• Intersectionality x Wellness: Personal Explorations on Power + Possibility

    Being an ally and accomplice to change begins with each individual person.

    We firmly believe that intersectionality and wellness are complementary spheres in healing as well as supportive partners for both individual transformation and collective liberation. Together, we can take accountability, see and hear one another in new ways, unify our efforts and create new possibilities and pathways forward.

    As we stated in our last article in this ongoing series, “Intersectionality is the path forward and the future of wellness so we can be more inclusive of all marginalized voices and experiences. Intersectionality allows us to examine the truth in a holistic way without giving in to denial, a distortion of reality, or leaning out of the conversation due to guilt or shame. Intersectionality, like our lived yoga practices, allows us to step out of perceived and socially constructed binaries and hold the full spectrum of experience, range of emotions and move into conscious action to create social change. This is yoga in action.”

    We also firmly believe that excavating and understanding our own experiences through this lens and sharing our stories of our awakening, healing, and evolution offers others the opportunity to do the same. Not only does this process offer a catalyst for ourselves by offering us to reclaim and proclaim our voices, but we also allow opportunities for others to connect from their hearts and create new bridges of understanding and, hopefully, sparks of inspiration, courage, and strength.

    With that intention, we humbly offer snippets of our personal stories and what intersectionality and wellness have offered us on our individual paths, and how these two spheres continue to offer inroads toward the horizon line.

    Melanie’s Story @melmelklein

    I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, intersectional feminism helped me understand, deconstruct and reframe the world around me as a young woman. My yoga and embodiment practices allowed me to reframe my relationship with myself and how I interacted with and showed up in that world around me. To me, these two spheres overlapped organically, and both spokes originated from a hub centered on raising consciousness and taking action.

    As intersectional feminism espouses, feminism is not just about but for womxn in all their diversity. Feminism is a praxis. We do our feminism. We live our feminism. Similarly, as I fully immersed myself into my embodiment and mindfulness practices, it immediately became clear that this wasn’t about the time I spent on the mat or the cushion, but how I applied these teachings and practices to how I was living moment to moment.

    Together, feminism and yoga have utterly transformed and supported me over the last 27 years. They are the two primary variables responsible for my growth, empowerment, and sense of agency. While my personal understanding of the systems and structures of oppression, as well as my individual (and continued) liberation, is an important outcome of that equation, my ability to see my place in the world and in a larger spectrum of experience among womxn is even more important.

    While my experiences and challenges have been and are real… my experiences, my challenges, and my truth isn’t the only truth that exists. There’s a larger interwoven social fabric that exists composed of countless realities, narratives, struggles, and triumphs. Being introduced to intersectional feminism as a young woman versus being welcomed into a version of feminism that only centered my experiences as a cisgender white woman allowed me to heal and empower myself while offering me the opportunity to identify my position within a larger spectrum of power and privilege. This has been vital in my personal growth as well as my continued growth and evolution as an ally, advocate, and agent for social justice, equity, accessibility, and representation for everyone and every body.

    Too often, I’ve seen both feminism and wellness rejected because they have not represented or been accessible to various marginalized groups. And I’ve seen proponents of both feminism and wellness communities get in their feelings when critical questions have been raised and calls to action have been taken to change them. When we’re deeply committed to either, it behooves us to pause and listen deeply. It’s vital for us to truly reconnect to the core teachings of each practice/praxis and live from these truths.

    This is what feminism and yoga have offered me and what has fed and fueled my personal and professional work. My work, my commitment and who I am and how I show up continues to grow and evolve. Feminism and yoga continue to shore up the foundation for that growth, and I firmly believe in their ability to help co-create a world in which we connect heart-to-heart authentically and deeply without the spiritual bypassing and marginalization that is rampant as well as create deep, meaningful and sustainable social change. This is my hope and my offering.

    Anusha’s Story @shantiwithin

    You would never know the real meaning of yoga given the spiritual bypassing and co-opting of this ancient spiritual Indian practice in the west. Search #yoga on Instagram, and your feed will be filled with white, thin, heteronormative able-bodied women in scantily clad clothes focused on the acrobatics of yoga and an over sexualization of the practice. Let’s be clear, this is the antithesis of yoga. For myself, someone who was born and raised in the philosophy of yoga and Sanatana Dharma, more commonly known as Hinduism, it’s particularly jarring to see how far we have come from the true essence of the practice, which is unity and freedom from suffering for all.

    As the daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants, my ancestors had to resist 443 years of colonial rule in Sri Lanka under three different colonial powers to hold onto our indigenous faith. Their courage and resistance is something I never take for granted. However, having to now fight against the continued colonisation and commoditization of yoga in the west is deeply saddening and problematic.

