• Your Vote Matters. Your Voice Matters.

    There are those who say that voting doesn’t matter. Choosing the lesser of two evils is, they say, pointless. Countless American citizens sat out the 2016 Presidential election for a myriad of reasons, including a sense of disillusionment and disempowerment with the system. There is a vast segment of eligible voters in the U.S. who have definitively given up on the idea that their vote matters. Many registered voters complain that the U.S. is not a democracy, but an oligarchy, where the rich pull the levers of power at will.

    They are a mixture between resentment, disgust, hopelessness and many experience disenfranchisement, and decide or are unable to cast a ballot at all. It’s easy to turn away from politics in an increasing polarized environment. But I am here to implore you to reconsider your doubt. We cannot look back at history and disregard the sacrifices of our ancestors. We would dishonor those who fought with all their heart and soul so we could cast our vote today. Think of the implications that the people who hold political office have on key issues like the environment, equal rights, health care, the appointment of Supreme Court Justices, social justice, foreign policy, voting rights, corporate regulation and local governance, to name a few.

    “…No one politician is the answer. No one president is the answer.  You are the answer. Mass movements are the answer.  Millions of people are the answer. You are the answer. And so, i need you, we need you.  Even in congress, we can’t do it alone. So, we need you to show up.”
    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. @aoc What Do We Do? Instagram. 18 Sept. 2020.

    1789

    white male land owners who made up 6% of the population get the right to vote

    1856

    white male tax-payers (non-land owners) get the right to vote

    1870

    non-white men and freed male slaves are given the right by the 15th Amendment but Jim Crow laws in the South prevent most from voting (some are still on the books today)

    1920

    white women are granted the right to vote

    1924

    Native Americans granted citizenship and the right to vote

    1943

    Asian Americans granted the right to vote

    1965

    African American women and all minorities granted the right to vote in Voting Rights Act of 1965

    1971

    adults aged 18-21 granted the right to vote in response to Vietnam war protests that argued if you’re old enough to serve you’re old enough to vote

    1986

    American citizens living abroad granted the right to vote

    The majority of women under 40 today have no memory of being denied a credit card, bank account, mortgage, car loan or other tools of self-sufficiency for the simple fact of being born female. This is the very real past on whose shoulders we stand today. This is but one example among many. We cannot look back at history and disregard the sacrifices of our ancestors. We would dishonor those who fought with all their heart and soul so we could cast our vote today.

    And the struggle to vote continues to this day. Long early voting lines, decreased polling hours, removal of official ballot drop-off locations, deletion of polling locations and other actions that disproportionately impact marginalized members of society threaten to erode the fabric of democracy.

    Your vote matters. Your voice matters.

    The following sites will help you get ready to vote and keep you informed about upcoming elections:

    • You have the right to vote. If anyone tries to stop you, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-687-8683 (vote.org)  
    • Visit Vote.org for a helpful guide that outlines voting rights.
    • Get registered to vote, and check your registration on I Am Voter. 
    • TurboVote helps you with the entire process of voting.

     

    #imvotingfor my daughter Kit. I want her to grow up with leaders who think and speak with integrity. Who shows that measured and thoughtful responses do not show weakness. I want her to see that her elected leaders can be the children of immigrants, as her mom is.”
    -Mindy Kaling. @mindykaling Twitter. 7 Oct. 2020.

    “Today several constitutional amendments state that voting rights cannot be abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, or age for those above 18.  Power to the people only works when all the people actually have the means and the will to exercise their power. The answer to our future isn’t to try and purge marginalized communities from voter rolls or block them from voting. Not only is that a temporary solution that will fail over time, but it stems from hate and fear, which eventually backfires. So please, put love in your heart today and let the power of your love motivate you to get to the polls and vote.”
    -Kino MacGregor

    “The message is simple, if you want change, VOTE. We must continue to use our collective voting power to create an elected governmental body that represents the people — ALL the people #votebabyvote
    -Melissa McCarthy. @melissamccarthy Instagram. 5 Jun. 2020.

    “I will always remember this day … my first time voting … and not only I voted but it was as an 🌴☀️🇺🇸 American Citizen! Yes that’s right! it took me a long time to get here … but 20 years later I can finally vote!
    Voting is sooo important … it is expressing your opinion about what matters … voting is actively working towards improving our world, not only for us but also for the generations to come. Just Go Vote!”
    -Agathe Padovani. @ifilmyoga Instagram. 21 Oct. 2020.

    “33 million Americans have already voted. Thank you for this @donlemoncnn @cnn. 13 days until the election which will inevitably determine the next 4 years of our lives and beyond. Have you voted yet? Voting is one of the most simplistic ways we can use our yoga practice for change. See my last Minute Mindfulness IGTV video where I break down how yoga relates to voting 🙏🏾🕉. Don’t forget to sign your mail in ballot on the return envelope. Visit vote.org for further information on polling places, voter registration and ballot drop off boxes.”
    Anusha Wijeyakumar. @shantiwithin Instagram. 21 Oct. 2020.

    “Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country, and this world.”
    -Sharon Salzberg

    “I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever, but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.”
    -Angela Davis, American political activist, academic, and author

    “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
    -Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

    “Get up. Stand up. Speak up. Do something.”
    -Tarana Burke

    The American dream is a work in process. It is not complete, nor has the dream reached its fruition. There is no doubt that the history of the U.S.A is fraught with many and often horrific, challenges, many of which we are just facing in our modern era. But the dream of America is something I will personally never give up on. The Founding Fathers of the U.S.A. never imagined a world of true equality, but the words etched into the Declaration of Independence laid the foundation for the yet to be fully realised revolutionary dream —that is, that every human being, has the intrinsic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to which the institution of government are bound to safe ground the social contract based on these values. To abdicate your right to vote is to say with your inaction that you no longer believe in the dream of America, the dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

    But I believe in the dream of America and the least I can do in support of that dream is to vote. I am for 100% enfranchisement, for every citizen to vote. I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m imploring you simply TO vote. The history of voting rights in this country tells a story of hard-won battles for the right to vote.

    By Kino MacGregor

     

    blog header image: Jennifer Griffin 

  • Thoughts on the Privilege of White Motherhood and Whether or Not We Are the Problem

    I am a white mother of black boys. This gives me a certain perspective in the conversation of race. I have to be mindful and aware of my whiteness and at the same time I have a responsibility to their blackness. I am far from an expert, but I’d like to share some thoughts.

    I was recently sharing with someone close to me, a white mother of white children, the conversations I am having with my boys. We have been speaking about identity. How they see themselves with parents of different races and how the world sees them. It is important for them to know that even though they are of my body, a white body, the world will not see their whiteness, it will be much more comfortable identifying them by their darker skin. I have been working to empower them, telling them that who they are, regardless of other’s perspectives, is amazing and powerful and beautiful and that they matter.

    We have been talking about racism. They are aware of slavery, and segregation, and Martin Luther King Jr. and that his dreams are not yet realized. We have talked about the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors of racists and the emotional and behavioral reactions to acts of racism. Do they understand it? Have they experienced it? What would it look like if they did? How would they react? How do they feel about it?

