A Yogic Invitation to Do Better: Transphobia + J Brown’s Yoga Talks Podcast

A Yogic Invitation to Do Better: Transphobia + J Brown’s Yoga Talks Podcast

A Yogic Invitation to Do Better: Transphobia + J Brown’s Yoga Talks Podcast

 

“What I know is not important. It is what I don’t know that is important.”

-Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar

I’ve been involved in a recent call-in campaign that is requesting accountability from J. Brown and his podcast guest, Katchie Ananda, for a deeply harmful, transphobic interview titled “Gender Spectrum and Biological Sex.” This podcast uses false science and toxic, obsolete cultural narratives that simultaneously position trans and nonbinary people as a dangerous threat, and as victims who need saving.

This article is a supplement to this and other open letters with calls to action. Let’s unpack this harm from a yogic perspective. Divesting and deplatforming are important tools, especially in cases like this where previous asks for accountability have been ignored and resisted over and over. I am also committed to the inquiry: what does accountability look like beyond cancelling someone’s platform, in service to reducing future harm, fostering humility and a potential commitment to do better by those who have caused harm?

I stand firm in the truth that there is abundant room for all of us in the struggle for gender justice and collective liberation, that our struggles are connected. Uplifting trans rights and divesting from binary gender doesn’t harm cis people, in fact it frees us all. I have to believe that people can change, that healing is possible.

What are the obstacles (kleshas) at play, such as fear, attachment, and self-righteousness, and what work may be necessary to help these yoga teachers and others who share this thinking become able to shift? How can yoga practice actually help? Katchie positions herself as a dharma teacher, but there is nothing dharmic about public statements that are cruel.

How dare you publicly say that people’s gender transition ruins them? 

That people’s transitions deny them the ability to experience sexual pleasure? How could you ever begin to understand the exquisite perfection, sacredness, and profound beauty of trans love?

This podcast and the article Katchie wrote on this topic stir up nausea, sadness, anger, and exhaustion. Pointing out and countering each of the many harmful aspects of this interview would require far too much emotional labor than would be healthy for me. Rather, I want to back up and look at why someone would choose to become so entrenched in violent rhetoric, and how a change of perspective may be possible. 

I write this from the perspective of a white, queer, nonbinary person who is a long-time yoga practitioner and teacher. I was AFAB (assigned female at birth) and I am a sexual assault survivor. My identity falls under the trans umbrella, but nonbinary better describes my fraught, nonlinear relationship to gender. I come to this conversation with sensitivity around how liberatory frameworks evolve along with society, and that different generations have different understandings of struggle. I had the blessing of being raised by a feminist mother. I have the good fortune of trans lovers, friends, family, and community that has helped me learn and grow in infinite ways; it’s no exaggeration that trans women have helped me truly understand what feminism, misogyny, and patriarchy are. 

I’m sharing this to locate myself with honesty and humility in this conversation. While white supremacy culture upholds objectivity and ‘one right way,’ yogic traditions highlight the value of owning our subjectivity, pluralism, and more nuanced ways of understanding what is real. Yoga also upholds non-harming before all else, as a universal principle (see sutras 2.30-2.35).

Yoga scholar Dr. Shyam Ranganathan shared an illuminating lecture in a recent Yoga Alliance training titled Yoga Philosophy and the West: Yoga in an Age of Confronting Systemic Discrimination. I don’t seek to conflate colonialism and transphobia, though they are connected; this framing is very helpful regarding this inquiry.

He shared:

“Either we relate to our mind as though it is something that influences us, or we control mental influence so that we can be autonomous (abide in our essence as knowers). (Sutras 1.1-1.4)

Interpretation is imperialistic as it imposes the explainer’s beliefs on the explained. Interpretation is colonialism, as it treats the explained as a prop for the explainer. 

He further shared, “With respect to any belief you have, turn it into a conclusion and ask what reasons you have to support this … If there are no good reasons, it’s a samskara.”

Much of this podcast is rooted in negative samskaras – hidden imprints in consciousness from the past, that keep us individually and collectively entrenched in harmful norms. Over and over again, this podcast interview centered these two cis people’s assumptions, which are largely based not on logic but on false ideas that have been perpetuated for generations to ostracize, dehumanize, and criminalize trans people.

