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
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