recipient of “racially charged anger.”’ This is abhorrent. It’s so painful to read and even more painful to visualize. This is only one instance of yoga industrial complex. It’s a form of imprisonment, not the freedom we expect to see in the landscape of yoga. Yoga industrial complex isolates anyone who does not ‘fit’ into the category of the norm. The prisoner is the one who no longer adheres to the common ground.

If challenged, yoga can turn into a landscape for revolutionary change. It can be a site to find true authenticity ONLY if it is practiced with meaning, intention, and understanding. It can be the start to seeing embodied change within folks of color, which can lead to social change. When we see folks of color transforming their healing into forms of resistance – we will see social change. For this reason, we should start pushing to understanding the way we practice yoga. Yoga is revolutionary. It begins in our body and guides us towards social change, a new kind of yoga: Feminist Yoga.

Before ending this article, I will leave you all with a quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” [3].

[1] Bowers, H., & Cheer, J. M. (2017). Yoga tourism: Commodification and western embracement of eastern spiritual practice. Tourism Management Perspectives, 24, 208–216. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2017.07.013

[2] Vats, A. (2016). (Dis)owning Bikram: Decolonizing vernacular and dewesternizing restructuring in the yoga wars. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 13(4), 325–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2016.1151536

[3] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972. Print.

[4] Collins, P. H. (2015). Black feminist thought. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-90005-7

[5]https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e7da/e879f3b3eddbe6232ae596cf2df4489ea3d9.pdf

Yoga for Mindfulness

We are a part of an ecosystem. More minutely, our bodies are ecosystems. There are resources that we must feed to our body to maintain the chain of energy. Yoga is a practice of mindfulness. It’s a practice to supply the resources we need to fuel ourselves. We must understand the resources to preserve our well-being. Thus, mindfulness is a product of yoga. Mindfulness roots from an ancient Buddhist philosophy, where one comes from a place of awareness, feelings and sensations devoid of judgement. The aim is to create a state of a freeing form of awareness, as written in Buddhist philosophy – “bare awareness” [1].

As I sifted through several research papers on mindfulness, I found so many papers defining and explaining the concept of mindfulness. I do not believe that mindfulness needs to be defined, but rather respected for the religious underpinnings. Mindfulness is a psychological model to describe specific mechanisms through which attention regulation practices may result in reducing symptoms and improving well-being [2]. Mindfulness is an individualized process of learning. It is about achieving self-awareness and accepting the involvement of several factors influencing our body. In a society with constant movement and instant gratification, we are complacent with the bombardment of resources without the thought behind what each resource means to us. We keep moving without intention or conscious understanding behind what we are doing. Instead of disrupting the constant regard of doing something productive, we let ourselves succumb to the convention of productivity. We are defined by the work that we do, not by conscious understanding of each action we take to do it. Yoga, in this sense, allows us to broaden our perspective. It helps us collect and regain the depletion of resources in our ecosystems. Educators have found that the intervention of yoga is feasible and beneficial as a method for managing stress and promoting well-being [3]. Furthermore, current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors [5]. It helps maintain and achieve behaviors that balance our ecosystem.

Yoga and mindfulness is a form of alternative medicine therapy [4]. Yoga is an ancient tradition coming from the Sanskrit word “yoga” meaning union or one-pointed awareness [4]. Yoga practices nurture positive qualities within us, which are willpower, discipline, and self-control and force the mind and body to work synergistically. Yoga exercises may have beneficial effects as a stand-alone treatment on stress reduction and overall well-being [4]. Yoga cultivates mindfulness, a self-help practice that concentrates on training attention and awareness in order to exhibit a mental process that supports mental health well-being and mental stability.

Yoga is inspiring. It gives us oneness, completion, awareness. It gifts us with the ability to practice self-care. It gives us the energy to rectify and maintain ourselves in this constantly challenging world. It is a practice to share kindness to our own ecosystem and to fill a landscape of goodness around us. It is a form of resistance.

[1] Harvey, P. (2012). The Selfless Mind. Routeledge.