    When scenes of protests all across the nation show up on the TV screen we talk about them and why they are happening. We talk about current systems of oppression including the behaviors of some police officers and people in positions of power. My youngest looked at his father and cried “Daddy! Don’t go outside!” He was afraid for his dark skinned father, afraid the world would hurt him. So I took them to a protest, I took them to a rally, I took them to local events to show them that people are standing up, calling for, fighting for their equality, their futures. That it is good.

    This other mother, with tears in her eyes, asked “What can I do?” I took her question to be directed at me personally, my personal experiences, and I answered that there was nothing for her to do – they were my conversations to have. I was wrong. More on that later. More recently I was speaking to another dear friend, another white mother of white children, who was trying to understand the accusation that white people are the problem. She’s been observing anger, judgement, even hatred directed against white people by BIPOC, and she named it racism against white people. She mentioned that she didn’t want to have to have this conversation with her kids.

    It brought up so many thoughts for me. Her interest in sincerely examining the issues and her own involvement is what motivated me to write this. If you share a desire to understand, to know better and do better, please continue.

    First of all, racism involves an ideology of superiority/inferiority and includes, in fact depends on, a dynamic of power. If you don’t have the power, you cannot be racist. (massive discussion for another time) Judgement, anger, accusation, and hatred directed at white people by BIPOC is a reaction to the treatments that are systematized, institutionalized, and sanctioned by default and by the passive acceptance of the majority (white) population.

    More importantly, when you are the recipient of this type accusation, when you feel hated for being white, I suggest that you acknowledge the feeling, take it all the way into yourself, accept it, own it. How does it feel to have that energy directed at you because of our race, something you didn’t choose, maybe because of something you didn’t do and in fact don’t agree with yourself. You are not racist, yet you are hated. Your experience, briefly, in that one or those few instances, is a tiny drop compared to the ocean of experiences BIPOC have had for generations, hundreds of years. You are experiencing it for a moment. It is the reality of their existence and has been for far too long. That alone should inspire in you compassion for their struggle, and understanding of their pain, even their anger. If you are frustrated, fatigued, or angry about the conflict and tension of this time in society around the issue of race imagine how they must feel. You are tired of being targeted? They are freaking exhausted.

    A response of fear of the black lives matter movement, of black anger, of the protests is, at its root, an acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them, perhaps even a sense of guilt. “Will they do to us what we’ve done to them?” Again, a feeling worth unpacking for the insight it may give you into the experiences of BIPOC for the past five hundred years in this country.

    Own it all.

    Regarding whether or not we, simply by being white, are the problem. I say probably yes. You may not believe in racist ideologies, you may even recognize that most, if not all, systems in our society are set up to benefit the majority to the detriment of minorities. Participating in the status quo serves the maintaining of the status quo. If the status quo is racism and you are not actively working to dismantle it, then yes, you are the problem. As Angela Davis said, “It is not enough to be non-racist. You have to be antiracist.” There is also a book on the subject: How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. I recommend it.

    So what can white mothers of white children do? How can you participate in the dismantling and rebuilding of a society? Do the difficult, uncomfortable, unending work of identifying your own personal bias and deeply seated beliefs. Then, talk to your children just as I have to talk to mine, as all mothers of children of color have to talk to theirs. Recognize that not having to have these conversations with your children is your privilege. But if issues of racism matter to you, if black lives matter, if my children matter, not having them isn’t an option.

    To my dear friend who cried at the thought of the experiences my children may be having and will certainly have to have many times in their lives, your children shouldn’t be spared these difficult moments, these painful truths. It is your burden too, and theirs.

    Mothers of white children, talk to them so that it is as important an issue to them, their lives, and their future as it is to mine and to all black, indigenous, children of color. You, right now, are determining how your children will see mine, how they will treat them, and whether or not systems of racism will survive into the next generation. If it is not something they feel they have to deal with, they may choose not to, and these problems, this conflict, this pain and hatred will continue.

    We are all, as parents, on a journey of learning, and screwing up, and changing, and doing the best we can. Let this issue, that of inequality in our society, of racism, be an issue in your home, as it is, essentially, an issue in mine. You, mothers, are raising everyone’s future, not just that of your children but that of every BIPOC they come in contact with. Let your parenting be a part of your activism. Raise anti-racists.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. She has had the opportunity to study with the Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and continues her training with his grandson, Sri R. Sharath Jois, in Mysore, India. During her 2011 visit to study in Mysore, India, Angelique received Authorization to teach Ashtanga Yoga from Sri R. Sharath Jois. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

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  • The Cultural Appropriation of Sanskrit

    You walk into yoga class and by the end of it, you have probably heard some terms like “namaste” “sutra” “drishti” or “mandala”. If you’ve never questioned the meaning behind these words besides knowing them as yoga terms, you’ve probably fallen into a common pitfall of cultural appropriation.

    Yikes! But not to fear, we’re here to break down an intro to Sanskrit for you. It is not uncommon to fall into cultural appropriation, and it can really happen to anyone simply because we do not think to ask where these terms stem from and the possible implications of their use. Many times we just take it for what it is, which in our small circle is a yoga term. Even then, have we questioned from where our favorite Vinyasa class has originated? Do we CARE to know? When engaging in these activities, and using certain language (in this case, Sanskrit) it is important to appreciate the cultures that gave us them, versus appropriate them.

    What is SANSKRIT?

    Sanskrit is a language that is thought to have come about around 1500 BCE. It is part of the Indo-Aryan languages which were spoken by individuals inhabiting Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Within ancient and medieval India, it was the language of intellectuals and was the language the early first yogis spoke and used in writing ancient yoga manuscripts. Let’s backtrack for a second and revisit those terms we talked about in the beginning. “Namaste” “Sutra” “Mandala.” These are all actual words from an ancient and highly revered language, not just something Stephanie, your yoga instructor, uses to calm you down every Friday evening. The words themselves each have different meanings:

    • Sutra: Sutras are actually different philosophies used to find true happiness and how to live ethically. They are part of eight different limbs of Yoga.
    • Mandala: Mandalas are circular forms representing the universe. In yoga, they are used as support in meditation.

    What About Namaste? Should we Use it to End Class?

    The term Namaste deserves its own section, as it is an incredibly frequent term used at the end of yoga classes. Namaste in english terms means “bow to you” which is usually why it is used at the end of class. The way its shared often in the West is that there is a spark within each of us, and that is used within a bow to conclude yoga classes. However in India, where it originated, it’s used as a greeting not an ending! It’s often used interchangeably with saying hello! We say it to elders and those who we want to greet with respect. As long as we understand that we are using the term appropriately, we know the history and meaning behind it and are appreciating the culture it stems from, yoga teachers should not fear using the term to wrap up class. After all, it does stem from the culture that brought us yoga.  The problem lies when we are oblivious and do not care to inform ourselves, and instead are okay with just throwing the word around it without taking into account the weight it holds.

    Appropriate Usage of Yoga Terms

    When incorporating the Sanskrit name of yoga poses, in order to not appropriate the culture, you may be wondering what is the best way to go about using them. First and foremost, not only is it important to learn the meaning behind different terms, but it is essential to learn how to properly pronounce them. No one would appreciate someone completely butchering the pronunciation of their name, and that goes for butchering cultural words as well. To learn how to properly pronounce the Sanskrit words of poses in yoga, there are many resources online. You may click here to learn about the pronunciation of letters and some tips on how to better do so, while practicing yoga.

