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Yoga and Racism Part I

October 3, 2013

Yoga is institutionally racist just like the rest of our systems. It is not affordable or accessible for most middle class to low income brackets; and very few people of color take yoga class. There are a number of reasons why this is so, there are a number of ways the systems are racist. I am not completely convinced that a lot of yogis are racist; aside from the understanding that everyone is a little racist…..but I know for sure microagressions are thrown around consistently towards those who are “different”.

More on microaggressions:

Yoga originated in India. One of the poorest places on earth.  I wonder how many people in India still practice yoga to this day? Could yoga benefit people who are actually living in poverty? Can it effect those who are poor, as it affects and heals the privileged?

Poor people  have less time for yoga, why?

How do I tell these undeserved and systemically oppressed men and women that they can be free inside?

Kalayaan sa kalooban….

How do I tell people, who leave or have family over seas working, family structures destroyed; that they can find freedom with yoga? You can be happy eventho you are without your children, your people….?

How do I tell the men and women who fight and organize and spread awareness of political and social/gender/race issues, that the freedom they seek is really inside themselves? The fight you fight is your service, your life’s purpose/what you do for the world; but it is not you. You do not have to embody the oppression, forever.

The disadvantage is perpetuated with the fight; because in order to fight you must first embody the victim. This embodiment, this choice,

…but if you are open to the practice, could you agree with me that the freedom you seek is not given to you, because you legitly feel it?…. Can you be free and enslaved at the same time? yoga is the practice of embodiment, the practice of awareness…with breath as the doorway to discovering the many pathways of conscious living.

How do I tell the people who have lost loved ones due to injustice?  We don’t progress without the death; progress in yoga comes from the death of parts of ourselves. we break ourselves open. We don’t have light without dark.  You got dealt bullshit and you are beautiful. You only have control over your breath, your thought and your action in each present moment. The work is in manifesting our desires, and doing it aligned with source. aligned with the power that wants to enhance life. the ultimate desire to evolve and transcend.

How do I explain to people wounded physically, mentally, spiritually; I know that you can heal yourself only because I have been able to heal myself? You will create a new you.

this darkness that inspires amazing art. I am a darkness lover. but at some point you must evolve. If you didn’t embody the victim, would there be a fight? If you embodied a warrior as we practice, would the fight be different? Everyone is a victim at some point in their life. You scream till your voice grows horse, and I will stand next to you with warm water and honey and lemon, breathing deeply…..1385096_632975393391832_995085138_n

How do I inspire these people who are affected by systemic and institutional violence and oppression that they are whole, complete, not lacking anything?

How do I begin to explain to my people that the freedom they seek, lies deep within their hearts and souls …nobody takes it away, you give it away, it is yours

….I plead, don’t carry the pain and suffering with you forever.

Just as your cuts heal,

just as your organs regenerate,

just as your breath comes without even trying,

just as your heart continues to beat

just as the sun comes during the day and the moon at night;

you can trust that you are love(d).

No bible verse, no law, no constitution is going to give you what you seek….but can yoga? This practice that connects us in mind body and spirit.

My friend writes: “Truth is we don’t know what it’s like to be free in our bodies and in this system, so we will proceed to challenge these laws indefinitely.”

…… those who deny you systemic freedom do not deny you freedom within your bodies… is only yours to claim. the only way they take away freedom in your body is by taking your body altogether. Fight for yourself. How easy will you hand it over?

Why are there not more people of color at yoga classes and workshops? Do they not need it as much as the people who do attend? Is it not effective to them?


Do you hear me yoga community? There is a bridge to be gapped! Racism hasn’t gone away institutionally. We have a real opportunity in the yoga community to expand consciousness. I wish to figure out how to work through this, this is my yoga teaching mission….

Read Yoga and Racism Part II

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2013 9:48 pm

    Excellent! Your yoga teaching mission is worthy and I shall do my part. Bravo!

  2. October 4, 2013 7:07 pm

    Sadly, yoga in the west has nothing to do with what is understood as yoga in India. The first thing they told me at the ashram in India was to wear long pants and long sleeves, and only loose fitting clothes would be permitted for asana class. I think the essence of the practice got lost on its way across the pond. Yogis can be SO judgemental.

    • October 7, 2013 2:53 am

      i find myself and my ego triggered by people who only use yoga for fitness. much of the practice has been lost, here and in India. thanks for reading.

  3. October 5, 2013 12:36 pm

    I’m not familiar enough with yoga to know whether or not it can be quite that positive an influence on someone’s notion of self, but I certainly agree that it’s quite privileged-centric. I did an interview with a yoga instructor about this aspect of it as its most commonly practiced.

    • October 7, 2013 3:01 am

      I’ve found that most yoga instructors are not concerned with bringing yoga to under-served communities. On the other hand, there are also a group of yogis that try to bring yoga to places like africa. I think that if every yogi did their part to share the practice to less privileged communities, just one to two hours a week, the gap would be significantly smaller.

      • October 7, 2013 8:44 am

        I think that for some people doing things like bringing yoga to poor communities of people of color is more much about their own egos than really helping those people on truly human terms, if only because what is anything like yoga without resources and a genuine sense of self worth?

      • October 8, 2013 3:03 am

        there is a thin line between helping people to help them and helping people to help yourself. While yoga is largely a practice in learning to transcend ego, we live here in this world in this life; so doing things that are healthy for our egos can be positive for all parties involved….when it is successful it is a co-created experience between equals….i have a masters degree in social work specializing in international social work (community, program and organizational development) so the idea of charity is a trigger for me. I am very aware of how people take advantage of others in the name of charity. if a helper is “successful” the success is really never theirs, but the people they work with… not sure I understand the last part of your comment david. 🙂

      • October 8, 2013 7:54 am

        You make a good point. What I meant by the last part of my comment was that disenfranchised people often lack resources and just as often the sense that they’re as beautiful or as capable as the people who come bearing yoga (of course this is crap, but such is easily reinforced). I’d think that having a sense of these things is more important than the sense of breathing and just being in the moment that yoga offers, which is all well and great if you’re relatively privileged..

      • October 8, 2013 3:01 pm

        oh, yes, I get you. but I think that breathing is first and foremost and developing self-worth comes second. This is only in the observation of my own limited experience, but as much as i tried in the past to develop a steadfast sense of self-worth, I did not feel in control of myself or my life until i learned and developed a relationship with my breath. I would argue that breathing and being in the moment can be great without privilege, but I am relatively privileged so I can’t say for sure. I know that when I teach yoga to the youth at a youth homeless shelter on the south side of chicago, they are there with me for the moment, but then when our co-created experience is over, I do not know how or what they sustain about being present. yoga is not hiding or masking problems or issues, it is about accepting oneself every given moment; the doorway to this “acceptance”/embodiment is the breath.

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