    My faith is not here to be misappropriated and desecrated by the modern yoga practitioner. Let’s be aware that cultural appropriation is a form of racism. Unless BIWOC are represented in wellness, we will continue to have our voices silenced by the mainstream. Modern feminism and intersectionality must include BIWOC at more than just a surface level and must include greater representation of womxn of color in general of all races, abilities, classes, and sexual orientations. At school, we were never taught the brutal history of colonization or slavery. The constant whitewashing of history is a problem and must be dismantled. This is what allows racism and white supremacy to thrive and flourish. We can’t have unity without accountability and repair. A big part of this process is enabling BIPOC to write our own stories and rewrite the narrative with the truth. When a white man tops the 100 books on Hinduism, we have a problem.

    Real change is required to move beyond tokenism to sustainable activism, and representation is a pivotal part of this change. It is one reason why the word Feminist never resonated with me as I never saw myself or people who looked like me included in this framework. The whiteness of wellness must be unpacked so we can work towards creating a system where we can all be seen, heard, and well. There is nothing wrong with having privilege, it is what we do with our privilege that counts. The first step is acknowledging the privilege we have and then take steps in order to utilize this as agents of change in our communities and wider society. This is yoga in action.

    The toxic spiritual bypassing in Yoga is how we became anti-science but not anti-racist. Unity can only come through accountability and recognition of white supremacy by the majority i.e. white folks. White silence or gas lighting simply causes more harm. Denial and blame shifting is not a solution. We have seen far too much of this in the wellness space. Take this opportunity to take the onus and responsibility of dismantling this unjust system that you benefit from that has kept BlPOC oppressed and marginalised for centuries. This is the first step towards reconciliation. This is intersectionality in action and being an accomplice to change that is long overdue.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, we want to invite you all to think about some ways in which you can create sustainable ways of impacting change in your communities by amplifying marginalized voices. Being an ally and accomplice to change begins with each individual person. A great first step in supporting the work of BIPOC and QTBIPOC is buying their books, signing up for their workshops and trainings. Platforming and profiling folks by sharing their work on your social media. Economic empowerment is a key aspect of intersectionality. For additional resources, please visit @wocandwellness and @ybicoalition on Instagram.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars in collaboration with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and WOC + Wellness intended as an honest, thoughtful, and holistic exploration of intersectionality, wellness, and sustainable action with the intention of creating sustainable social change.

    Meet the authors: Anusha Wijeyakumar and Melanie Klein

    Anusha Wijeyakumar is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrant parents. Being raised in the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma and a lifelong student of Hinduism and Buddhism, she has a vast knowledge in both. Anusha is also knowledgeable in the areas of meditation, pranayama, mantra, and the philosophy associated with yoga. Anusha is very passionate about honouring the roots of yoga and educating people on the importance of decolonizing these practices. Anusha is a sought after motivational speaker around the world on the science of mindfulness and meditation. Anusha is also the Wellness Consultant for Hoag Hospital in Orange County, CA where she is actively engaged on championing mindfulness and meditation practices for maternal mental health programs, early risk assessment for breast & ovarian cancer prevention programs and breast cancer survivorship programs. Anusha is one of the first people to create a meditation program to be used in clinical research at Hoag Hospital. Anusha has over 15 years of international senior management experience working for Fortune 50, 100, and 500 global corporations, charitable organizations & private companies in three continents. Womxn’s health and social justice is at the heart of all that Anusha is involved with. Anusha is on the Board of Directors for the non-profit MOMS Orange County and is very engaged in working with inner city communities to bring the power of yoga for a healthy mind, body and spirit into these localities to nurture and empower change from within. Anusha recently co-founded the movement Womxn of Color + Wellness @wocandwellness which is focused on decolonizing wellness and making yoga and wellness more equitable, accessible, diverse and inclusive. Anusha’s first book Meditation With Intention: Quick & Easy Ways to Create Lasting Peace will be released in January 2021 by Llewellyn Worldwide.

    Melanie Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment, and visibility. She is also a successful writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016), co-editor of Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) as well as the editor of the new anthology, Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and is the co-founder of The Joy Revolution. She has been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and currently lives in Santa Monica, CA.

    Connect: melaniecklein.comybicoalition.comyogaandbodyimage.orgyogarisingbook.com

    Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

  • Wellness and Intersectionality

    Intersectionality is the path forward and the future of wellness so we can be more inclusive of all marginalized voices and experiences. Intersectionality allows us to examine the truth in a holistic way without giving in to denial, a distortion of reality, or leaning out of the conversation due to guilt or shame.


    We are all one, yet we are not the same.