    Final Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

    There is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation. The main difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is connected to:

    1. Power
    2. Harm

    So much depends on the intent, awareness, and, most importantly, the impact behind connecting to and partaking in another culture. With appreciation comes knowledge, it is being open-minded, being kind and willing to learn the background of different cultural items, languages, traditions, etc. Appreciation aims to not offend and instead celebrate different cultures. Appropriation on the other hand, does not aim to know the background of cultures, and simply takes it for face value. Knowing the difference between the two will make the biggest difference in answering “Is this cultural appropriation” when you are put in areas that may seem to be gray. For more information on our guest author, visit susannabarkataki.com for articles on forms of cultural appropriation and ways to handle it in today’s society.

    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki is the founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs Ignite Be Well 200/500 Yoga Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). She is the author of the forthcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with more than 10,000 participants.

  • Marsha’s Dharma: Yoga and Social Justice

    Marsha P. Johnson was a drag queen who climbed a light post and changed the world. When she stood before a judge and was questioned about her gender, she answered blithely that the ‘P’ stood for “Pay it no mind.’

    Born in a time where the language didn’t make space for choice of pronouns or gender that diverged from the binary, she was a crusader for acceptance.It’s arguable that much of the progress we enjoy today can be traced back to those nights in 1969 when she and her friends rioted for gay liberation.

    I’m so grateful for Marsha P. She is an icon, a spiritual figurehead and in that sense, mother to a new way of being in the world. She is the Patron Saint of Being Fed Up with The World’s Bullshit. Her legacy is my self love. My self acceptance is due to the yoga that she did in the world, maybe without even knowing it. Because of her and her Stonewall compatriots, I have the ability to be out. To be proud. To do yoga intentionally.

    Pride is political.

    Yoga is political.

    Those with the luxury to say otherwise are out of touch with the reality of life on Earth. The fact is that the power structures at play are designed to keep people in their place and change comes only in equal measure to the will of the people to protest the status quo. The progress that has been made for inclusivity in our society did not come easily. Women threw stones through Parliament windows as they sought the right to vote. African Americans refused to move to the back of the bus, an act of rebellion that often left them bloodied. At Stonewall TLGBQ threw punches and set fires that said enough is enough.

    Yoga is absolutely an internal practice that helps individuals find their own healing, but inner peace that bypasses the struggle for universal equality is just an illusion. Compassion for the self that falls into this trap of ignoring the suffering of others easily transforms into self centeredness. A more whole compassion says, ‘May WE be happy,’ not only ‘May I be happy.’ Informed with this awareness, the yogi in training should take action…

    Yoga most certainly has a political point of view. One of the moral imperatives built into our practice is Ahimsa, the willingness to seek a path towards non harming. This component of yoga does not imply passivity at all, rather it demands the hard work of digging up the roots of violence.

    Ahimsa is one of the first virtues defined in the Yoga Sutras, and as such the path of the yogi should include deep contemplation of the concept. The classical texts ask us to cause no injury in deed, word or thought. This direction should not be taken as a simple commandment however. We must critically evaluate the actions of others, especially those who enjoy privilege over a minority.

    When powerful and corrupt political and societal factions leverage injury and violence against minorities, the yogic action is to advocate for the reduction of harm against those minorities.

    When you understand that police forces routinely oppressed gay communities, arresting them en masse, then you can understand why it was Marsha’s dharma to drop a brick on top of the paddy wagon.

    When you understand that police are killing black people at alarming rates, then you understand why communities are in the midst of an uprising. From deep inside, a voice of knowing is saying: Act up, speak out, fight now or nothing is ever going to change.

    Unfortunately the world is chaotic and truth can be hard to find. We must be discerning and wary of our fears being used to divide us. Fox News and Mr. Trump thrive on stirring up fear and tapping into deeply ingrained racism and phobias to create an unjust anger. This is an anger that is rooted in the idea that the other will come and harm you, attacking your moral sensibility and stealing wealth from your community. This anger is rooted in the delusion of superiority, the mistaken belief that one type of human being has greater value than another.

    Alternatively, sometimes we get angry righteously, but do nothing out of fear that our anger is wrong. The internet is full of memes and ignorant people that make anger seem like the enemy. Being angry with racists and abusers is not poison and your energy is not wasted by feeling this way… These feelings are catalysts of change.

    The question at hand is not ‘Should I be angry?’, because we all definitely should be. The better question here is ‘‘How do I work with all this anger?’

    Yoga teaches me to pause and take a deep breath and find the space to respond skillfully to the pain of injustice. It’s only by seeking conscious contact with the greater powers of my understanding that I keep momentum and know what action is right. When the world mislabeled my anger as hatred, I must tap my soul’s conviction to keep strong and not back down.

    Donate to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute

    I grew up in a small town in the South. My community and even my family installed a program of self hatred into me. The word faggot was thrown around with venom and teeth. I responded to these wounds with a valiant attempt to self destruct through drugs and alcohol. That I’m still alive today is a testament to the great suffering I found when I reached my rock bottom and my subsequent relationship with yoga and the higher powers of my understanding.

    So yes, the truth is that I am very angry and my suffering was so great that it left my convictions crystal clear. I know the damage that white, heteronormative ignorance inflicts. I also know that the fact that I’m still alive feels miraculous, and I should not let a miracle go to waste. Not everyone is so lucky after all. My hero Marsha had suffering greater than mine, but never the sweet comfort of healing.

    I remain confident of my calling to be a voice for change by tuning into the great mystery within me. Looking inward, I am reminded that the nature of the soul is an unanswered question and as such the divinity within each life force must be considered created equal and that we must be willing to fight and sacrifice for this end.

    Yoga Sutra ll.16 teaches us a bit about things that cloud this divinity. This Sutra tells the story of ‘ego’, casting it as all the things that obscure the true self. It names this quality of being ‘Asmita’. It’s the sense that we are something that we are not. It’s a feeling that our value is related to what we DO IN THE WORLD. A problem here is that one might also come to believe self worth is determined by what the WORLD DOES TO YOU.

    Transphobia. Racism. Misogyny. These all stem from the mistaken belief that one kind of human being is superior to another. When I tap my intuition, I suspect that the truth may be that we are all a kind of transgender being. I suspect the immutable soul does not identify with the genitals. Or skin color. Or religion.

    That said, here we are having a human experience that comes with a sexual identity. And race. And social status. We live in a world where the passionately delusional among us leverage intolerance to increase their own status. They fear scarcity and suffering, so they act in ways that force us all out of balance and towards chaos.

    Yoga reminds of us what we still might be. It reminds us of our potential, the possibility within and beyond earthly dramas. It encourages to look past the veil of Asmita, not as a way of disregarding Earthly strife, but rather as a way of remembering why action is demanded. The evolution of our personal soul and collective consciousness is on the line.

    Practice provides practical tools. It reminds us how even the world of the mind, body and senses rage like war, even though we may bring a little peace to them. When I sit still to mediate, sometimes there is great pain. Great internal battles are fought as I try to maintain stillness. In my asana practice, there is great struggle. Finding steadiness in the pose comes only with firm effort and some amount of physical discomfort.

