• Activism and the Trajectory of Modern Yoga

    To a layperson, the phrase “modern yogi” often conjures an image of a physically fit and Instagram-friendly Caucasian person. And the phrase “ancient yogi” often conjures an image of an underweight Indian man in a white wrap sitting equanimously in meditation. But how can we add more layers to these images? How can we set a better blueprint for a modern yogi and hence improve the trajectory of modern yoga for the future generation of yogis?

    Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of a modern yogi of great stature who has hardly received the recognition they deserve within the yoga community. Gandhi in fact matches much of the description of an ancient yogi. He was the leader of the successful Nonviolent Resistance campaign that led to the end of 90 years of British colonialism in India. When it comes to ancient Sanskrit scriptures, Gandhi frequently referenced Bhagavad Gita as “the greatest single influence on his life”.

    Bhagavad Gita covers various yogic concepts, including Jñāna yoga (yoga of knowledge), Bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion), and Karma yoga (yoga of action), through the storytelling of a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna at the time of an imminent war. Krishna urges Arjuna, who is torn between fulfilling his warrior duties to follow his “Dharma” and upholding Ahimsa, to take an action and to do it with love and care, regardless of the outcome. He reminds Arjuna that not taking an action is indeed an action in itself:  “One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men.” [Chapter 4, text 18]

    The Gita’s call for selfless action in the 2nd century BC is just as valid today in 2022 AD. But when it comes to deepening the image of a modern yogi, much like old religious books, we need to go beyond searching for answers in the past. And rather create a framework suitable to our current circumstances that redefines the superficial image of a so-called “modern yogi”. In the author’s opinion, the root cause of this shortcoming is the lack of fluidity between different roles and contexts as well as a peculiar obsession with self (not to be confused with the Self). The modern neo-spiritualist yogi seems to completely dismiss the importance of community in the process of hoping to commune with the Self. Gandhi was not sometimes a yogi and other times a lawyer and a leader; he simultaneously fulfilled those roles in a state of fluidity.

    These concerns manifest themselves, even more, when it comes to the human rights crisis in the world and the extent the yoga community is willing to be involved in them. Our advocacy for peace cannot be limited to closing our practice with the ‘OM shanti’ chant. Rather we need to complement this with more tangible actions that set an example for our students and the world. A recent example is the eerie silence of the online yoga community concerning Iran’s revolution. 9 weeks of protests, strikes, and numerous atrocities against the people of Iran got artists, athletes, politicians, journalists, lawyers, comedians, musicians, and just about any global community but the yoga community to use their voice and platform in solidarity with the people of Iran.

    As a community, we need to step up and live the example of the humanitarian change we want to see in our world. Yogis are the perfect candidates for being activists who are committed to working towards a better reality for mankind. While it’s much more comfortable and perhaps safer to stay in our yoga bubble, this bubble needs to burst. We need to keep chanting “OM shanti” not just on the mat with words but off the mat

    By Hasti Yavari

    Hasti Yavari is a Kurdish-Iranian-Swedish women and minority rights activist. She is an asana and pranayama teacher as well as a PhD candidate in Physics at University College Cork. Hasti teaches Hot yoga, Vinyasa, Yin, and Mobility classes and has studied yoga with schools in India, Sweden, and USA, and taught in Sweden, Iran and Ireland. Find her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

    Photo by Craig Melville on Unsplash

  • Woman, Life, Freedom

    The death of a 22-year-old girl, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the “morality police” of the Iranian Islamic government for her loose hijab (headscarf) has brought millions of Iranians across the world together to create a better future for their homeland, which is now encountering its largest protests ever against the Islamic dictatorship.

    The Iranian people, women specifically, are fighting for basic human rights. Women of all ages are burning their headscarves and cutting their hair as a sign of protest against the “compulsory hijab” law in addition to all of the regime’s discriminatory rules against women. In a dictatorship where women are treated as second-class citizens, some of the archaic rules, which were implemented after the 1979 Islamic revolution when the current dictatorship came to power, include:

    • The age of marriage for girls was lowered from 18 to 9.

    • Schools are segregated by sex for students.

    • Women are banned from most public beaches and pools unless they are segregated.

    • Many buses are segregated in two parts, front for men and back for women. Other buses are women-only. Trains have wagons specifically for women.

    • Women have been barred from entering sports stadiums. (recently FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, threatened to ban Iran from international competitions if this cannot be changed)

    • Single women can not check into a hotel.

    • Married women cannot leave the country without their husband’s permission — single women need their father’s permission.

    • Women cannot marry non-Muslim men, while men can marry despite religion. For example, my marriage is recognized in all countries except Iran. For us to be legally married, my husband would have to convert to Islam.

    • All females age 9 and older are mandated to wear a head covering or hijab. Violators face punishments that include up to two months in prison, fines, and up to 74 lashes.

    These are only a fraction of the biased laws against women. In a regime where a mere 6% of women hold national legislative seats when the world average is 23%, it comes as no surprise that women are not being fairly represented in any aspect of the current government.

    Today, with over 4 million Iranians living abroad, the Persian diaspora has only grown since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This is in large part due to the unjust laws, segregation, lack of women’s rights, economic instabilities, and hopelessness of imagining a future in a country run by fundamentalists in which the overwhelming majority disagree. But not everyone can just leave. It is difficult to immigrate from Iran due to the closed nature of the country and the limited acceptance of Iranian passports for entrance to other countries. Typically the path to immigration is solely through academics. It goes like this — study hard, get accepted into a foreign university, and don’t come back. The other options are through marriage, immediate family, or moving to a third country such as Turkey, which allows Iranians to enter, buy or rent a home and obtain a resident visa.