[2] Lazaridou, A., Philbrook, P., & Tzika, A. A. (2013). Yoga and Mindfulness as Therapeutic Interventions for Stroke Rehabilitation: A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/357108

[3] Harris, A. R., Jennings, P. A., Katz, D. A., Abenavoli, R. M., & Greenberg, M. T. (2016). Promoting Stress Management and Wellbeing in Educators: Feasibility and Efficacy of a School-Based Yoga and Mindfulness Intervention. Mindfulness, 7(1), 143–154. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0451-2

[4] Büssing, A., Michalsen, A., Khalsa, S. B. S., Telles, S., & Sherman, K. J. (2012). Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health: A Short Summary of Reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/165410

[5] Khanna, S., & Greeson, J. M. (2013). A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(3), 244–252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2013.01.008

Yoga and Energy

One evening at dinner, I shared with my brother that I really want a career that gives me work-life balance. He quickly retorted, “I see it as work-life harmony.” I stubbornly argued with him. Then I realized, it’s true. It is all about harmony. It’s not about balance, which makes it seem that there needs to be a level off between the two, but more of a beautiful winding of work and LIFE! The more that we tie in the various forces in our lives to flow into our realm of energy, the better it will work. We live in a society that is built off of this concept of COMPARTMENTALIZATION. It’s all about structuring, organizing and finding the perfect box to fit our emotions or store different areas of our lives. But, do we even have the ability to truly compartmentalize? Is it that simple? It seems like our feelings are jumbled into a huge arena in our body. Would it not be so much healthier if we learned to let these feelings flow and understand each part of them to allow the energies to maintain a harmony in our body?

Why do we constantly try to focus our energy on organizing things? Based on conventional knowledge, of course this is what we need. However, I will not submit to the status quo. I wish to challenge this notion because I deeply believe that in letting our feelings flow through all our body, we learn how to harmonize these feelings. With that sense of harmony, we share the emotions from those feelings.

Yoga is a form of physical movement that allows that flow. Based on the ancient Indian system, yoga has significant positive effects on various physiological systems. It improves both the musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary functions. It also reduces metabolic rate in healthy subjects. Yoga improves physical performance, body flexibility and mental well-being. Therefore, it supports the flow in positive energy throughout our body. For this reason, we should learn to manage this energy by practicing the yoga forms every day. Through practice, we will share harmony.

Yoga and Trauma

The exercise of yoga presents a platform for body-based intervention with trauma survivors. Yoga-based interventions incorporate physical movement and restorative action patterns into treatment. This strategy helps trauma survivors build internal strengths and resources in an embodied manner. It builds up the necessary mechanisms to cope with stressful situations through resilience and strength. Yoga is at the frontier of trauma treatment in promoting mind/body healing.

Before moving on, we should understand the definition of trauma.

There are several different forms of trauma that include, but are not limited to (i) natural disasters, (ii) mass interpersonal violence, (iii) large-scale transportation accidents, (iv) house or other domestic fires, (v) motor vehicle accidents, (vi) sexual assault, (vii) stranger physical assault, (viii) partner battery and emotional abuse, (ix) torture, (x) war, (xi) child abuse, (xii) exposure of emergency workers to trauma, and (xiii) major accidents or illness.

Sometimes pharmacological treatments are not enough for these traumas, so they are best supplemented with non-pharmacological techniques to ensure people to regulate their internal state and response to external stressors. The science of yoga includes several practices such as physical postures (asanas), voluntary regulated breathing (pranayamas), meditation, conscious sensory withdrawal (pratyahara), and philosophical principles.

When people endure any form of trauma, they find difficulty in restoring their sense of balance. Through yoga, people can rectify their well-being and strengthen their internal well-being to align and bond their mental, spiritual and physical states. This form of unification develops into a state of wholesomeness. Anecdotal data and clinical observation emphasize the promise of yoga as a viable approach to build self-regulatory capacity of traumatized youth.

Trauma is a part of the journey in life. Through implementation of yoga, we all commit to a journey of finding inner-peace, healing our feelings, and understanding our emotions.

\/\/

Why do this?

I am interested in learning and sharing more about Feminist Yoga, Mindfulness, and Power in Inner-Peace. I graduated from a women’s colleges, where I had the opportunity to study human biology and concentrate on intersectional feminist theories. I have struggled deeply with understanding how to relay information in a careful manner through my own lens: Brown Transnational UP-ite, Able-Bodied Woman. Through my experience and lived experiences of my dear POC folks, I am aware of the power dynamics that challenge the existence of women of color. Strengthening the foundation for women of color to perform at higher levels is necessary. Yoga Therapy can be a revolutionary form of practicing self-care and love. I believe that Yoga Therapy is a grassroots form of resistance. It is a therapy that provides unity and oneness. It provides community healing. It is not about individualism, but rather about communal work to achieve a wholesome and vitalized well-being. I hope that these writings lead people to reach out and find forms of healing that will better their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical states. Please share any book recommendations or resources to strengthen the knowledge of this new area! Keep shining and living my dear folks.