    Yes, I dare say that acute physical and psychological pain are, in my opinion, some of the selling points of yoga. Practice helps me cultivate the desire to stay present. When my entire personal history and future constantly elaborate themselves, arguing they are fated by powers beyond my control, I stay present. When today’s choices seem bound to mistakes made what feels like lifetimes ago, I stay present. When the legacy of prejudice and oppression exert their force, I stay present.

    Yoga reminds me I am not those terrible things I did before. Nor am I the weak and sickly thing that broken human beings would have me believe.

    When I practice, when I connect to a spiritual community, when I turn inward, I sense that there is so much more to me. I feel a deep longing to seek balance for myself and others. This calling is rooted in a knowing that humanity is destined for so much more and a sureness that we must fight for our right to transform and transcend.

    I am a seeker. I am a gay human. My pronouns are he/they. I am a creature made of universal love, just like Marsha P Johnson.

    She started this work of reprogramming all these old beliefs of ‘him or her’ or ‘us and them’. It’s my honor to continue it, standing up for self respect, societal equality, justice and insight.

    The divine gave us a beacon in the form of Marsha. Fueled by a glimpse of our own Godliness, what can’t we fight?

    By Joseph Armstrong

    Donate to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute

    Joseph Armstrong teaches yoga rooted firmly in tradition but with an eye to the future. His search for a more present and peaceful life first led him to the practice in 2008. A few years later he was in India studying intensively. After finally overcoming a long struggle with addiction, Joseph began experimenting with Ashtanga Yoga. He understood quickly that the lineage was calling to him to deepen his practice. He underwent a 2 year apprenticeship program at the world renowned Miami Life Center, continuing his education under his dear teachers Tim Fieldmann and Kino MacGregor. More recently he has completed 2 months of study in Mysore under Sharath Jois. Joseph teaches yoga because attempts to do any and everything else ended disastrously. But when he finally devoted himself to his passion, he became an asset to himself and others. He hopes his practice allows him to be ever more loving and to exist gently.

  • Healing Ashtanga Yoga Through Radical Unlearning and Co-Creation of Community

    In the wake of the most recent and publicized murders of Black men and women at the hands of state-sanctioned systemic violence, seven years after the phrase was coined by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter has become a public rallying cry.

    I didn’t go to the protest a few weeks back here in Helsinki. I sent my husband and children on my behalf so that I might write, mourn and move through raw emotion in peace. I needed space to bear witness to what might either be history in the making or another cycle of an ongoing pattern we know all too well. I wrote the following on a Instagram post capturing the complexities of the moment: There are many heightened, mixed emotions pulsing through me right now.

    The hopeful energy of Finland’s historical protest.

    The fatigue.

    The rage of how many Black lives it took before Black Lives Matter became a public rally cry.

    The fatigue…of trying to make sense of the senseless, of the insanity of state-sanctioned murder. And the oldness of it.

    The joy and necessity of falling into the arms of my sisters as I make mistakes too, along my own process of dismantling my internalized Anti-Blackness. The sadness I feel when I can’t show up for another sister because my own rage and hurt is too overwhelming. My burden too heavy to carry on my own.

    The cautious hope and wariness that those with newfound consciousness will do the tough, inner work of dismantling their conditioning around whiteness and proximity to power. Of holding themselves and their family, friends, colleagues accountable.

    The suspicion (and proof) of businesses and corporations co-opting the movement because it makes good cents now and they can continue to build their empires off the backs and pain of oppressed people, of Black people. Of who will show up once anti-racism is no longer trendy. This is rigorous, unglamorous work. It’s not sexy. It often hurts and mistakes are many….

    And now begins the real work of many lifetimes. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner and teacher for 12 years, I’ve been involved in spiritual activism since 2018. I hadn’t planned it, nor expected my spiritual path to lead me towards the seemingly external world of activism. The truth is, as a Kenyan-American, biracial Black woman based in Finland since 2010, I’ve been in need of community. I’ve been part of the Ashtanga yoga world both in Finland and abroad and have gotten to know parts of the Finnish yoga community. However, from the get go, the lack of Black and Brown people in the yoga world globally and in Finland, has never sat right with me.

    As I got more teaching experience and began to get intentional about who I serve as a teacher, it became clear that my target demographic are BIPOC. However, as a teacher responsible for the wellbeing of all who come practice with me, I must ask myself the following questions: How safe would BIPOC be in a predominantly white space? What microaggressions might they need to bear?  How much free education and emotional labor would they be subjected to as they seek to rest, recuperate and deepen in contemplation?

    Ashtanga Yoga has the reputation of being elitist, exclusionary and racist, all of which are true. This leaves much to be desired. In fact, I got so disillusioned by the lack of accountability around the abuse of power and community complicity that I took a long break from the practice to clear my head and gain clarity on where my North Star was guiding me. I was pointed to the revelation that I can love something, engage in it, and be critical about it.

    Much still needs to be unpacked and accounted for within the upper levels of the community. From where I stand, it is not business as usual. It cannot be because it’s essential to not only see the pattern of systemic oppression but to actively work to eliminate it in all its manifestations. Anti-Blackness and racism might seem like distant topics to those who are protected by the systems and don’t have to manage societal repercussions. By contrast, questioning your participation in a culture of complicity within the Ashtanga yoga community is personal.

    The lack of diversity in Ashtanga Yoga is very real and very problematic. However, the solution doesn’t rest in aspiring towards diversity and inclusivity. These terms imply that someone (usually from the dominant group or deeply invested in it) owns the table and can choose who to invite and who to kick out at any time. This implies that there is someone at the top who is the gatekeeper. That there’s someone hoarding all the toys in the playground and won’t share, save for a few throw away knick knacks, which they can take back any time they feel like it.

    My vision for the healing and spiritual evolution of Ashtanga Yoga involves a radical unlearning and co-creation of a community that’s deeply honest, transparent and rooted in equity, joy and justice.

    I offer the following reflections on how we might co-create this together:

    Lean into discomfort:

    This is something we as yogis are trained to do. Every time we step onto the mat and move through the method of linking breath with movement and soft, steady focus, we meet ourselves again and again. Our stuff. Our obscurations. Our breakthroughs. The work of divesting from social conditioning around whiteness and proximity (or distance) to power is similar.

    Learn to discriminate between discomfort and lack of safety:

    When we attempt a new pose for the first time, we don’t generally scold the teacher if we don’t ace it right away. We understand that it takes time, that it is a step by step process to become familiar with and understand the pose. It’s not comfortable to learn new, often painful complexities. This doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. Nor does it mean that the (BIPOC) person offering the lesson needs to say things nicely, calmly and peacefully in order for you to listen. Again, our practice of yoga has prepared us well. It has taught us not to shrink from the first onset of strong sensation. We have honed our sense faculties to determine the difference between discomfort and pain.

    Avoid the smoke and mirrors of performative allyship:

    If white people are centering themselves and profiting from solidarity efforts, you can be sure that institutionalized racism is still firmly in place. It all comes out in the wash in the end. Think about it like this: who will be at your funeral? If your funeral (as a white person) is full of white people similar to your social location, chances are you played it pretty safe and didn’t do a whole lot as a living ancestor to dismantle Anti-Blackness, racism and systemic oppression. However, if the people that you say you stood behind attend your funeral, well, that speaks volumes.