    The people of Iran are resilient — whether it be finding a way out or standing up against tyranny from the inside. Today the people of Iran are not only protesting against mandatory hijab laws — they will no longer accept life under a dictatorship regime. This comes with a big cost. Hundreds of protesters and other innocent citizens have been shot in the streets of Iran by police. Many activists, students, and ordinary citizens are being arrested with no explanation and are in unknown situations. As I am writing this, the police in Iran are beating, detaining, arresting, and killing its citizens without explanation or consequence. The Islamic regime has shut down and/or limited internet access, so people can not communicate with anyone inside or out. All of these crimes against the citizens of Iran will go without accountability. Iran’s unjust legal system has no recourse for these crimes, and all will go unpunished, free to violate citizens indiscriminately to protect the regime.

    The protests are now in the third week, having spread to hundreds of cities all over Iran. Many dual-Iranian citizens around the world are joining the protesters to show support. The freedom rally on October 1, 2022, in more than 150 cities worldwide demonstrated this global unity. My family and I joined the Toronto, Canada gathering,where an estimated 50,000 people came together in support.

    “Women, Life, Freedom” chants can be heard at the rallies and protests inside and outside of Iran. These three words have become the cornerstone of this movement. These words are the echo of freedom. Many believe a peaceful middle east could be possible with dictatorships like we see in Iran abolished. The world needs to hear the words “Women, Life, Freedom” coming from Iranian voices — and the world needs to support them. This is a historical movement not only for Iranian women, this is a milestone for all feminist movements. If the sharing of information on social media, gathering in the streets with a common message and coming together to overthrow this brutal dictatorship, then I believe this can be an inspiration to everyone around the world fighting injustice everywhere.

    Why does this matter to Yogis?

    We can define yoga in so many different ways. What we strive for is connection and unity. The CONNECTION with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. What yoga is teaching us is that even the smallest moves, muscles, and steps on the journey matter. Yoga is teaching us that everything is connected. Yoga is teaching us UNITY. This is what I call the TRUE YOGA. This is how I define yoga.

    Yoga is a self-journey. People are unique, and so is the journey. My journey was never easy due to my nationality and culture. I’m sure your personal journey has come with obstacles that needed great strength and resilience to overcome. We have learned when something is taken away from you, you become even more passionate about it — I never gave up on my dreams, and I never will.

    I studied IT, and when I graduated from university, I left my country, Iran to pursue a yogic life in India and Nepal which has since led me to the US.

    Today, as I look back, I see that every step in my life was necessary to be here where I stand now — to get up every day and think about how I can help somebody today.

    Over the last decade of my life practicing and teaching yoga, I try and do my very best every day by asking myself — How can I make the world we are living in a better place? I have tried to do this by devoting my yoga practice as a teacher to focus on the inclusion of the underrepresented Persian-speaking community. We hold multiple 200-hour yoga teacher trainings throughout the year directed towards Persian speakers who may not have the resources that other language speakers have to go deeper into their practice. We offer hundreds of free Persian language yoga videos on youtube and are developing an app that intends to bring together other Persian yoga professionals to teach courses in Persian, building a community where yogis can come together and share yoga like the rest of the world.

    Sometimes the best way to be of service is by helping the Iranian yoga community get recognized by the global yoga community.

    In these troubling yet important times, the best thing I can do for my community is to cancel all classes and postpone all yoga projects, risking a business 10 years in the making, to lend my social media platforms to the people and messages that need to be seen. I am using my voice and privilege to share their stories, and their bravery with the world. From Yoga, I have learned that what we do in order to help others doesn’t have to be something special or big, it could be anything to teach, to give, to share. All that really matters is to do something with good intentions in support — a good deed for others.

    As a yoga instructor, I believe we should always educate, elevate, guide, and support whoever shows up on our path of yoga, not necessarily only in our yoga classes. I always do my best to lead others on the path to self-achievement and harmony to the best of my sometimes limited ability.

    Yoga has helped me through some of the hardest moments in my life. With that perspective, I try my best not only to teach asana and theories but also to teach what yoga gave me — a sense of purpose and hope.

    As an Iranian American woman who was forced to leave my country for the very same unfair rules against women that I write about today, I stand with all my Iranian sisters, for I too know this pain. But besides being an Iranian woman, I am also a yogi, and isn’t yoga about standing with what’s right? Isn’t yoga about being truthful? This can be understood best by Satya, the second limb of Yama, from the eight limbs of yoga, which translates to being truthful in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. What’s happening in Iran should matter to you because, as a yogi, this is what we practice.

    Just like everywhere in the world, yoga is very popular among Iranians. Though Iranian yoga teachers and practitioners, again mostly women, face obvious obstacles inside Iran, they still practice yoga with all their hearts and with passion. Many of them admire many of well-known western yoga teachers — following them on social media, listening to their podcasts, reading their books, and attending their workshops globally.

    Last week when Kino MacGregor, Sadhguru, and Deepak Chopra showed their support for Iranian women on social media, their stories were being shared all over the Iranian yoga community in addition to the global community. By being the voice of people, you can give them hope for the future. You can show them that you see them. You can tell them that they are not underrepresented anymore. You can show them that they matter.

    This is how you can help

    You can write to your public officials about what is happening in Iran and ask them to stand with Iranian women and all affected Iranian citizens. Ask them to recognize and protect the people of Iran and not the Islamic regime.

    If you have any platform such as podcast, blog, social media, etc., raise awareness by talking and sharing this issue or by inviting someone directly affected by this issue.

    If you are an activist, journalist, or you know anyone that can talk or write about what is happening, inform them.

    Share what you can, where you can, and however you can. A little support goes a long, long way.

    Finally, I will leave you with this quote from 13th-century Persian poet and philosopher, Rumi — “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

    Please, meet us there.