    We may be one in our shared humanity, but the details of that human experience are incredibly different, especially for BIWOC and QTBIPOC. We need to stop pretending that this isn’t true and overlooking the historical and contemporary evidence that indicates and affirms this truth.

    Let’s stop glossing over the distinct contributions and the unique issues and concerns facing the many members of our local and global society who face racism, sexism, gender bias, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and many other factors that continue to feed into oppression and inequality.

    This is the truth of our collective experiences and can be the source of our individual and collective strength. Once we do, we have the opportunity to commune, cultivate solidarity, consciously support one another authentically and with a sense of integrity, collectively heal, and use our position, influence, and voice to advocate and activate powerful change.

    Perhaps you have experienced challenges, obstacles, and systematic oppression yourself.

    This is real and it’s worthy of acknowledgment.

    But we want to offer you the gentle but firm nudge to look beyond your immediate experiences and see those around you. Acknowledge how you may share similar experiences while simultaneously differ in one or more ways.

    We want to encourage you all to hold the bigger picture in your hands and take action from that place. To do so, it’s important that you can acknowledge the ways you may experience one or more forms of privilege while experiencing one or more forms of oppression. We are not defined by our gender or race alone. We’re multidimensional beings and we occupy multiple what sociologists call “social locations.”

    Yet it’s common for people to overlook that and center or “foreground” the ways in which they may experience oppression while overlooking the various forms of privilege in their lives. Many white womxn during the 1960s and 1970s centered on the fact that they had experienced sexism and sexist oppression while ignoring or overlooking the ways in which they experienced white skin privilege. In this way, they centered or foregrounded their sex. At the same time, many black men centered or foregrounded the racism and racist oppression they’d experienced while not taking stock of their male privilege. Both the sexism and racism were real, yet so was the white skin and male privilege respectively.

    We may share a specific identity or social location with others, yet we also differ in our experiences, opportunities, and concerns. For example, not all womxn share a universal or monolithic experience with other womxn simply because they’re womxn living within a patriarchal or male-dominated system. Nor do all men share a one-dimensional experience with other men. It’s possible to experience sexism and benefit from racism. It’s possible to experience racism but experience heteronormative or class privilege. It’s possible to experience homophobia but benefit from sexism or ageism.

    We must consider the myriad ways we intersect, overlap, and diverge from one another. We must consider the various forms of privilege (or unseen and taken-for-granted) advantages we may have by virtue of the social locations we occupy. It’s important to acknowledge the well of resources we have access to based on our position within any social location. Do we occupy the dominant or subordinate category when it comes to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, age, size, class, and physical dis/ability?

    Just as important as it is to shine a light on the ways we’re oppressed or challenged, we must take stock of the ways in which we’re privileged and not assume others that share a social location with us have identical experiences, challenges, or needs.

    This is “intersectionality” as a concept and a practice.

    What is Intersectionality?

    Black feminists have been speaking to these varied and overlapping differences since the late 1960s. bell hooks has referred to it as the “matrix of domination” and Audre Lorde spoke to the concept of “the mythical norm.” The more commonly used term “intersectionality” was first coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. She used this term as a metaphor to specifically explore the multiple forms of oppression experienced by black women given that most antiracist and traditional feminist ideas excluded them in positions of leadership and beyond.

    As Crenshaw explains, “Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts. In particular, courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.”

    Wellness must also be explored through the lens of intersectionality to find ways of dismantling the multiple systems of oppression and supremacy that feed inequity in yoga and beyond.

    Intersectionality is a theoretical framework and mode of analysis and understanding that considers multiple social locations as factors in one’s experience of oppression and/or privilege. Rather than only considering one axis of analysis or one social location such as race or gender, an intersectional lens considers the relationship and intersection of multiple social locations in shaping our world view and our experiences.

    It also recognizes the fact that while people may share one social location, such as sexual orientation or age, there are variations within that experience based on additional factors.
    We must not try to diminish or ignore the power and truth in our differences.

    Our Yoga practice offers us the tools through Svadhyaya self-study one of the Niyamas our personal observances, second limb on Sage Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of Yoga along with Viveka discrimination or discernment to go deeper in unpacking our own biases so we can unlearn and relearn. We must utilize both of these in order to dismantle so much of the harmful spiritual bypassing, cultural appropriation, sexual objectification, ableism, sizeism, ageism, and commodification of yoga practice as well as the concept of the “yoga body” that has occurred in Yoga in the west.

    Intersectionality is the path forward and the future of wellness so we can be more inclusive of all marginalized voices and experiences. Intersectionality allows us to examine the truth in a holistic way without giving in to denial, a distortion of reality, or leaning out of the conversation due to guilt or shame. Intersectionality, like our lived yoga practices, allows us to step out of perceived and socially constructed binaries and hold the full spectrum of experience, range of emotions and move into conscious action to create social change. This is yoga in action.