    Mistakes will happen. Keep going:

    Like the practice, we don’t roll up the yoga mat in the middle of practice and leave the room because we skipped a pose. We don’t ruminate for days on end that some poses were done out of sequence. And while the stakes are different in the context of Anti-Black racism, the logic is the same: once a mistake has been made, what you choose to do next is crucial. However, be attentive to not committing the same egregious activity over and over again. Mistakes are great teachers. Learn from them.

    Know your people:

    This speaks to the topic of cultural appropriation that exceeds the scope of this post. However, before and beyond the conditioning of whiteness, people of European descent had their own indigenous practices and cultures too. Know who you are and where you came from. Reclaim your ancestry, no matter how painful and complex.

    Who are you beyond your conditioning around whiteness?

    What does yoga and wellness look like beyond whiteness?

    The last two questions are for ongoing reflection since I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that I offer deep bows of appreciation to all the visionaries, prophets, dreamers and heretics.

    May we bear witness together to this new world that’s on her way and here and being born and is still just a sparkle in the eyes of those brave, hungry, compassionate, nurturing, yearning folk who believe in both the seen and the unseen.

    For those who will plant the seed for a tree under which they will not get to enjoy its cool shade on a hot, summer day.

    For those who did plant the seed for a tree under which they didn’t get to sit under but which I enjoy sitting under now.

    By Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen

    Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen is a Kenyan-American based in Finland, passionate about making wellness through yoga and meditation seamlessly engaged in equity and justice so that more people of the global majority can live well and thrive. Wambui is deeply inspired by spiritual teachers and communities that seek ways to apply the insights from our various practices and teachings to situations of social, racial, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice. She would like to see wellness spaces engage more in social justice + collective change and activist spaces learn to breathe deeply and practice sustainable self-care in the midst of dismantling systemic oppression. This is her definition of community care. Visit wambuinjuguna.com and @wellnesswithwambui

  • Celebrating International Yoga Day with Yoga Gives Back

    Yoga made me realize that my body is a temple. I am responsible to take care of it so that I can serve others. This was a profound awakening. It also made me realize that practicing yoga is not a selfish act but rather essential if I want to continue to serve others.

    What is yoga to you?

    YOGA is the anchor and light in my life, which totally changed my life. I was a documentary film maker for most of my adult life for nearly 30 years, producing TV programs for Japanese National Public TV on current affair issues. Once I found yoga, it changed my life. I eventually quit my job to dedicate my life for Yoga Gives Back. YOGA grounds me to the core on a daily basis with meditation and asana practices. Slowing my breath and clearing my head is the most important effect of YOGA in my life. It teaches me mind-body connection and therefore, it makes my goal of living well fundamentally meaningful.

    How did you get started with yoga?

    My friend took me to my first yoga class almost fifteen years ago, which was Kundalini yoga with Gurmukh at Golden Bridge, near my home in Los Angeles. I was very happy to find that YOGA offered not only physical but also spiritual practice as a goal. I got interested in learning more about YOGA and started exploring various different classes for a few years, till I found Ashtanga Yoga which totally hooked me into more regular asana practices as well as a deeper spiritual journey.

    What impact has yoga had on your life?

    Yoga made me realize that my body is a temple. I am responsible to take care of it so that I can serve others. This was a profound awakening. It also made me realize that practicing yoga is not a selfish act but rather essential if I want to continue to serve others.

    How have you seen yoga impact the lives of others?

    I continue to receive yoga practitioners’ messages expressing how grateful they are for yoga in their lives and therefore want to give back to India. This shows how YOGA is impacting many lives around the world. YGB is shared now in more than 20 countries, with more than 150 Global Ambassadors (including Kino and Tim) and hundreds of volunteers, raising awareness and funds for YGB’s mission. YGB’s growth shows YOGA’s impact in many lives.

    Can you tell us more about Yoga Gives Back?

    Yoga Gives Back (YGB) is a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization, which engages global yoga communities with gratitude to give back to Mother India, for the gift of yoga we have received.

    We raise awareness and funds to empower underserved women and children in India. YGB is unique in uniting all yoga practitioners regardless of branch or school with one simple cause, GRATITUDE. I am proud that we have been able to reach out to yoga communities in more than 20 countries which support nearly 1400 underserved women and children in Karnataka and West Bengal, India through micro loans and education funds.

    YGB is also unique in connecting our global supporters directly to the fund recipients in India through regular updates of their stories with photos and videos on social media and regular news letters, so global supporters can see how everyone’s contributions are truly making tremendous difference in our recipients’ lives.

    We also offer dozens of short documentary YGB FILMS which I have been filming and producing since 2007 to share how so many lives have been transformed with their dreams coming true. We empower ourselves by empowering others. That is a truly wonderful lesson.

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced in the world of yoga?

    I have been most inspired with the incredible response Yoga Gives Back has received since the start in 2007 from so many yogis around the world. This is the testament that the world of yoga is filled with compassionate souls that can make a real difference in this world if we can come together.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Yoga has unfortunately become a symbol of capitalism. Many yoga businesses accelerate consumerism and competition rather than introducing and emphasizing compassion or the real goal of YOGA to be united with all and relinquish the self-centered ego. I am always so grateful for our sponsors like Omstars who continue to believe in our mission and share it with their own community. YGB has been blessed that a growing list of yoga and wellness businesses support our mission. Their support has been critical for our sustainable operation.

    What do you feel is your dharma–your life mission?

    My life mission is to engage One Million Yogis throughout the world to grow YGB into a more sustainable nonprofit organization that can empower thousands or millions more underserved women and children in India to empower themselves and build sustainable livelihoods.

    Are there any current projects or upcoming events that you are able to share with our community?

    “International Yoga Day” Global Campaign is taking place over the weekend of June 21. While many of us are blessed to have yoga practice that sustains us at this difficult time, many women and children in India are struggling for their lives due to enormous stress added by the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown and the catastrophic Cyclone Amphan (May 20) in West Bengal. India’s COVID-19 nation-wide lock down has caused 500 impoverished mothers of YGB’s micro loans programs in rural villages of West Bengal to lose their jobs and daily income. Many of 700 young girls under YGB’s education programs are facing their family’s financial pressure to drop out of school and get married.

    Cyclone Amphan hit the rural villages outside of Kolkata very hard. Many of our 1200 fund recipients in the region lost their homes. They need to rebuild everything. India has generously given the world the eternal gift of yoga. It is our goal to create a community of #OneMillionYogis to give back especially at this time. Host, take a class, or simply donate whatever you can. I am grateful that so many YGB Global Ambassadors have expressed their support and are hosting or donating classes to inspire many yoga teachers around the world to do the same.

     

    Check YGB Global Calendar for all class listings

     

    Live Classes with Omstars Teachers

     


    Our goal is to raise $50,000 with this global campaign to ensure our assistance to urgent relief needs to rebuild lives as well as YGB’s micro loan and education programs to empower under-served women and children. Are you in? It’s easy.

