White Like Me

Nervously I entered the Air BnB out in Welches, OR last week.  I love women & it’s not difficult for me to have healthy relationships with women, not on the surface either, I really enjoy being vulnerable with other females.  But I was about to engage in an overnight with 5 strangers, I only knew one of these women well.  After months of sheltering at home for the most part it felt good to get out and take some small trips here and there.

Later that night when we were in the hot tub surrounded by Oregon pine trees, the tub far too small for seven ladies, some of us sitting on the side to make room for others, I was  asked two questions: “How’d you become a yoga teacher?”  &  “How do you deal with cultural appropriation as a yoga teacher?”  Obviously the latter being way more difficult to answer, especially as a white person. Especially as a white person I better have an answer!  I found myself deflecting, making it about someone else.  A studio I worked at for a really long time whose owner recently changed the names of classes from vinyasa and hatha to english words because she felt like it would be more palatable and attractive for the students paying to go there.

But lately I have had a come to Jesus moment as they say, both wondering and at times realizing that others are always going to do their own shit.  WHAT AM I, JUST I, DOING ABOUT IT???  I am SO grateful for that question in the hot tub because even though I have always found the roots of yoga compelling & do my best to honor them, it’s like: DO I REALLY?!  Which to be honest if I really want to evolve be better, & be sensitive really is a question I should be asking myself daily.  Do I mention the sanskrit enough in class? Do I go back to study the sutras enough?  Do I honor & teach this practice the way it was first taught? Do I realize what an honor it is to teach such a sacred practice as a white person?

Do I make sure it’s accessible to all even people who don’t have a lot of money?  Do I go out of my way to make it available inclusively to all races & to not just white people?

I had a Nepalese friend from CA recently ask me if I knew to respect yoga’s roots, that it originated in India.  It was important for me not to get defensive and ask him if there was an instance that I hadn’t been respectful?  To which he replied no.  But I think that I can still do better.  We can all do better.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION defined in case you haven’t researched or heard about it yet:

  1. the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

In South India women make ‘kolam’ every day in the early morning, sand art made with rice flour or chalk, beautiful mandalas that invite abundance. Even in tiny apartments some version of this art is made.  Throughout the day the kolams get walked on & then washed away to make a new one again the next morning. The first day of my teacher training there we all sat coloring mandalas. For me this can be yoga as much as this pose in this picture.  Was it the same as the original and did we invent that?  Hell no.  Can we learn where it came from, appreciate it, and teach others the same?  YES.  So much yes.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Let’s add the footnotes. Let’s orally recite the origins.  Let’s not gloss over the past to make things more palatable and comfortable for ourselves and other people.  Lets honor the past and other culture’s ancestors. Let’s keep this magic alive.  I have put my moccasins away for now.  I will keep my dutch braids but I will remember that braids are sacred parts of others cultures.

Peace and love to you all.

~Namaste, a word I have ended these posts and my yoga classes with every time.

Namaste:  A Sanskrit word, and Indian greeting upon meeting and leaving.  Arguably it could transcend race as an interpretation of meaning can be, “The divine in me salutes and bows to the divine in you.”

Published by Liz Brower

I've practiced yoga since 2006, I stumbled into a class at my local gym. I didn't really "get" yoga, I wanted to do all of the poses to the max, I didn't focus on breathing, and I was very competitive. A year later I quit smoking and my mom purchased a three month unlimited to a local studio. I fell in love with yoga! Plus the metaphor was strong, my lungs began to repair, I could take really deep inhales without coughing! I later began to go to a free outdoor yoga classes in downtown Long Beach, CA that was also affiliated with a donation based studio. Yoga was fun, affordable, accessible, and outside! I loved it. I started practicing at home by myself. I started meditating. Right after I found the classes at the gym stopped drinking alchohol. My sobriety and yoga have intertwined ever since. They compliment each other amazingly and I am so grateful for them both. I stopped practicing yoga after getting pregnant and being caught up with the taking care of a newborn in 2013/2014. When he was 9 months old I realized that I really wanted to redirect myself back to yoga. I also had the seed planted in my mind while driving home from Christmas break, why don't you go do a yoga teacher training?! I started practicing yoga at a local studio and began scouring the internet for a teacher training program. I found Three Sisters Yoga, a lovely program, based out of NY & PDX. I was more than motivated to teach, I started teaching some free yoga in the summer of 2015 at a local park. I continued after that with an internship at the same studio I had signed back up with at the beginning of the year. I quit my day job. I hit the pavement, scouring for yoga gigs that would hire a newbie. I found a job and began to teach! Now I am navigating the great balance of being a single mom, a yoga teacher, and doing my best to trust my higher power with my future. I love to teach and practice vinyasa, but also know what it's like to be drawn to slower types of yoga due to injury or body type. I feel a special affinity for yoga new comers and like to teach practice at all different levels. Thank you for taking time to read a little more about me and I wish all of you the best in your own individual yoga practice. ~Namaste!

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