Thoughts on 3 reasons my yoga practice has changed recently
I love yoga and as I mentioned in the About Me section of this website, I really enjoy it. But to be fair, its more than just something I enjoy, its a practice that makes me feel safe, it brings me back to a space of stability when I need it to, it provides me with space to pause and think and some of my best reflections about the issues affecting individuals and community in the world come during this practice.
So I am saddened to say since lockdown started in March I have moved way from my typical practice. Now given that all the yoga studios closed down in the UK, you would anticipate that it would change but I mean the change has been greater. When lockdown first started, I continued with the on-line classes that my studio but put on but even this has halted within the last few months and here are the reasons why:
1) The need for handstands and inversions!
I am not sure if this was just me, but as soon as lockdown was announced it seemed like every where I looked, every picture on my Instagram and every caption I read was either about inversions or setting challenges to help people to achieve inversions by the end of lockdown. Now I get it, I think the statistics say that for yoga teachers and practitioners their most liked photos come from inversions and they get more followers when they are pictured in the more complicated poses. So if this is your business and you face loosing your income due to lockdown you have to create an alternative income stream but to me this did not resonate and felt uncomfortable.
I felt that I needed my yoga practice to help me manage my emotions, help me process what was going on and provide me with the spiritual guidance to consider how to help myself as well as individuals within my community during this period of time.
Statistics show that between March and May the number of people claiming work-related benefits, was up 126% to 2.8 million (*credit* BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53060529) . I was someone that worried I could loose all my work and having only gone self employed within the last year, I knew I was not entitled to any of the government assistance aside from signing on. Learning how to do crow pose was not going to help me at all, but I had hoped a well-rounded yoga practice was going to give me time to process alone without dumping all my emotional baggage on Mr Thoughts Of A Wandering Mind who was also having to worry about the risk of being furloughed.
As I sat with this, I began to open my eyes to other things I was feeling uncomfortable with. It all started with research for a tattoo I was thinking of having done. I am booked in with a wonderful tattooist (@trikona.tattoos on Instagram) who does beautiful hand poked tattoos featuring finelines and symbols, and as they say tattoos are addictive. I haven't even had the first and second one she has designed for me and I was already thinking about the third. I was thinking about the key words that I would want to be translated to symbols and I went down a Sanskrit road as I drew and sketched. Then it hit me, I was honestly thinking about getting symbols on me that were not my culture, in a language that I didn't speak and this leads nicely into my second and third reason:
2) The cultural appropriation in yoga!
I was already feeling slightly icky about this, given that nearly every class I attend ends with the word namaste and students are encouraged to repeat this phrase back when I am not sure everyone actually knows what it means, what language it is or why they are saying it. The we move over to all the merchandise that is available with variations available and if they make my skin crawl, I can only empathise about how it must feel for individuals whose culture it is.
So I am already feeling slightly bleugh about how some classes I attend are using aspects of Hindu culture, and then I start thinking. I start seeing that not only are studios using and encouraging us to use aspects of culture we don't understand, we are now seeing classes that are not yoga but a mix of both other sports and fitness but also events such as beer yoga in which yoga poses are struck whilst the practitioner holds a pint in their hand. Now some might argue that these events makes yoga more accessible and inviting to people that may not have taken part previously, however, given that classical (and classical is the key term here) is considered by many as a type of spiritual and/or religious practice it feels very uncomfortable to be adding alcohol into the practice.
The lack of diversity!
Now I understand that some may think this is similar if not the same as point 2 but to me its very different. When you walk into your yoga class, how many people of colour do you see there? I can tell you in my experience, their representation within classes is lower than the most recent population census completed. Then have a think about your teachers, how many of them have been a person of colour? Whilst, all my teachers have not always been White-British, none of them have been people of colour. And yes my area is not the most diverse but it also isn't totally made up of White-British people. So where are the people of colour and why are they not attending?
And its not just an under-representation of people of colour in yoga classes. Where are the men or those that identify themselves to be non-binary? Where are the practitioners of different ages? My experience has been that practitioners would normally be described as White, Female, aged between 25 and 40 (at a push). I can even describe their outfits for you - Swetty Betty leggings and then a crop top or tight tank top usually with a slogan on.
And then as if to add insult to injury to me as a white person, so I can only imagine how angered I would be if I was a person of colour, we saw the yoga communities response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Some posted a black square, some posted a small statement about how they hoped they could improve and some did absolutely nothing. Of all the yoga accounts I followed (notice followed), only three provided and have continued to discuss an actual heartfelt genuine response in which they educated themselves and helped to educate their followers. The rest went back to posting about their classes and their inversions. I am sorry yoga industry this is not good enough!!! You have a following, whether you like it or not you are influencers and you should be using your platform to make changes within the world.
All hope is not lost
Whilst this is not a particularly positive post, it is not meant to be disheartening. It is not to suggest we all shouldn't practice yoga - yoga is wonderful and I continue to advocate it is a useful tool and a wonderful practice. So keep practising, but just be mindful. Think about the yoga studios and teachers you are supporting and perhaps talk to them about cultural appropriation and their lack of diversity - you never know they may have a scheme and process that they are working on. If you still feel uncomfortable start researching other studios that resonate for you - lets be honest there are yoga studios everywhere!
Also maybe this is the time to really think about our home practices and how we can develop these. Maybe for a week or so you get out your mat and do yoga at home in your pjs and move how you want to move, or join an on-line channel with someone you respect.
In writing this post, I have been inspired by several practitioners who have started the conversation and kept it going. They have been people who thought about the wider issues going on in the world and ensured they have shared it across their platforms. This is not an exhaustive list, and I will continue to add to it as I find others. If you have any suggestions, add a comment and I can add to the list:
@yasmene_ on Instagram (she has written a brilliant article for elephant journal concerning amplifying black voices and how the yoga industry can do better)
@theyogadissident on Instagram (a wide range of discussion in reference to cultural appropriation and lack of diversity in yoga which is broken down into short education pieces.)
@yoga_girl on Instagram (possibly a controversial suggestion but I feel she responded to the Black Lives Matter movement well, her on-line platform is more diverse and continues to reflect and make changes on a mainstream large platform)
@trikona.tattoos on Instagram (alongside being a tattooist, Suzie is also a yoga teacher and she is using her stories to reflect on both industries).
@laurievmcallister on Instagram (Laurie is a yoga teacher who is currently living in Cambodia. Her stories and post continue to provide a learning experience for her followers.)
Lets carry the discussion on outside of this post, drop me a comment, head over to Instagram and drop me a DM or share the post. Let me know the action you are taking in response to this post!