    Host one class: 

    a- Register your event
    b- Download Event Tool Kit

         (YGB logoFlyer TemplatePress Kit)
     c- Promote Your Event
    (YGB will post your event on Global Calendar and Social Media)

    d- Use this link for direct donation or payment
    * If you use this link for all donation payments, make sure that your event’s attendees mention the host teacher’s name in this payment form.

    Let’s come together as the force of #OneMillionYogis!

    Additionally, there are two other ways to have immediate impact:

    Thank you in advance for your contribution and support of the under-served women and children in India. Any inquiries, please write to info@yogagivesback.org. Namaste.

    By Kayoko Mitsumatsu, Founder of Yoga Gives Back.org

  • Dismantling Racial Barriers in Wellness

    Yoga studios in general have an open door policy. Anyone, of any size, background, ethnicity and sexual orientation is welcomed. Yet, the majority of students and teachers continue to be White. Surprisingly, these statistics don’t shift much with demographic. Even in the most diverse neighborhoods, yoga studios are filled with White bodies. The open door policy is not working.
    Why not and what can we do about it?

    Uncovering your own Implicit Bias:

    The first step to diversifying your clientele as a teacher and studio owner is to be mindful of your own implicit bias. The Perception Institute states that “thoughts and feelings are ‘implicit’ if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people”. As yoga teachers we know that most of our daily actions are played out without our conscious input. It is imperative to take these biases into account when we interact with BIPOC in our wellness space. Implicit racial bias shows up when we encourage and support certain types of students to attend a teacher training over others. It shows up in who and how we mentor and how we build relationships with our students. It even shows up in deciding which business platforms and organizations to partner with.

    As a yoga practitioner it is easy to to lean into the simplicity of escapism and spiritual bypassing. We say things like, ‘all humans are equal, everything happens for a reason’ or even ‘I don’t see color’. Although these statements might make us feel better in that moment, the only thing they actually do is validate our own inaction. These statements feed into our own ego, and allow us to comfortably rest in complicity. They do nothing to promote and nurture diversity in yoga spaces and classes. The practice of karma yoga asks us to take action. In order to shift the current white washed landscape of yoga, we have to take intentional and actionable steps to uncover our own implicit bias. Even if we are not racist, and we ‘wish’ our classes would be more diverse, if we are not intentionally stepping outside of our comfort zone to implement lasting change in our environment, we are actively contributing to the white supremacy and racial divide in yoga.

    Financial Barriers to Diversity:

    Income inequality is a direct effect of systemic racism and oppression. Inequality.org states that the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median the Black family and studies have shown that this racial wealth divide only continues to grow. These inequalities directly affect the level of diversity in yoga spaces. Many studios have both strategically and sometimes inadvertently placed themselves in the luxury wellness sector. Studios charge $20+ a class, and yet believe their classes are financially accessible to the public. Clients mostly pay for yoga classes and memberships with disposable income; income that was allotted to them by the intentional oppression of others. Thus, BIPOC have a very different relationship with their money. Further so, self-care, healing and spirituality are often portrayed as a luxury rather than a right.

    Too often the environment that yoga studios cultivate only reinforce this belief system. It is important that we prioritize the well-being of our community as a whole (including Black people) over potential profit margins. In this climate as many yoga studios struggle to keep the doors open it might seem difficult to envision a way to manipulate the current pricing structure. However, even with current business models, an overwhelming amount of yoga classes remain partially empty. Creating inclusion and diversity in wellness spaces is not only our duty as practitioners, it is also good business. Instead of ignoring an entire demographic of people, what would it look like to remove the financial barriers, and foster an economically sustainable relationship?

    Creating a safe space for Black People:

    The reason many Black people do not feel comfortable in yoga spaces is because they are predominantly occupied by white bodies. Historically, Black people have not been safe nor allowed in spaces occupied by Whites. One might argue that the past is the past, however racial segregation was only abolished in 1964. To put this into perspective, that was 56 years ago as of 2020. Now, if we believe that trauma and PTSD can be generational, it is no surprise that certain fears and safety mechanisms are ingrained into the Black community. The trauma is passed down and only validated by the daily racial micro and macro aggressions from White counterparts. To this day, Black people can’t walk into certain establishments without being scared for their life, can’t run through certain neighborhoods without being killed, and can’t even be in their own homes without being viewed as criminals. So why do yogis think that an all white yoga studio would seem like a safe space for Black people who are majorly suffering from conscious and subconscious trauma.

    Creating a safe space doesn’t start with a diverse clientele, but a diverse teaching, management, and desk staff. If potential clients look at your website do they see diversity? When BIPOC enter your studio, do they see themselves represented? As teachers and studio owners it is not enough to just open the doors and hope that diversity will inevitably occur. It is your duty to take actionable steps to define yourself as a diverse culture. This means not being passive and naive, but intentional and aware of the barriers black people encounter when entering any wellness space. It is not enough to claim inclusivity, you must actively challenge white supremacy. Dismantling the status quo and fighting for social justice has to be a daily practice.

    As yogis it is our job to pull apart our own patterns, to evaluate the why behind our actions and to hopefully progress and step into a new way of life. Can we evolve in our opinions and our actions the same way we evolve in our teachings? Through dedication, hard work and the desire to be and do better.  Can we as teachers lean into the discomfort of change the way we lean into our practice? Through patience, action and breath. Now is the time to take your practice off of the mat. This, is the Yoga!

    Patricia Luensmann

    Patricia is a NYC based Yoga teacher, founder of Yoga While Black and lifelong student. Her teachings aim to cultivate mental, physical and emotional well being through yoga, meditation, and reiki. In a society where healing and spirituality have become a trend, her offerings are rooted in digging deep, finding vulnerability, and doing the work. With a belief that healing has no shape, color or gender, Patricia works to bring awareness around the lack of diversity, specifically Black representation, in the wellness industry.

  • We’re listening and we are committed to learning

    It is not business as usual for us here at Omstars. We are grateful to and for our community of teachers, staff and leaders within and outside of the Yoga community for all that has been shared, expressed and spoken out about the murder of Black human beings, the systematic racism that continues to pervade the U.S, and the devastating impact these horrific events have on BIPOC individuals, community and the communities across the globe.

    We are actively taking steps to help support and
    raise up the community around us.

    We may not get it right all the time, but we are committed to doing everything we can to share, to take action, and be part of the solutions that help create much-needed change. The changes needed are not only towards larger governmental and societal change but within the yoga and wellness communities. There are barriers to entry for BIPOC teachers, leaders, and experts that should not exist. We want to be part of breaking these down and lifting up the voices, initiatives, and programs of these individuals.

    We are also grateful and truly honored to share the teaching and work of so many strong voices within the BIPOC community and want to continue to share their voices. We commit to the continuation of sharing our space and platform to write or speak, teach, anything that BIPOC teachers and leaders feel would help to elevate, amplify and empower their voices and the initiatives and efforts they have been working on for many years. In an effort to continue to do better and to be a better ally for the community, we are actively seeking out and speaking with teachers and yoga community leaders within the Black, Indigenous and People of Color community to host talks and teach more classes on Omstars.