    Meet the authors: Anusha Wijeyakumar and Melanie Klein

    Anusha Wijeyakumar is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrant parents. Being raised in the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma and a lifelong student of Hinduism and Buddhism, she has a vast knowledge in both. Anusha is also knowledgeable in the areas of meditation, pranayama, mantra, and the philosophy associated with yoga. Anusha is very passionate about honouring the roots of yoga and educating people on the importance of decolonizing these practices. Anusha is a sought after motivational speaker around the world on the science of mindfulness and meditation. Anusha is also the Wellness Consultant for Hoag Hospital in Orange County, CA where she is actively engaged on championing mindfulness and meditation practices for maternal mental health programs, early risk assessment for breast & ovarian cancer prevention programs and breast cancer survivorship programs. Anusha is one of the first people to create a meditation program to be used in clinical research at Hoag Hospital. Anusha has over 15 years of international senior management experience working for Fortune 50, 100, and 500 global corporations, charitable organizations & private companies in three continents. Womxn’s health and social justice is at the heart of all that Anusha is involved with. Anusha is on the Board of Directors for the non-profit MOMS Orange County and is very engaged in working with inner city communities to bring the power of yoga for a healthy mind, body and spirit into these localities to nurture and empower change from within. Anusha recently co-founded the movement Womxn of Color + Wellness @wocandwellness which is focused on decolonizing wellness and making yoga and wellness more equitable, accessible, diverse and inclusive. Anusha’s first book Meditation With Intention: Quick & Easy Ways to Create Lasting Peace will be released in January 2021 by Llewellyn Worldwide.

    Melanie Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment, and visibility. She is also a successful writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016), co-editor of Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) as well as the editor of the new anthology, Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and is the co-founder of The Joy Revolution. She has been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and currently lives in Santa Monica, CA.

    Connect: melaniecklein.comybicoalition.comyogaandbodyimage.orgyogarisingbook.com

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars in collaboration with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and WOC + Wellness intended as an honest, thoughtful and holistic exploration of intersectionality, wellness and sustainable action with the intention of creating sustainable social change.

  • Intersectionality & Yoga

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and action of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all. – Be here and Love.

    It is time to live in the reality that Yoga and Intersectionality are intertwined. Find the spiritual
    crossroads of the life you so desire on our mats, and apply them in your everyday lives
    Ferociously!

    Yoga in itself is a life built on intersections. We know this, we live our lives moving through the
    paces; we struggle and grow through the day to day to find meaningful purpose. We do this
    daily work to combine our physical bodies, spiritual bodies, and mental bodies. We know there
    are crossroads between our celestial and metaphysical channels. And the goal is to find the
    bridges between the things that make you, you, and connect that to the energetic points that
    surround us.

    Intersectionality is the crossroads between Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, Race,
    Sexual Orientation, Religious Beliefs, Lived Experiences (including trauma), Political
    Orientation. Yoga is the crossroads between physical, mental, and spiritual practices including
    but not limited to breath control, meditation, and bodily postures.

    Once we know one, we know the other. The work on the mat teaches us our ability to navigate.
    To understand one side of the spectrum, whilst being engaged in another. It is important for you
    to realize that you are already familiar with this work. You now must adjust the tools in your
    beautifully built tool box-sphere to be applied to the dismantling of white supremacy. Your anti
    racism work is an everyday practice. Schedule time in your day to build the foundations of this
    work! It must first start at home, it must start with you!

    Take into account the culture of yoga is not just the individual, but the community. We ascend
    ourselves into the astral plane, leaving the constructs of the breathing body, to traverse to an
    energetic plane to connect ourselves to the universe.

    Adjust your thinking. The time of who is worthy of the gifts of enlightenment, has passed. To
    ascend you must be as connected with yourself as you are with everyone else. If there is
    suffering in the world, a part of you is also suffering. You can not be connected to your practice
    as you continue to ignore the micro and macro pains and sufferings of all.

    White culture thrives on who is deserving. The feeling that ‘I am the one that is deserving of this
    space’ is your racist systematic programmed mind. There is no ‘I am worthy if someone else is
    unworthy’. This is the place to start your work. The answer is that we are ALL deserving.
    Recognizing this hostility is so familiar that it may have become second nature -so innate that
    you don’t see it for what it is. Know when you come from this space you are already lesser than,
    and the journey will be unnecessarily longer. Then ask yourself why you are ok with that? I
    encourage you to observe yourself.

    By Yemie Sonuga

    Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga. She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her on Instagram

    Start your 14-day Free Trial with Omstars Today!