    By Samin Pourkhalili Solum

    Samin is an experienced Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher ERYT 500, Om Mani Padme Hum School of Yoga Lead Trainer & Founder, and Liforme Brand Ambassador. For over 10 years, she has studied multiple variations of yoga discipline. The different styles she’s greeted on this path have been Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin, and traditional Hatha yoga. In addition, pranayama, meditation, chanting, anatomy, diet, mindfulness, and yogic philosophy are essential to her practice. She has developed a Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program designed specifically for Persian speakers.

  • Breaking the Code

    “Broadly, code-switching involves adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.”  Harvard Business Review 

    Before I start, I must state that being Black is not a monolith. While code switching is common in the Black community, there are people for whom this does not apply.

    My first memory of code switching is when I was 4 years old. My mother was going to pick up a check from a local business. Before we went inside, my mother taught me how to behave around White people. I was to smile, be polite and not speak unless spoken to. When we went inside, I hardly recognized my mother. She looked the same of course but her mannerisms, tone of voice, pitch, and use of language were totally different. Her voice was a few octaves higher. She was smiling…a lot…more than normal. She constantly said “Yes ma’am and no ma’am.” She somehow shrunk her almost 6-foot frame to fit her diminutive mannerisms. She laughed a lot…but not in a joyful way. The way she used words was different. The musicality of the African diaspora was missing. It was a strange scene to behold.

    I was too young to understand exactly what was happening at the time but going to elementary school taught me what it was all about. From K-12, I only had two Black teachers. I quickly learned that when I acted like, well myself, I was treated differently than when I code switched or took on mannerisms that made White people feel comfortable. When I smiled a lot, made my voice higher, switched out of the vernacular used by my Black family and friends, and dressed more like the White students, White teachers lit up. They treated me better. I was seen as smart. I was recommended for “advanced” programs.

    Code switching is a trauma response called fawning. Fawning is when we put aside our own feelings, emotions, wants, and needs to make someone else comfortable because we feel our safety depends on it. Safety is not just a fear of harm to the body. Being safe means that we have the power to control our lives. In the United States, colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and many other events, resulted in White people holding power and having access to resources that Black people need to feel safe. This 400-year head start , not only gave White people the seat of power, it also gave them the ability to center American culture around themselves.

    White culture is centered as normal culture. For instance, when White people say that someone is “tall, dark and handsome”, it is immediately understood that they are not referring to skin but hair and eye color. Think about the books you have read. If there is no mention of skin color, the default is White. Nude, by default, is a tan color. Movies & shows with primarily White actors are well…just movies/shows. If there is a predominantly Black cast, it is marketed as a Black movie and primarily to Black People. If a book has primarily Black characters, it is African American fiction/nonfiction, etc. Books with mainly White characters are well…books. History, that centers White people, is well…history. When it centers Black people, it is African American or Black history.

    White people also have the seat of power. Just do an internet search for companies, lawmakers, leaders, communities, elected officials, etc that are major movers and shakers in the world and you will most likely see White cisgendered males. It is not for a lack of available Black people. The most educated group in the United States is Black women. If you need another number to prove how much power and access White people have in America, the median wealth held by White families is $171,000. The median wealth held by Black families is $17,000. Let that sink in.

    Code switching, technically is not just a Black thing. It happens whenever someone, who does not have power, needs to make those with power feel comfortable in exchange for opportunities, fair treatment, and safety. I am going to present another code switching situation that may help you understand what happens when some Black people code switch.

    A situation, in which many people code switch, is in corporate jobs. Let’s juxtapose this against code switching in the Black community.

    Code Switching Behaviors

    Changing vernacular and other components of speech: Many memes and movies have been made about “corporate speak” or the language that people use in corporate meetings, presentations, and dealing with customers that they would never use in their normal life. For example, “Let’s take this offline and circle back so we can pivot and possibly move assets to increase our bandwidth and be more agile in the fiscal year 2022.” Softening language is also very common in corporate America.

    “If it would be okay with you”

    “If you would like”

    “Maybe consider”

    “Have you thought about”

    Question marks and exclamation marks in emails are also quite common. Making the voice deeper, louder or higher, depending on the situation, is also normal.

    These same behaviors happen when Black people code switch around White people. Many Black people have a certain cadence to our walk and words, use slang, and have cultural practices that are unique to our communities. These are often seen as “ghetto”, “uneducated”, “uncultured” or unprofessional. Our cultural mannerisms, when paired with a hoodie after dark, can and has gotten us killed by White people who were uncomfortable with it.

    Not Being Open or Honest About Feelings: In corporate America, you are suspected to be in a good mood and ready to work. Your personal life is supposed to have no effect on what happens at work. If you are tired, depressed, anxious or anything that can be viewed as detrimental to your job performance, you have to keep it to yourself. There is an exception to this rule…lunch or after-work events. At happy hour, you are expected to be open but not too open. If you don’t commiserate or share in just the right amount, people start to think that something is wrong with you, you are not to be trusted, or not really part of the team. You are hiding something. And heaven forbid you don’t really like these events and don’t come at all. People really start to get uncomfortable.

    For Black people who code switch, this means that talking about our feelings about the latest killing of an unarmed Black man by White police or Critical Race Theory being taught in schools is way too much. Instead, we essentially share extremely surface-level parts of our lives and take out any cultural nuance that we would have to explain too much. In the world of code switching, comfortable White people means safety, opportunities, and open doors.

    Changing the way you dress, do your hair, wear your makeup or express yourself through appearance: In corporate America, there is an accepted way to dress that often has nothing to do with the job being performed. Construction workers need hard hats to be safe. You do not need to wear a suit to answer a phone or make a spreadsheet. While some people feel like a suit makes them feel more confident, I am sure you can find just as many people who just feel itchy. It is a cultural thing. A long time ago someone decided it was the standard for business culture and we all have to suffer for it. Other standards of corporate dress are neutral makeup, hair in natural colors, and no piercings. For Black people, it goes even further. Often our hair, which for many of us, grows out of our head in an afro, is not seen as professional. It has to be straightened, curled, and made to look more White.

    What happens at most corporate jobs when you don’t fit in with the culture and you violate the rules above? You risk losing your job and not having the money that you need for you and your family to have a safe place to live, food to eat, heat and water, and a place in society. You may gain a reputation of being uncooperative, not a team player, militant, disruptive, a trouble maker, hard to work with, and unprofessional. This reputation may follow you and result in a loss of opportunities, closed doors, and burned bridges.

    Before we leave this corporate analogy, being someone else 40+ hours a week is exhausting. When I worked in corporate America, I never had a problem with my job duties. It was always the drama surrounding the culture that burned me out. Whenever I had to go to work, I always felt like I could do the same job at home in my pajamas in half the time. However, I had to go into work where everything was complicated by culture, procedures, and people that ultimately slowed me down. How about you? We will come back to this in a moment.

    Omstars is a yoga platform so you may be asking, what does code switching have to do with yoga? Most yoga classes in the United States are predominantly White. It means that White people still hold the power in these spaces and that the culture still centers on norms associated with being White. It means that after spending the whole day being someone else to be safe, which is exhausting, many Black people have to walk into yoga spaces and code switch yet again. Yoga is about connecting with our true selves. How can someone do that if they cannot let their guard down and be themselves?

    You might be saying, “Yes, my studio is predominantly White but we are very welcoming.” That may be true but trauma responses become automatic. After trauma, a part of the brain is stuck and will immediately go into fawn mode in any situation that resembles the past trauma. Bessel Van Der Kolk, world-renowned trauma researcher and author of The Body Keeps the Score, says, “Niceness does not rewire neural pathways.”

    This is why some people teach BIPOC only classes. It is not because they want to bring back segregation or be divisive. It is to give Black Indigenous People of Color, who don’t feel safe in predominantly White yoga spaces, the ability to access the full power of yoga that goes beyond asana. In these environments, traumatized BIPOC folk can let go, be themselves, feel safe and access the connection with the Self that yoga provides. Once this connection is firmly established, new neural pathways are created. In yoga, we call this, creating positive samskaras. It will take a long time to close the gap of power and wealth that exists between White and Black people. It is my hope that one day, the power differential will change and everyone will feel safe and we can break the code. That day is not today. Ahmaud Arbery was recently murdered by White men for exercising. Tamir Rice was playing. Elijah McClain was killed for “looking suspicious. I could write a whole other blog post on the unarmed Black people who have been murdered because armed White people felt uncomfortable or scared. No, that day is not today.

    Please consider donating to my non-profit, YFR Foundation. YFR provides yoga resources, teaching, training, and immersions for those recovering from trauma and addiction. We help provide safe environments for BIPOC folks to learn about and do yoga and training for BIPOC folks who want to bring yoga to their communities. The fundraiser ends December 24 2021 but you can also donate at YFRFoundation.org.

    Click here to donate.

    By Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is a writer and Yoga teacher who speaks to the intersectionality of Yoga and social justice. She has practiced Ashtanga Yoga and studied the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Ashtanga in Mysore with Sharath Jois. Shanna studied Sanskrit, the Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with Laksmish in Mysore, India. Shanna’s finds joy in making the Ashtanga practice accessible for all. She studied with Amber Karnes and Dianne Bondy and is Yoga For All certified. She is a regular contributor for Yoga International, OmStars and the Ashtanga Dispatch. She teaches diversity and inclusivity, Yoga Sutras as well as accessibility trainings and workshops. She is a founding member of Yoga For Recovery Foundation, a non-profit that helps those recovering from addiction, trauma and systemic oppression. Shanna is also certified in the Trauma Conscious Yoga Method.

    Shanna is a graduate of Georgia State University and holds a bachelor’s in business with a concentration in marketing. Before becoming a full time yoga teacher, Shanna was a recruiter and ad account executive.

    For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.

    Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

  • My Thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month

    We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    To be asked to write for “Hispanic Heritage Month” has left me frozen. At first, I was frozen from the narratives I’ve lived with my entire life, “Who wants to hear what you have to say? You don’t know enough to write a blog on this subject. Here you are again— you are an imposter, step down.”

    But as I sit and turn inward asking for Guidance, there is a clear voice that says, “You have lived experiences to share. You have unpacked this, and to not share your voice is a disservice.”

    Those old narratives are not truth; they are a colonized mentality — and I no longer succumb to the belief in those messages. So here I am again, shifting from muted to empowered.

    Where to begin?

    Let’s start with the name: Hispanic Heritage Month. That term is colonial in and of itself. “Hispanic” refers to people whose cultural traditions originate from Spain and centers European whiteness.

    The term is also problematic because it’s homogenous — it only highlights people and cultures of Spanish descent. We are Latine. We are Afro-Latine. We are Indigenous. We are Hispano. We are Chicanx. We are Garifuna. We are multicultural.

    We also come from the many cultures of diverse countries in Latin America, Puerto Rico and beyond, and yes, many of us have colonizer Iberian and Spanish blood. All of us have been impacted by colonization, and have had our cultures, languages, and communities stripped and stolen: first our indigenous ways, and again when many of us have assimilated to the ways of the United States, Canada or other Western lands. This generational trauma impacts us all, and it is from this place I find my service.

    Once you start unpacking this internalized colonial mentality — rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism — it can be so daunting, so heavy. In my experience, I was angry. I grieved for cultures and languages lost, for the pain of my ancestors. I was conflicted with my multiculturalism — wondering where I belonged, where was home.

    Yet, as I did this work, co-created community, and began to speak out, a beautiful thing happened. Others with similar-lived experiences joined in, and allies arrived. A collective formed of souls who wanted to dismantle these oppressive systems and create a better, new world. I found folx who were willing to do this work in our small corner of the world.

    We learned that perfectionism and individualism would prevent us from creating a brave space for this work. We acknowledged that authentic relationships — ones where we can be truly vulnerable — take time, and we gave ourselves this time. We prioritized presence over perfection. We learned that we had to have a shared language in which to begin this work. We co-created a community agreement and held ourselves and each other accountable. We made amends when we messed up and didn’t shy away from the discomfort when we needed to step up and repair harm. We gave ourselves grace during this hard work, as we knew we were dismantling generations of engrained colonial mentality, and this was lifelong work. We were and are committed to creating a brave space for this work to happen, for us to heal, and for our community to rise.

    A beautiful thing happened this summer. A community came together and put themselves fully into this work. We didn’t rush the process. We valued and worked within the sacred circle cast and took the time to unpack all of it: white supremacy, anti-blackness, and colonization. We did the painful work of seeing where we are complicit in white supremacy and how we are privileged in its structure. Some of us did the painful work of seeing for the first time how we have had our cultures stripped and grieved for that loss.

    We held breakout groups for BI & POC to process this, and our white colleagues held their groups. We saw the value in this and embraced it. We didn’t succumb to a common narrative that breakout groups are divisive. We knew we needed space to be with folx with shared lived experiences to process. From here, the healing can continue.

    The breakout group process allowed us to come together stronger, in our authenticity, with voices and commitment to take this work off the mat and into the world. These radically inclusive and brave spaces are needed because as we work to dismantle these oppressive systems, we can be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. So we start with our small space, our small community, and we trust in the incremental effect of this collective healing to spread. We trust this is how change happens.

    This is the mission of Burning Spirits Yoga and Yoga Punx PDX: to serve our community, those most impacted by systemic racism, oppression and whose indigenous wellness practices have been stripped, colonized, and commodified. We are a growing organization, led by folx with lived experience of the clients we serve. We are guided by ancestral knowledge, a seeing and knowing that to heal our communities and the generational wounds, these are the spaces we must co-create. We can then rise, serve and be good ancestors.

    By Sandee Simon-Lawless

    Sandee firmly believes it is never too late to start a yoga practice. Although she came to the yoga mat at various times in her life, it didn’t resonate with her until her mid-40s, when she came to heal from emotional, spiritual, and physical pain. As she physically healed, she found unexpected gifts of love, resilience, patience and acceptance. She learned she was no longer a victim; she was a survivor. With this conviction, Sandee set upon a path of liberation for the collective.

    Sandee is the founder and Executive Director of Yoga Punx PDX, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to breaking down barriers to yoga accessibility and supporting those most impacted by oppression and systemic racism. She firmly believes that no one is free until those most marginalized are free. Yoga Punx PDX is a community that offers donation-based yoga, meditation, sound healing, and indigenous healing practices, taking classes to communities who otherwise would not have access. It also provides scholarships to QT, BI & POC, as well as folks in recovery for the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training.

    Sandee is the owner and director of Burning Spirits Yoga in occupied land now known as Portland, Oregon. The Portland Metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River creating both permanent communities and summer encampments to harvest and use the plentiful natural resources of the area.”

    She, along with her co-teachers, guide the Mysore Ashtanga Program and the Heart of Vinyasa Yoga School, which is committed to education in Yoga philosophy and the Eight-Limbed Path. Along with her co-teachers at Burning Spirits Yoga and with Yoga Punx PDX, Sandee is committed to social justice and anti-racism and providing de-colonizing offerings from an intersectional and trauma-informed lens.

    Lastly, Sandee is a healer — a Curandera working with energy, guidance, yoga, and plant medicine to guide folks to self-healing.

    Sandee is forever grateful to the teachers and ancestors who came before and made this work possible. Without their labor, this practice would not be. She would like to thank her teachers, past and present: David Garrigues, Dianne Bondy, Tim Miller, Saraswati Jois, Khristine Jones and her life partner, Ami Lawless.

    Sandee holds an MBA- Healthcare, BA in Gerontology. Sandee is a EYRT 200, completed 100 hours of advanced Bhakti Flow, current 300-hour student with Dianne Bondy, Primary Series Teacher Trainings, apprenticed for 3 years with her teacher, David Garrigues. Sandee is a Level 1 Reiki practitioner, and has completed intensive trainings in herbalism, channeling and energy healing.

    You can follow Sandee on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sandeelawlessyoga/

    Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sandeelawlessyoga

    Support their work at https://www.yogapunxpdx.com and https://burningspiritsyoga.com

  • The Connection Between Handstand and Forgiveness

    When I began practicing Yoga, the absence of a left hand compounded the weakness in my left arm during asana practice and I couldn’t complete a handstand or any other arm balance exercises for that matter. That’s when it struck me – I need a tool.

    Looking retrospectively at my life’s journey over the last 46 years, I see more and more the connection between forgiveness and living the ‘beautiful life’. We all have our moments where we ‘fly off the handle’ so to speak and react impulsively, and then sometimes devolve into anger or hate. We may even allow negative emotions to fester and then we unconsciously develop a negative personality. We don’t notice it because we don’t realize how much we distract our attention with adverse situations.

    A unified spiritual field, if we could call it that, reflects our inner being. Why is this so? If one follows the progressive scientific realizations of quantum mechanics, it shows up more and more that space and time don’t apparently exist. This leads to the realization that everything happens simultaneously and not spatially separated, which in turn only allows the conclusion that we are all connected and can’t actually live as entirely separate entities in a ‘vacuum’.

    Almost simultaneously, on the path I began with Ashtanga Yoga in 2013, I started to intensively study the teachings of Jesus, who channeled his wisdom in a masterpiece called A Course In Miracles. This book was published the year I was born, and I take this to be a wonderful synchronicity.

    Many miracles, which I actually wondered about without understanding them at first, happened. As I continued to study the wisdom of Yoga, which can be beautifully harmonized with the teachings of Jesus, as Paramahamsa Yogananda impressively demonstrates, I realized more and more why the situations, circumstances, events, and people that crossed my path were analogous to my own emotions, beliefs, and self-image in the context of existence.

    Nothing happens by chance. We often just can’t make the connection and don’t recognize the connection or the lesson. And the central lesson of life is actually quite straightforward: recognize yourself. Realize that you are a reciprocal image of God and that He does not dwell outside of you. When we cultivate anger, bitterness or discontent, the universe shows us as a 3D canvas of what we have become mentally and how far we have moved away from the awareness of what we actually are. At the moment of forgiveness, we give up judging and open ourselves to the truth. Judging is the basis for suffering of any form.

    Suffering arises from the mental separation from God. Yoga is one of the ways to remove this misinterpretation of oneself, but it is not the only one. Everyone has their own approach to this subject. For me, as a pragmatist, reduction to the essentials and a close observation of effects that must be reproducible is the guide through the labyrinth.

    Also, even more important than the monotonous parroting of mantras, whose content I may not even understand, or the pure practice of asana, is the internalization of the pure and simple truth through extended walks in the forest in which I reflect intensely and re-evaluate the things that have happened in the hours, days or even years past through the filter of the great insights espoused by great masters in harmony with my own spiritual insights and views. Through this approach, I have successively established a completely new self-image and understanding of my role in the context of the wider world over the last few years.

    What was amazing to me was the analogous change of my body. At the same time that I developed my new insights, inflammations, colds, herpes, and also disharmonious people disappeared from my life. In moments of emotional relapses into negative areas, they appeared again. More and more I controlled the impact of these outside influences on myself, as an active observer. More and more gifts came into my life and nurtured me.

    One event that I believe best sums up the consequences of ignoring the truth as a co-creator in God, was when I ignored my intuition, which is a divine guide to me and all people, and had a terrifying accident that cost me my left hand. Everything was suddenly different. However, today I forgive myself. I do not regret anything, because I continue to learn and marvel. We all have the ability to do the same; it’s in our hands.

    Let’s talk about Karma. The law of ‘you reap what you sow’. Divine punishment is a myth believed by the fearful. The God-fearing who do not know that they themselves are God. Forgiveness and karma are closely connected. Through forgiveness and the realignment of thoughts and feelings, all karmic entanglements can be resolved. Because only the belief in a karmic “punishment” allows such a punishment. For the principle of fear has taken hold and this is the opposite of the Greek term agape – unconditional love.

    ‘According to your faith be it done unto you’, is a statement from the Bible. We have the power within ourselves. If we believe in a punishing God, a punishing environment will envelop us. No asana, pranayama, or mantra chanting will alleviate this negativity. Belief, emotion, one’s paradigm, and self-image can either punish or reward.

    Too many people seek salvation on the mat or by performing Pranayama. They feel comfortable and secure in a class. Inside, however, conflicting thoughts distract and their path remains sorrowful. Forgiveness and self-image adjustment – result of the true Yoga path are the tools that lead to final realization and eventually redemption.

    Powerful guides help us. Synchronicities, miracles, and things literally laid at our feet are clues that show us where we stand. This is how I was guided in November 2019 when having a conversation with a dear friend with whom there was a temporary disharmony. I decided to forgive the matter and just see things relaxed without resentment and acknowledge him as part of myself. In your own environment, you must live the word, not just read it. There are too many theorists who never implement because of this-or-that legitimizes their anger.

    A Course In Miracles asks the question: ‘Do you prefer that you be right or happy?’ This is an incredibly simple yet profound question. Personally, I chose happiness. Not only in difficult situations but also in general.

    God wants to rejoice in each of us. He helps us to make this possible and only we can retain the ignorance that blocks the flow of happiness through our lives. I for one have experienced the strange serendipity of Karma as well; a small idea, followed by an act of forgiveness that ultimately led to life-changing ‘vision’.

    When I began practicing Yoga, the absence of a left hand compounded the weakness in my left arm during asana practice and I couldn’t complete a handstand or any other arm balance exercises for that matter. That’s when it struck me – I need a tool. And so I had an idea for a new yoga block. I had this idea for several weeks before I talked to my friend. A yoga block that supported my left forearm so that I could lean against it. I designed and built the block and could finally achieve poses that weren’t accessible to me for years. Soon after, my friend and I had an argument. I chose to let it go and forgive for the sake of our friendship. Not long after that, I had a ‘vision’.

    I now believe that this vision was in fact divine ‘karmic’ intervention as it led to the development of something I called ProHandstand. The device proved essential to practicing handstands or other exercises. I truly believe that an act of forgiveness between true friends led to a karmic reward that evolved into the development of a groundbreaking invention which I am presenting to the world this year. Just as my yoga block helped me to master the most challenging forms of asanas, so too does this invention now help every yogi do the same.

    I have actually managed, as a yogi with one hand, to achieve what I never thought possible: The handstand. Receiving and giving are the same as we are all the one son of God and not separate beings. This invention is my gift to all yogis. Namasté

    By Heddies Andresen

    Heddies is a natural creative. He was 22 years old when he made his first invention and he loves to expresses himself through design. Heddies is a human movement specialist and contracts to private clients for custom body movement plans that improve both Asana routines and everyday life movement patterns. Heddies found Ashtanga Yoga in 2013 and has practised on a daily basis since. Yoga not only improved his flexibility and balance, but also taught him techniques that allowed him to centre his thoughts and effectively manage the stresses of daily life. Since early childhood Heddies has maintained an inquisitive attitude that allows him to explore life with an open mind. To this end, he is a keen student of Ashtanga Yoga and A Course In Miracles. Heddies founded a healing circle in 2018 following the principles of healing he has been studying over the years. By nurturing his boundless curiosity Heddies gained a deep understanding of how to convey helpful insights to those in need of spiritual guidance. Follow Heddies on Instagram @heddiesyoga and see his handstand-invention on his website, Prohandstand.com.

  • Yoga Beyond the Binary

    The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

    It is Pride month, so I thought my queer self would take you on a deep-dive about yoga and the gender binary. These are just some of my thoughts about why I find it unhelpful to use terms such as “masculine” and “feminine” to describe energy, embodiment, or intent when teaching yoga. I also thought I would add a reminder about yoga’s roots and how Hinduism’s stories operate outside the binary with deities and heroes who trouble gender.

    How do you feel about using “masculine” or “feminine” to describe energy / intent in yoga? How do you feel about hearing it in a class?

    What does it mean to use the terms “masculine energy” or “feminine energy” in yoga?

    What do you actually mean? If you mean soft, healing, proactive, fiery, why not just say that? The idea that you don’t need to explain what you mean when you say “masculine” or Feminine” energy implies that everybody shares the same definition of these words, which is not true. The way that some qualities are perceived as either masculine or feminine changes through time and space.

    In some cultures, the moon is described as having masculine energy, which is the opposite as the way our Euro-dominant culture views the moon.

    How the binary confines us

    The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

    If the moon is feminine, and the sun is masculine, what energy am I tapping into if I wasn’t to embody twilight? If we are describing both ends of a spectrum, let’s name that it is a spectrum, and contextualize it as such! If we can name the in-between, maybe the binary does not give us such a helpful vocabulary after all.

    Naming the in-between

    Reminding yourself/your students that we all embody both the masculine and feminine energy is helpful but is not enough to highlight and celebrate all the things that exist outside of the binary.

    If we aim to live in balance, don’t we aim to spend most of our time in the middle? Right in the middle of fiery energy and complete inertia? Of intense effort and complete ease? Of inward, solitary contemplation and outward, public conversations? Of the feminine and the masculine energies? So why can’t we name that space?

    Going back to yoga’s roots

    South Indian folklore, tradition, and faith recognize the fluidity of gender, and the full spectrum of these lively energies that morph, disappear and transform inside of us, as well as the existence of energies and people existing outside of the binary. In Hinduism, Brahman (who could be compared to the monotheist God) is considered by many to be genderless. Hindus also revere androgynous deities such as Ardhanarishvara, who is said to represent totality beyond duality. Hinduism has many stories about deities changing their sex, and cross-dressing, and South-Indian culture recognizes a “third-sex” named Hijra.

    So let’s go beyond the binary, and explore our expressions and energies as part of a tremendous spectrum where everything and its opposite can co-exist. Let’s embody all the nuance of the natural world.
    This blog was originally a post on Laura’s Instagram account.

    By Laura Chaignon

    Laura Chaignon (she/her) is a queer european settler based in Katarokwi (Kingston) in so-called Canada. Laura is a mindfulness and yoga facilitator, and an arts worker. When teaching, she thrives to create an approachable and inclusive space, allowing students to grow into the shapes they individually need to cultivate joy, healing, and rest. Her intention is to inspire authentic movement, radical care, and boundless imaginings. She is a lover of community, of silly jokes and of all things imperfect.

    Laura’s profile photo was taken by Chelsea Stevenson (@surefootyogi).

    Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

  • The Covid Crisis in India

    In India, we are fighting the government AND Covid. There is a pandemic that involves a virus however, it is exacerbated by the toxic social environment, that results from an authoritarian fascist government.

    India has been rocked by a deadly second wave of the virus (double mutant variant or B.1.617). Indians are facing a tsunami of infection that has pushed the country to the brink of collapse.

    The latest wave is sparking a health crisis & human tragedy in India. It is far surpassing anything seen, anywhere in the world.

    A string of missteps has dogged the Central government’s response to the pandemic. Policy paralysis, politics, huge religious gatherings & election rallies gave heft to the start of the rolling second wave. These occurred on the backs of already existing issues like the lack of transparency in the usage of the Rs.1.3 Billion PM Cares Fund, building a new parliament costing Rs. 20,000 crores & a temple in a pandemic year, when the huge surplus allocated should have been invested in upgrading the healthcare – building oxygen capacity, hospital beds, paying doctors, ramping up vaccinations etc. The government also failed to act adequately in response to news of the double mutant variant in October 2020.

    An air of ignorant complacency, lack of empathy & denial has been evident in every response from the Central government.

    At this point, India is literally gasping for air. Hospitals are running out of oxygen & bodies are stacking up in crematoriums and grave sites, that have been running round the clock.

    There are major disparities between official death counts and the actual reported figures. Reports suggest the actual fatalities may be upto 20 times what the authorities state.

    Regular folk must now sift fact from fiction, relying on independent journalists (who are often risking their lives) to report true facts and information.

    As local volunteers scuttle around on social media raising awareness, finding hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and more, a year after the pandemic first hit India, it is difficult to see any evidence of any real plan or work done by those elected, to run this country. Public memory will recall being told to bang ‘thalis’(steel plates),  study ‘cow science’ and offered Ayurvedic treatments to beat the virus.

    Simultaneously, any criticism directed at the central government is treated with contempt at best and, armies of social-media trolls at worst. These efforts to hide inadequacies and mismanagement are directed at anyone, who dares speak truth to power, whether they are doctors, journalists, members of political parties, activists or influencers.

    Result? A truly polarised population.

    Hyper-nationalist voices attack anyone drawing attention to bureaucratic incompetence using lynch mob tactics and name-calling – ‘anti-India’, ‘tukde-tukde gang’(gangs breaking up India) ‘negative’, anti-national just a few of the names that can be printed.

    Why am I writing this? In India, we are fighting the government AND Covid-19. There is a pandemic that involves a virus however, it is exacerbated by the toxic social environment, that results from an authoritarian fascist government.

    Our ‘pandemic’ of hate and vitriol has slowly been consuming this country for about 7 years now. It is as lethal as the virus itself.

    Indian citizens are dying of Covid but we are losing and have lost many lives to the political tussles between the Centre and States. Oxygen supplies are subject to political whims. Hospitals in the national capital, New Delhi, have had to shut admissions at times (leading to several deaths) for want of oxygen even as the neighbouring state led by the BJP government, blocks oxygen trucks on their way. It beggars belief that major private hospitals like Max Hospitals have had to approach the Delhi High Court for oxygen. Doctors have made heartrending pleas on Twitter to have oxygen trucks released. Private hospitals keep having to post the depleting status of their oxygen reserves and are moderating oxygen flow between patients. Many Covid patients have died because the oxygen supply was just cut off, as the hospital had run out of oxygen. Many patients are just dying in ambulances outside of hospitals as admissions are closed for those who need ICU beds or oxygen beds.

    One of the leading party’s politicians has been accused of hoarding life-saving Covid-19 medicines, denying State governments and hospitals access to it.

    The mental trauma of what we have had to endure, given that many of us have been following the science, and have been sheltering-in-place and locked down in cities like, Mumbai and Delhi, is just difficult to explain.

    As we struggle to protect ourselves, our personal and public channels of information inform us that so many people we know have Covid; relatives friends, people in the yoga community, entire families including little children. The biggest myth that if you are fit and have immunity and that you will be spared of Covid-19 has been busted – the virus has spared no one! Except those who were vaccinated-they have had less severe infections or didn’t require hospitalizations.

    India spends less than 2% on health care. The last one year could have been spent on building healthcare infrastructure, providing PPE to doctors, building oxygen supplies and most importantly, vaccinating the entire population of 1.3 billion Indians. India has successfully vaccinated for polio in the last century because of the primary healthcare initiatives of previous governments. The centre just did not leverage the system and instead gave away vaccines to other nations when its own population needed it the most.

    As a person of privilege, it has been mind-numbing to realise that a hospital bed would be difficult to get, or oxygen impossible to procure, or if something were to happen to me or my family we would not be guaranteed help. Suddenly, we the privileged didn’t have access to a hospital bed, oxygen or life saving medicines. Patients are being accommodated in the lobbies of major private hospitals in Mumbai. Patients have been turned away, ambulances have been accused of fleecing customers… testing kits have turned scarce, results delayed.

    What the poor, those without contacts, Internet, money are going through, I cannot even fathom. It feels like living in a dystopian fiction. Sadly, it is reality. The collective mental health of many of us here in India, has taken a severe beating. We are feeling grief, anger, rage, helplessness and fear.

    The government is taking down tweets of those asking for help or seeking accountability from the centre. Countries around the world are closing their borders to India. That almost makes us feel like we have no escape. Many of us have questioned our own reasons for staying here in India, when we had opportunities to move overseas in the past.

    Our beloved country, India, is unrecognisable. To admit that there is a voting majority that would still make excuses for the incompetence, nay callousness, of this current government is a bitter pill to swallow. The fact that for much of this majority, the blind belief comes from Hindutva is even more depressing.

    Still, in all of this despair, what we are holding onto is – each other. Strangers turned comrades. Everyday folk across cities, cultures, creeds have bandied together on social media and on the ground; helping source beds, medicine, food, funds, in some cases, just a shoulder to cry on.

    Humanity is finding its most reassuring expressions on Twitter and other social media even as, predictably, we’ve had to deal with blackmarkets and opportunistic scamsters. Despite it, the kindness has still managed to shine through.

    Regular folks are crowd sourcing funds for oxygen cylinders and concentrators, PPE kits for doctors, food and help for those affected by those affected by Covid. It is important to keep in mind that India’s economy had also taken a beating due to the lockdowns last year, with the migrant and daily wage labour having been the most impacted by it. The economy was barely spluttering to life, when the second wave hit us.

    If you wish to help India, here are some of the ways that you can:

    1. If you are a yoga teacher do consider doing free group meditations, guided visualizations classes for Indians around the world. (Many from the diaspora are panicking as their families are back in India, and they feel helpless. Do check in with them too.)
    2. If you are a qualified mental health professional do consider offering sliding scale fees/ free therapy to Indians. Do share with us on True Bay India, if you are able to so, so we can amplify your handles on social media for people to reach out to you.
    3. Ask the elected representatives in your country to help with equipment, vaccines etc.
    4. Raise awareness about the Covid crisis and the lack of the Indian government’s response to it.
    5. Read up about Hindutva politics and the violent nationalist groups and Brahmin supremacy/casteism in India and create awareness of the human rights issues in India.
    6. Donate – If you wish to donate, the links mentioned in the website of https://www.truebayindia.com/covid19relief are organisations/hospitals and citizens doing actual work on the ground.

    Please do not feel compelled to only, donate for oxygen. The poorwith no access to medical aid/food, tribals, marginalised women with no access to menstrual products, migrant labour hit by lockdowns etc, also need your help.

    1. Independent Indian Media Outlets and Journalists to Follow and Support:








    Views expressed are in a personal capacity of the author of this article.

    By Protima Rodrigues

    Protima Rodrigues is the founder of www.truebayindia.com.

    Instagram : True Bay india

    Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

  • 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.


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


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


    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)


    white women are granted the right to vote


    Native Americans granted citizenship and the right to vote


    Asian Americans granted the right to vote


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


    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


    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 lifelong 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.

  • 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.