    There is always more to be done, and we commit to listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. We are a platform that shares practices and teachings that help heal, develop compassion, empathy, and connection. But these teaching must also come from many voices, backgrounds, and people in order to honor traditional origins and cultural roots and history of Yoga. And, these voices must also come from a multitude of backgrounds so that the ways in which we can use these practices to heal, can be done so within the content of varying experiences, histories, and lives. We a currently working alongside Susanna Barkataki, learning a lot as we do, and will be releasing a series of articles that she has developed on Yoga and Cultural Appropriation.

    Yoga and mindfulness practices are not separate from the socio-political realm, because racism, prejudice, and marginalization take place within the world of yoga too. We commit to doing everything it takes truly to become an ally for marginalized yoga community members. There is no performance here. We are prepared to do the work. Yoga is for EVERYONE and our mission from day 1 was to make the traditional practice of yoga available to every single person around the world. That has not changed. What has changed is how we show up, who we work with and alongside, and rather than taking a leadership role, we take the role of the learner, the listener, and amplifying voices other than our own.

    Most recently, we raised $7890 during our summer sale and have since split the donation funds between the Global Fund For Women and NAACP Empowerment Programs. A big thank you to our incredible community of members, we couldn’t have done this without them. Additionally, we are sourcing supportive and educational courses for our team here at Omstars so that we can better show up for each other, our community of teachers, and for each and every member, student, and each person that we encounter. We will continue to update this blog as we take new action steps to better support the BIPOC community (most recent update August 26th, 2020).

    Lastly, we’re working on creating an ever-expanding resource list. This, like our action steps, is a living document that we will continue to expand and grow. If you have recommendations or resources you think we should add to this list, please send them to info@omstars.com. We are not the experts, and so we defer to the expertise, knowledge, and experience of many inspiring and hardworking community leaders and organizations.

    Educate and Stay Informed

    Books To  Read

    White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

    How to be an antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

    Me and white supremacy by Layla F Saad

    Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

    I’m still here: Black dignity in a world made for whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

    White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

    Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt

    Why are all the blacks kids sitting together in the cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum

    Uprooting Racism: how white people can work for racial justice by Paul Kivel

    Accounts to Follow

    If you decide to follow more BIPOC leaders and community members to your social media feed, make sure that your first step after hitting follow is to learn about their boundaries, their community framework, and expectations. Most of these individuals have been doing this work for a long, long time. They are not here to meet our needs, expectations, or to answer our questions. It is up to US to learn, to find resources, to use google, and to find answers. WE must do the work, support their work, sign up for their courses, and donate to their causes. 

    @wocandwellness

    @wellnesswithwambui

    @antiracismdaily

    @nicoleacardoza

    @yogafoster

    @blackyogateachersalliance

    @melaninyogaproject

    @rachel.cargle
    @chnge
    @privtoprog
    @shaunking
    @mixedfatchick
    @blackandembodied
    @jessicawilson.msrd
    @ibramxk
    @laylafsaad
    @wellness_yogini
    @iamrachelricketts

    Websites and References:

    https://www.naacp.org

    https://www.aclu.org/

    https://ca.gofundme.com/f/justiceforjacobblake

    https://www.standwithbre.com/

    https://www.embracerace.org/

    https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co⁣

    ⁣https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#educate

    https://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/

    https://www.theconsciouskid.org/about/

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/books/review/antiracist-reading-list-ibram-x-kendi.html

    https://www.antiracismdaily.com/

    https://www.rachelricketts.com/online-courses

    https://www.thelovelandfoundation.org

    https://www.rachel-cargle.come/the-great-unlearn

    Children’s Books:

    Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Warner

    Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

    Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews

    Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

    By Kino & the Omstars Team

  • Yoga Community, Your Love and Light is Not Working

    Yoga community, that love and light you sent out, it’s not working. It didn’t make it to George Floyd as he fought to breathe with a White policeman’s knee on his neck. It didn’t make it to Ahmaud Arbery as he was brutally murdered by armed White men on his morning run. Your love and light is not a safety cloak that Black people can pull on when their bodies are being threatened.

    White people’s love and light didn’t stop slavery or the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Their love and light didn’t work in the past, it doesn’t work now and it won’t work in the future. 

    I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs”

    -Frederick Douglas, Black abolitionist.

    If your love and light has no legs, it will not work. If it is not backed by action, self study and change, it will not work. 

    Racism in America is systemic and forms the foundation of American culture. It is not just someone wearing a white hood, using the “N” word or physically harming Black bodies. It is the culmination and combination of over 400 years of oppression and ignorance. It is not just front page news events keeping this going. It is also little events done for over 400 years that have concretized the White supremacy that is as American as apple pie. Therefore, small things done by millions of people, can have a big impact. Little drops of racism become normalized. Those drops become an ocean that forms tsunamis that destroy the lives of Black folks.  The “new normal” should not just be a Covid-19 slogan. Create a new anti racist normal for America as well.

    I am going to use a Yoga scenario to drive this home but do know that racism and your Yoga problems are not in the same ballpark. This is just to get you thinking.  Think of a Yoga pose, that you eventually mastered, that was extremely challenging for you.  One that felt almost impossible. For me, that pose was a deep backbend, where you reach back and grab your heels,  called Kapotasana. For years, I worked on Kapotasana. I would make huge strides and then seemingly move backwards. I would go months with no visible difference at all. I studied every book, read every article, watched every Youtube and Instagram video I could find on Kapotasana. I went to workshops and practiced with many different teachers. Every day, I got on my mat and did my part, which was to apply all that I learned and to do the best Kapotasana I could do that day for my body. One day, I grabbed my heels.  Have you had this experience with a pose or with some seemingly Mount Everest sized problem in your life? At times, did it seem like you were going nowhere and nothing was happening? I certainly did. However, my body was shifting even when I thought I was standing still.

    Let’s use this example to illustrate how the Yoga community can give love and light some legs. 

    Ways to Give Legs to Love and Light

    1. Acknowledge that fighting racism will sometimes feel impossible, hard, difficult, frustrating, tiring and futile.

    Do it anyway. Just like working on your Yoga pose caused little changes that added up, every little thing you do chips away at the bedrock of White supremacy.  

    2. Study and learn.

    Just like you looked for people who could help you understand and support you while you worked on your Yoga pose, actively seek out people who are involved in anti racism work. Go to their workshops and lectures. Read their books and follow them on social media. It is also important to study yourself. In order to do Kapotasana, I had to understand everything that was going on in my body that was preventing me from achieving the pose. You must understand every part of you, including the culture you live in, the environment you were raised in, and the privilege you hold that allows racism to continue. 

    3. Apply what you learn.

    Practicing your pose every day and applying what you learned resulted in change. The same is true for anti-racism work. It must be done consistently each and every day.  

    4. Accept nothing but your best.

    Every day, I left my mat knowing that I gave Kapotasana the best effort that I could. I had no tolerance for laziness and apathy.  You also need a zero tolerance policy for racism. Black folks’ lives are at stake.

    5. At the same time, practice self care.

    In order to have the energy for my morning practice, I had to take care of my body and mind. I set clear boundaries with family and friends. I surrounded myself with people who respected my boundaries and supported my journey. Anti-racism work is difficult and tiring. Carve out daily time for self care.  Seek out a community that understands you and respects your work.

