• 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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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