Kilimanjaro. The roof of Africa. The tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Over a week of “pole, pole” & “hakuna matata” culminated in one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. At the summit, my head was foggy & and my legs were unsteady. I hugged Josh & our tears embraced the frigid air of sunrise. The full moon was still soft in the distance.
But (despite the thin air at 19,340 feet) my breath never wavered. In eight days & across five distinct climate zones, that anchor of awareness never retreated or tightened. My breath (my practice) held me in deep trust. It was yoga. I’ve never rested in such trust before; it means something & that’s all I know now.
As an Accessible Yoga Ambassador, I’m humbled to bring a practice like this to my community here in Abu Dhabi, UAE. At the same time, I acknowledge that in doing so I am centering myself (a body very much in alignment with our conditioned notion of what a yoga practitioner “looks like”).
If you come on Friday I will do my best to meet you where you are in the worthy body that you have.
I promise we will move and breathe in new and adaptive ways.
I promise to speak from my heart while naming where I still need to grow (and where I hope we can grow together).
I also promise to uplift/share/celebrate the voices that have been carrying this torch long before I chose to gather behind them.
I listen to awaken because I want to be a good ancestor.
I do the work of unpacking my whiteness because I want to be a good ancestor.
I partner empathy with action because I want to be a good ancestor.
As my heart gets educated on the reality of what has always been I hold space for my white tears but I don’t let that fragility take up more space because I want to be a good ancestor.
My yoga practice intersects with social justice & accessibility & trauma because it is violent to google yoga, attend a retreat/training, or scroll through social media only seeing (or seeking out) bodies that look & move like mine (& I acknowledge the hypocrisy in the picture I’ve chosen—also my knee will definitely fall off being this far past my ankle).
I practice yoga to soften the ego of the intellectual & it’s default towards white exceptionalism.
I practice yoga to unlearn my conditioning & compassionately mess up & do it again because I want to be a good ancestor.
As a teacher I promise to wake up every day and hold up a mirror.
I am saying “I” a lot.
If this doesn’t align or resonate (& I’ve learned lately that it doesn’t with everyone)—then tell me what does?
My friends like to joke that my university degree was in rainbows and kaleidoscopes.
From the perspective of folks with a degree in business or finance, my friends are probably not too far off (my degree was Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Human Rights & Social Justice….so yeah, rainbows).
By the time I was graduating college, I didn’t have a clear direction of what to do next. My motto had always been to “do the best you can in the space you’re in, and the rest will fall into place.” So, I began applying to a bunch of volunteer positions with AmeriCorps (a program that aims at supporting communities in need). By the time of my graduation in 2010, I had been accepted into a yearlong program with an organization in New York City.
The job? A full-time volunteer position as the Program Coordinator for an after-school program for 6th and 7th graders in the Bronx (leading, recruiting, and organizing it all).
Had I ever worked in education? Not really. A couple of tutoring and short-term volunteer jobs.
Had I ever lived in/visited the Bronx? Was I familiar with the community/schools there? No. I had never stepped foot in New York City.
Was working with youth my #1 choice on my application? No. I preferred and had more experience with adults, specifically women.
Was I open to learning and compassionate about social justice? Absolutely, even though I was extremely under-qualified for the job.
During my volunteer year I met Group Leaders and Program Aides who had grown up next door to the young people we were educating/supporting. They had already spent years working in the school while I was still getting lost on my way to the gymnasium. They knew Alyssa’s younger siblings while I was trying to remember Alyssa’s name. They looked like the kids. They didn’t look like an anxious, but hopeful blonde white woman from Michigan. And I was in the higher position.
I made beautiful connections with my students and the staff that year, but I want to be clear: I was another under-qualified white volunteer with good intentions passing through for a year to do the best that I could.
It took me many years to recognize how problematic my time in the Bronx was. I did stay in NYC and continued working in education with the same non-profit organization, but rarely did I or the other white educators in those spaces push each other to have harder discussions around race and why so many in power were (and are) white when the communities were (and are) not. I’m not minimizing my compassionate heart or the relationships I cherish to no end—but I am saying that I didn’t deserve it. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean my work wasn’t meaningful; it shaped who I am today.
“Do the best you can in the space that you’re in, and the rest will fall into place”—that motto of mine was rooted in white supremacy. That trust in the unknown existed because, beyond the rainbows and the work done, the hopeful intentions of my white skin were always prioritized over the potential of those already doing the work.
#satya #truthtelling #yoga
This past week has been just terrible. Moments of overwhelm & sadness. Murky memories rupturing into my present experience when they should be gathering dust. I stopped & sobbed & watched another woman choose bravery. And as I finally found my feet grounding me & remembered my breath breathing me alive, I thought about how to start again. I suppose I start where I always return: the practice.
If we’re not taught consent on the playground when he pulls your hair because he “likes you” then I have to be explicit in my yoga teaching that I DO NOT have a right to your body or your space without your consent. Consent has to be taught & it has to be ongoing.
Because honoring personal boundaries is a matter of basic respect.
Because it’s violent to assume that trauma dissipates when we step into a yoga space.
Because ahimsa (non-harming) begins with honoring choice & reinforcing wholeness.
Because I’ve been that student who felt weird about saying “no” (when the teacher’s hands were already on me) & was injured from her assumption that I could be “more flexible” in that forward fold. It was a similar feeling to letting that guy’s hand stay on my inner thigh—it didn’t feel good, but it’s wasn’t worth making a scene.
Because I’d rather be overly cautious than add one more drop of self-doubt or shame. The world doubts & shames us enough. Enough.
And because I know that touch—intentional & consensual touch—can be profoundly powerful & healing.
Consent cards aren’t perfect. But they are a start.
The yoga practice asks us to bring awareness to the different dances within and around us: Am I ruminating or predicting? Am I prioritizing form over feeling? Does the heat of comparison overtake the warmth of connection?
And every time I look to involve myself on social media, am I writing from satya (truth-telling) or am I centering whiteness? Am I taking action or am I just taking up space? Do my intentions align with my impact?
Is it ego or is it justice?
I am beautifully tangled up in these questions. And with each passing day of spiritual practice I choose to stay bound up in the reality of human suffering and the possibility of collective liberation because I am not separate. White supremacy aims to (no, it absolutely does) prioritize my comfort and cushion my spiritual path. So I have to actively stay uncomfortable because, as Michelle Johnson wrote in @skillinaction , discomfort is the key to transformation.
The work is listening. The work is love & spirit in action. The work is a mirror and the mirror probably has a sh*t ton of filth all over it.
And if the work becomes dharma?
Then the work is never done.
I forget sometimes that my very presence can be a trigger for someone because of the dynamics of power and privilege.
I forget sometimes because my intentions to share the yoga practice are from a kind place. I assume I am always welcome. I assume my smile will soften the edges of what my white ancestors have done.
Maybe more often than I realize I get in the way by asserting myself in spaces where folks are marginalized—that is, under-resourced and not seen by systems of oppression—or where I wasn’t explicitly invited.
Lately I’ve been unpacking the reality that I’m not needed in every yoga space. As white yoga teachers, this is a hard fact to face. I know my passion can cloud prioritizing the already capable & powerful lived experience of others.
Stepping back does not equate to inaction (there are plenty of white spaces where I need to speak up). If I’m not inserting myself into every space I will still be working to heighten the redistribution of resources/knowledge of this yoga practice—so folks are empowered from their own experience and not an external (albeit benevolent) intention of “serving” or “helping”.
A principle of the yoga practice is satya—being truthful in thoughts, words, and actions.
Sometimes (more than you think) getting out of the way and listening truth.
Less helping (implying power over) and more being in relationship.
Relationship over outcome and ego.
A student & seeker on the path of breath and the collective.
Yesterday I received an email that really upset me. It was from a wellness clothing company & the language/message/images were, well, problematic.