    6. Give Back.

    As a teacher, I passed on everything that I learned about Kapotasana. I sent videos to my fellow teachers. I emailed articles to my students and taught them everything I knew.  As a student, If I saw a fellow yogi struggling, I offered access to resources and helped where I could. Pass on information about racism and uplift the voices of Black people. Use your resources and privilege to help those who lack access. Don’t idly stand around and watch people drown in the current of racism when you have the ability to help.

    By Shanna Small

    You can follow Shanna here @wellness_yogini 

    Photos by: Wanda Koch

    Read More Insightful Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, Omstars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography

  • In Support of POC and Marginalized Folks in the Yoga Community

    To understand why I feel strongly about providing resources to POC and marginalized populations who want to practice Yoga, I need to tell a little bit of my story.

    From a very young age, I learned that being Black was not desirable or of importance to the larger world. My mother would go to multiple stores in search of Black dolls. They were often sold out because it wasn’t as important to manufacturers and stores to carry as wide of a selection of Black dolls as it was White ones. One Christmas, in order for me to have a Black doll, She had a woman hand-make one. When I opened my gift, I cried. Why couldn’t I have the popular dolls that the White girls received instead of a knock off?

    White girls were the stars of the shows I watched and the Black girl was the sassy sidekick. One of my favorite Saturday morning shows was Saved By the Bell, a story of a group of high school kids in California. Even though the Black character, Lisa Turtle, was pretty and stylish, she rarely had a love interest. Though she definitely had episodes where she was featured, she was not centered. For a Black person to be featured, the show pretty much had to be about Black people. Shows like A Different World, the Cosby Show, and reruns of Good Times and Sanford and Son were a part of the hand full of shows that centered Black people living day to day life. Other then the sassy sidekick funny homeboy/girl who supported the White character or was killed first in horror movies, Black people on TV were largely entertainers, i.e.basketball players, singers, dancers etc, or criminals.

    When I started school, I noticed that the closer you were to White, the more attention you received from teachers. When your skin was lighter and your hair straighter, you were called beautiful. The girls with kinky hair and dark skin were told that they had “pretty faces” or the boys talked about their “nice bodies”. We were never called beautiful. By the time I saw Grace Jones, an avant-garde Black supermodel on TV, I was so confused and I didn’t understand why she was in the James Bond Series which was known for its half-naked “beautiful” White “Bond” girls. Were they making fun of her? Did James Bond really like her or was she a joke?

    One year, I was having trouble with math. The immediate assumption was that it was because I must have come from a bad home and not that I had a horrible teacher who tripped over herself to help White students but berated and yelled at the Black ones. And don’t let me get started on education. Except for Black History month or brief mentions of slavery, Black people didn’t exist. We definitely were not kings and queens from advanced societies that predate White culture. The mini-series, Roots, was the first movie I ever watched that hinted at Black people having an existence before slavery. These are just a few stories and hopefully enough to see where I am going.

    As a Black child, I was surrounded by beautiful Black people from my family, my church and my community. They were not all football players or singers and they were definitely not criminals. In my life, stunning and amazing Black people were everywhere, yet, we were erased from every other aspect of culture that extended outside of my own neighborhood. The message I received as a child was that Blackness was not important to the rest of the world. It was only important to our own community. Outside of my community, no one wanted to see color or talk about it.

    To keep everyone else comfortable, I had to become complicit in my own erasure. Because when White people were uncomfortable, bad things happened. Sassiness is cool when you play the sidekick in a cop show but might get you killed when stopped by a cop in real life. They needed to be comfortable with my hair, my dress, my walk and the way I talked or teachers would not like me, I would not get a job, or people may feel that I am a threat. If I wanted to be considered attractive, I had to downplay my African features and alter anything that could be molded into something that resembled White standards of beauty. I needed to smile all the time to get the position of sassy sidekick, which from what the media taught me, was the quickest way to a good life. A supporting roll in a White centered world was a blessing and something to strive for.

    Can you even begin to understand how hard it is to thrive in a world that is hell-bent on erasing your culture from existence? The pain of it? The daily struggle to keep living and breathing in a culture that only seems to mention your people when you can entertain them in some sort of way or a crime has been committed?

    You would think that this narrative would stop when I started practicing Yoga. Yoga is about love, liberation and oneness, right? Well, it didn’t. The same dynamic is in play. People in the Yoga world are constantly talking about how to make “people” comfortable enough to try Yoga. Have you ever stopped to think about what “people” they are referring too? I will give you a hint, it is not POC. Making a Yoga class more “comfortable”, “accessible” and less “intimidating” are often just code words for erasure. Think about it. What often gets taken out? Chanting, Sanskirt, mentions of South Asian deities and concepts. What gets added in? “Popular” music or music that is popular among mainstream Whites. If a studio does play chants, they are usually performed by White people like Krishna Das or Dave Stringer. Information is conveyed in ways that White people vibe with. Stories from the Gita are replaced with Brene Brown quotes. Om symbols are replaced with pictures of skinny White people in Lululemon.

    Even though I have done a lot of work unpacking the trauma of being raised a Black child in a society that doesn’t really value her existence, when I teach in a predominately White studio, I have to use the same survival mechanisms I use anywhere else. I thought I didn’t because this is Yoga and we are all “woke” and love each other right? Wrong. A White Yoga studio owner told me to smile. They wagged their head and used their “sassy black woman voice’ when they quoted me. I got feedback from students that they thought I didn’t like them because I wasn’t smiling at them. People didn’t understand why I didn’t like the popular Yoga clothing brands that did not fit my curvy body and insisted that I was just wearing them wrong. I made playlists I hated because they did not reflect me or my culture but that my White students loved. I would greet people on their way to class who looked at me like “why was I talking to them” who would be shocked when I walked into class and said I was teaching it. I have been in countless meetings and wrote countless blogs where I have said things that were ignored but were listened to when a White person said it. Like my childhood examples, for the sake of brevity, I am going to stop here but do know that I can keep going. If you are thinking about commenting on this article and gaslighting me, it won’t work. I know what I experienced and am still experiencing.

    When I speak on these things, people often ask, “what are you doing about it?” I think to myself, “You mean besides continuing to live on this earth, teach and practice Yoga while experiencing microaggressions and race-based trauma on a daily basis from the community I love and wish would just love me back?” Sometimes I have to laugh to keep from crying. After one of these conversations, I was like, “you know what, I will start an organization to help.” I didn’t start it to let those who perpetrate the erasure of POC off the hook. I started it as a way to be of service to those who experience what I experience. To make it a little bit easier for them to move in the Yoga world if they so desire. I started the organization to help end the idea that comfortable Yoga is White, binary, and heteronormative.

    When I started talking about wanting to start an organization that gave scholarships to marginalized groups who wanted to practice Yoga and educated people on inclusion and honoring the roots of Yoga, a White colleague in the Yoga world immediately wanted to be an ally. In the end, four women who have a passion for offering Yoga to folks and their families struggling from various traumas such as addiction and abuse, came together to form Yoga For Recovery Foundation Inc. The trauma that POC and other marginalized populations endure by systemic erasure from practices and societies that they helped create, is where I chose to put my focus.

    By Shanna Small

    Read More Insightful Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, OmStars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography