As my yoga bio goes, I found yoga in 2000 at the University of Toledo. The class was held in the fitness studio, but not the one with windows facing the courtyard where I taught step aerobics (yes, I taught step aerobics), but the darker one towards the back of the rec center. It was an odd place to take yoga and I continued to take yoga in gyms marveling at my ability to drown out the sound of the clinking metal of weights and the grunts of dudes lifting. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I went to a real life grown up yoga studio. I was always the largest person in class, but I had almost 7 years of yoga under my belt and felt confident in what I can and cannot do (to this day I still will not do a headstand!).
My yoga practice ebbs and flows. It’s something I continue to come back to, even after years of not practicing. It’s been both a comfort and a source of sincere and profound sadness. And one year removed from being in the “business” I’ve come to understand that while yoga is always a part of me, it’s not me and it’s not mine.
I have been incredibly lucky to study with amazing yoga instructors who have recognized the way in which yoga is inaccessible for the folks who need it most. The ones that make an effort to not only hire yogis of color, but make training financially accessible for POCS and to provide safe space for POC yogis and Queer folks. (I see you, 8 Limbs!). I’ve also been incredibly lucky to see the opposite. Both ends of the spectrum. Both have shaped the way in which I see myself in this thing we call the yoga community and to be honest, I’m not sure if I belong.
Yoga is a tradition (religion, even) that I borrow. I borrow it with what I hope is reverence and understanding and acknowledgement of the fact that it is not mine. To make money from it, to commodify this beautiful practice as a way to make money feels really hard for me, at times. And the business side of it is so rarely done with grace and responsibility. Too often the image of who does yoga, who a yogi is is a white, slender, upper middle class cis hetero human. One of the reasons I became a certified yoga instructor was to up-end this image. I am not white. I am not slender. I am not upper middle class. And while I am cis, I am not a heterosexual. And I’m not yoga. Even in my brown skin I acknowledge that yoga is not mine.
Yoga is not ours, it belongs to a people with origins in India
“Sound baths” are not ours, it belongs to a people with origins in Tibet
Cacao ceremonies are not ours, it belongs to a people with origins in South America
These things are not ours and yet, if you walk by a yoga studio you might see one of these offerings. I see white women (who are trained by other white women) charging people for these “offerings” at exorbitant amounts of money. I see individual yogis offering retreats and experiences promising … whatever they promise without any mention on their websites or advertisements of the origins of the experiences they offer. Origins that came from brown people. Origins that white people continue to exploit. And the people who can afford these offerings are most often other white women. Who tell other white women and the spiral of appropriation continues. It was this icky-ness that rubs against me.
People always ask when I’ll teach again and it’s this icky-ness that gives me pause. It’s the icky-ness that prevents me from doing this thing. And, I would like to acknowledge that I charge people for prenatal yoga. I hope that I do it with intention. When I teach I don’t use Sanskrit words. I do this for a few reasons; it’s not my language and I don’t study it, therefore I don’t want to mispronounce/use it incorrectly/pretend to have knowledge that I don’t possess. I try to lay off the spirituality that’s not mine. Mindfulness, yes, deities no. I try to be real about my relationship with the practice of yoga to the folks I teach. And I don’t teach something without properly acknowledging where it comes from.
As we turn towards 2019 all of the adds for fitness have flooded my inbox. The messages telling us we’re not thin enough, we’re eating the wrong things, we need to do this or that to make us better versions of ourselves. If those messages seep in, know that you are just perfect the way you are. And if you do want to sign up for a cacao ceremony or a sound bath or a yoga class, take some time to research the origins of these spiritual experiences.