I called them out....and they reached out.
They apologized and asked for feedback and clarity. This usually doesn’t happen and I appreciate it when it does (especially because it holds me accountable to dialogue over assuming/dismissing). For some transparency (not to pat myself on the back, but to remind privileged folks that we need to do this work), here’s what I wrote back (from the heart & not the most articulate):
Thank you for responding! There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll say this. Many folks (myself and maybe you too) have had or do have a negative body image & seeing images of a tan and skinny “summer body” can be triggering. Saying “look good naked!” sends a message that folks don’t already look good naked (which means they don’t feel good naked) & that’s harmful. It isn’t empowering and is rooted in systems of oppression. It’s a story that says only certain bodies are worthy and worth celebrating.
Healthy does not always mean skinny and getting a “summer body” sends a message that who you are now isn’t good enough and you need to: eat this, avoid this, buy this, judge that, & starve that to be happy.
That message isn’t what acceptance/yoga/healing is about.
We need to exist without being at war with ourselves. I don’t think your intention was to harm (& I understand that you’re a business and there are additional pressures there), but if we all want to honor and liberate each other we have to celebrate and love who we are—then we can raise consciousness/move from kindness, not perpetuate a cultural messaging of judgment.
Our bodies are worthy. Our existence—today & right now—is enough.
Question anything that doesn’t uphold that wholeness.
Find your body, resting in space. Find your breath in your body. Become aware of the fact that you are alive; your breath is the evidence of that.
So much has brought you to this moment. A collection of stories and experiences, culminating in your identity. We forget that we are constantly evolving. Millions of years of survival. Each breath is evidence of your ancestors. Your next breath is evidence that you want to survive. This energy of life is always there, moving you towards something. What is that something?
Meditate on your dharma--your divine duty--beyond the archaic duty of gender or the constructs of society; it is your purpose. A deep purpose. A Truth that moves not from ego, but from love. Love for yourself and, in turn, love for others. Filling and then giving from that overflowing cup.
Focus on making your yoga practice a practice that fills the cup of your dharma. Svadharma. A practice that supports & supplements how you want to live your life. With each breath a chance to move from a place of truth, love, and purpose—not ego or judgment or approval.
Before you open your eyes, maybe ask yourself: Why am I here? What’s most important to me in the deepest part of my heart? What would life look like yoked to my dharma? What would it look like to consciously move from a place of purpose?
A reminder that you don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to know. But seek. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says it’s better to carry out your dharma imperfectly than to perfectly carry out another’s.
Rub your hands together, generating heat and place your hands over your eyes. Gentle open your eyes & feel the heat enter. Bring your warm palms to your cheeks, like a loved one holding your head in their hands. Finally, palms to your heart. Centering and offering. Thank yourself for showing up.
What does it really look like to show up for social justice? To show up for social justice in yoga?
What would it mean to voluntarily give up some of my privilege in order to make space for a bit more equity?
How much am I willing to risk in order to show that change needs to happen?
My layers of privilege (aka power) are stacked pretty high, permeating more parts of my experience than I will ever know. I only deviate in one perceivable way (woman). And that isn’t even the case within a Western Yoga context.
Currently I am financially and emotionally held and supported. Taking bigger risks and falling hard on my ass (again and again) should be the expectation. If I’m not continuously & uncomfortably speaking up (especially in a season of my life where I WILL BE OKAY regardless), then I’m a part of the problem. I can’t keep blaming systems without equally holding myself accountable.
And I need to turn the dial down any time I sense I’m doing it for my own satisfaction or self-gratification. Showing up for social justice is not and will never be about me. And I get that writing these words from and around my perspective is kinda, well, still about me to some extent. Damn. Is expressing this publicly just another white feminist excuse to heighten my visibility (if so, tell me…well…if you’re white maybe we listen first)? Or is it my space to express a bitty bit of vulnerability from unpacking and reflecting?
I guess a step is a step, but the convenience of contemplation still speaks for itself.