For instance, the recent documentary Disclosure brilliantly documents how we (anyone raised in popular culture) have been brainwashed to see trans women as dangerous perpetrators, when in fact it is well documented that trans women, especially Black Inidigenous trans women of color, are overwhelmingly and disproportionately on the receiving end of sexual violence. 

Gender is mutable, and part of prakriti, nature. So long as we are approaching something in the realm of prakriti – the ever changing – we will have different versions of the truth. Just like the Jain story of the many blind men touching a different body part of an elephant and describing their idea of what the elephant (truth, or God) is, people will have different and evolving reference points for truth, an idea that may be threatening even as it is liberating. This is why ahimsa, nonviolence, is a foundational teaching in Patanjali’s system.

As yoga practitioners we need to interrogate our versions of truth that are directly causing harm to others. The arrogance of claiming objectivity (and trying to prove it with false science) perpetuates violent, transphobic beliefs, which are the very framework propping up dozens of heatbreaking anti trans laws being voted on right now across the country. They also act as a barrier to growth, connection, and evolution. 

Conflating gender and sex is widely disproven, and much has been written and talked about to frame that – yes, trans people are real, and whole, and deserve to exist. We do not pose a risk to the movement for women’s empowerment and do not need to be rescued by cis people. So, my focus is not on arguing this debate, but rather: why are J Brown and Katchie so attached to it?  

They speak as if trans-ness is a problem to be solved (by cis people, no doubt) rather than people who need support and basic human rights. Within the first few minutes of the show, J Brown makes it obvious he has not educated himself on this context or history. Katchie begins the discussion defensively, positioning herself as a progressive ‘good’ person, proven by mentioning relationships she has with people of color and lesbians. Right away this poses a problem by tokenizing people with underestimated identities. 

Additionally, to engage in discussions involving marginalized people and their realities without including them in the discussion is to run the risk of amplifying perspectives based on one’s own social conditioning. We all have been soaked in social conditioning, and it is our responsibility as yoga practitioners to awaken to and divest from structures that maintain violent imbalances. Such conditioning is rooted in systems of oppression and designed to fracture and exploit while maintaining hierarchical power for the few.

Certainly, no one should be pressured into transition, which is discussed at length in this podcast. However, the dangerous misconception that the medical industry has people on some sort of ‘transition conveyor belt’ is problematic because it obscures the truth: for the vast majority of people who transition medically, these procedures provide life-saving and very real relief, which is often not at all easy to access. Transition more accurately often requires years of work – community fundraising, jumping through hoops, navigating transphobic medical and insurance systems, out of state travel… and this is the problem we should be addressing if we care about trans lives.

Most importantly however, is the deeply problematic cis obsession with fixed, “biological” sex and with trans peoples bodies and parts, which serves invalidate and dehumanize people. And to what end. What do cis people really have to loose if trans people are allowed to thrive?

Which, by the way, we are.

I want to name a false scarcity, that positions rights and protections for cis women and girls in competition with rights for trans people and kids, especially trans femmes and nonbinary people who were AFAB (assigned female at birth). Trans people are not the enemy.

Trans people are precious, wise, and sacred – and have been respected and included in pre-colonial societies on every continent on earth. Our modern culture, built on imperialism, genocide, and racial capitalism is the problem, not trans poeple. Trans femmes, nonbinary people, and neurodivergant poeple were also burned at the stake alongside cis women during Europe’s legacy of witch hunts. Our stories are interwoven. White supremecist cis-het patrirachy thrives off fracturing us, and undermines our resistance by keeping people scraping, hustling, and competing for power that comes from proximity to to wealth, whiteness, and cis hetereo mormativity.

There’s abundant room for all of us in the struggle for gender justice and liberation. If trans people are respected and included and get to live and thrive on their own terms, it doesn’t mean there’s not room for empowerment about vaginas or cis women spaces to process patriarchy. Trans people having access to healthcare and youth sports and housing and work etc does not mean we can’t have a wide-open affirming gender culture that celebrates masculine women, feminine men, gender nonconforming people of all genders, non binary folks, and trans people who decide not to medically transition. We can have a critical analysis of hypersexualized femininity without scapegoating transmasculine youth. To everyone who holds any sort of privilege, especially cis privilege – can we please ditch this scarcity and be open to learn and heal together?

This is where yoga practice comes in. Cis fragility and hyper defensiveness needs to be processed and healed, if ahimsa (nonviolence) is a shared value amongst yoga community members. If people are entrenched in fear (abhinivesha) and ego (asmita) and their nervous systems stuck in transphobic samskaras, then the self-replicating waves of intergenerational trauma response will self replicate without interruption. The limbic system will override the possibility of thinking and relating in a new way.

They will see trans people a threat to who they know themselves to be. When faced with challenging change, such as unpacking unexamined cis privilege held up by deeply engrained binary gender essentialism, embodied practices can be extremely helpful. Practice for this purpose not only is key to harm reduction, but it will free the practitioner as well.

Asana practice can be used to build capacity for the unknown. BKS Iyengar famously said, “You know the known, so go a little into the unknown. The mind that is caught up in the known – extended a little beyond reason. …Releasing the bondage of your mind to extend further, reach the unknown a little more. The further you go, you realize that the known is limited and the unknown is vast.”

Asana is an effective tool for nervous system regulation, so we are less reactive and more grounded, which increases our capacity for compassion for self and others. Importantly, it helps us divest from false identification with harmful norms that exist in the mind. Yogah citta vrrti nirodhah. Patanjali was clear, and laid it out in the first few sutras. As Dr. Shyam discussed (and I paraphrase), when we stop identifying with the fluctuations of the mind, then self-governance becomes possible. He also shared a definition of truth I appreciate – that truth is what we can agree on when we are in conflict about something. We can agree that patriarchy and misogyny need to be torn down, healed from. What if that remained the focus, rather than playing the role of police, judge, and savior towards trans people who at the end of the day are really just trying to live their lives? 

But it’s hard to discern if we are rooted in self-governance or caught up in self-righteous harm. That’s why a commitment to yoga’s ethics based in nonviolence – and regular consumption of –  listening to people from the margins is so key. Listen to trans people, to nonbinary people. Listen to trans Immigrants. Listen to Black trans women. Listen to trans youth and trans elders. Be open to receive. And compensate them for their wisdom and time! This will allow you to change – and being open to change is crucial. It is immensely important for us to be able to say, ‘whew I fucked up,’ to feel that, apologize, and keep learning and advocating. 

A decade ago, I closely followed heated debates that had a similar flavor. The Michigan Women’s Music Festival was an empowering women’s gathering that for decades attracted thousands of queer and feminist community members from all over the country, including many who made the pilgrimage annually who would look to this week in the woods together as a time to celebrate, recharge, and recoup from surviving hetero-patriarchy. Ultimately the conflict over whether or not to openly include trans women in that space led to its demise. The fixed belief that trans women should not be allowed, held by a minority of cis women in powerful positions, meant that after years of activism on both sides, the space disappeared for everyone. This was a huge and unnecessary loss. Much of the same transphobic ideology and falsehoods used to argue that only ‘women born women’ belonged at Michfest surface here, a decade later in this “yoga” interview. 

We need to do better. Yoga practitioners are well equipped with tools to do this work. May we consistently recommit to shedding avidya (ignorance). I’m rooting for you to have the courage to look deeper, J Brown and Katchie. This harmful rhetoric needs to stop. And needs to stop now.

Thanks for reading this article. If you learned something consider making a donation. I appreciate your support for this work! Big appreciation to those friends who helped with the editing process.

About the author: Avery Kalapa is a community weaver, wellness advocate, and yoga teacher (CIYT, eRYT500, YACEP) with 20 years of experience, who is passionate about deep, affirming, embodied healing spaces that don’t require assimilation. They teach joyful Iyengar Yoga rooted in collective liberation. 

Uplifting Queer and Trans Folks in our Yoga Spaces

Uplifting Queer and Trans Folks in our Yoga Spaces

Uplifting Queer and Trans Folks in our Yoga Spaces

 

NOVEMBER 16, 2020

I recently was asked to write a short piece for Yoga Samachar, the US Iyengar Yoga Magazine published by IYNAUS, which recently moved from print to be an online publication. The original piece was more rambling, so this reflects a lot of editing… but here it is: the final article. In the tender glow of Transgender Awareness Week, I thought I’d share it here. May it be of benefit. May our yoga practice spaces and community be truly inclusive spaces the uplift healing and liberation in the deepest broadest sense.

As a nonbinary queer, when I see another LGBTQIA person in a yoga space, a quiet recognition often takes place. This camaraderie recognizes the violence, erasure, disapproval and shame of a homophobic, transphobic society and  provides a sweet connection and bit more space for us to fully arrive. 

What most straight, cis people don’t realize is that queer and trans people bring brilliant, insightful magic to a space. Many precolonial cultures celebrated  queer, trans, and nonbinary people as healers, leaders, and visionaries.  Colonized society, with norms rooted in white supremacy, misogyny, and  heteronormativity, has exploited, demonized, and tried to eradicate LGBTQIA people.  

It’s important we do not replicate these harmful norms in our yoga spaces. Here are some things we can DO to be welcoming to our LGBTQIA Community Members: 

• CREATE non gendered bathrooms and changing areas. Learn to recognize and confront any homo/transphobic behavior you observe, like staring at or avoiding LGBTQIA students.  

• NORMALIZE asking for and sharing your pronouns. Ex: “Hi, Im Suzi. My pronouns are she, her. What are your  pronouns?” Ask, don’t assume. Binary gender is exclusionary, harmful, and counter to our non-dualistic practice of yoga. By offering your pronouns, you affirm trans and nonbinary people. If you misgender someone, don’t make it all about you. Apologize and move  on.

• BE AWARE how your discomfort effects the space. What arises in your  body and thoughts when in the presence of someone who challenges  your comfort zone about gender identity or sexual orientation? Notice the  discomfort, get grounded, and then reconnect with the human being in front of you. 

• STOP gendering bodies, body parts, and emotions. Anatomy does not determine gender. Embrace the opportunity to unpack bias about gender norms; after all this oppression harms us all. Ex: Instead of “ladies with periods” and “pregnant moms” try “people with periods” and “birth parents.” Women’s classes can be designed to include trans women;  menstrual classes can include anyone with a uterus. 

• UNDERSTAND intersectionality and privilege. Oppressions overlap and  compound. For instance, the average life expectancy for a Black trans  woman in the US is 35. Unpacking both where we have privilege and  where we’re marginalized helps us orient, and find more satvic, balanced  relationships with others. Embrace challenging your assumptions,  language, and philosophies that uphold problematic norms as a healing practice.  

 •ALIGN intention and impact. “What’s cis mean?” If you don’t understand any of these terms google them. Read up. Marginalized people are often expected to bear the burden of educated others. Seek out, study with, and pay queer, trans and other underrepresented educators.  

• CELEBRATE anti-assimilation. The movement for gay liberation, led by trans women of color, sought widespread change to uphold rights and  protections for LGBTQIA people, especially the most marginalized. This  movement was co-opted by affluent cisgender white gays pushing for  respect through assimilation. Pressure to assimilate is strong in society and the yoga industry, including Iyengar Yoga. The cost of assimilation is high. Assimilation contradicts the vision for a more just, vibrant, expansive yoga community that is truly welcoming and affirming for all. 

• UPLIFT LGBTQIA teachers. Include their unique wisdom and vital, much needed perspectives. Appreciate those who don’t fit your expectation of  what a yoga practitioner or CIYT looks like. Be open to how they share in the common commitment to the method, transformation, and practice of  yoga.

 

Thanks for reading. One more thing…!

I’m delighted about this exciting 6 month series I’ve been working on, which starts this month. Check it out:

Content and Connected, Even Amidst Change

Content and Connected, Even Amidst Change

Content and Connected, Even Amidst Change

 

MAY 14, 2020

Sometimes amidst big changes, do you ever feel like you don’t belong, even in your own life?

What IS it that helps us feel actually…. connected? Content amidst the waning and waxing of all that is unfolding? 

In yoga, there’s a concept called santosha

Like all of the niyamas, santosha is an inner practice. Sometimes described as contentment, santosha is a state of deep acceptance, appreciation even, for what is. It’s not reliant on things going our way in the external. Like happiness, it’s an inside job. 

Santosha doesn’t imply we don’t stay tuned in to what’s going on around us. The tragedy of capitalism and related deep structures of injustice have been laid bare by this virus. Our work to bring balance to the external is ever more important now. Contentment is not complacency.

In fact, when we’re grounded in acceptance within, it gives a certain sense of clarity. We get quiet, observe, feel, understand, and then act.

BKS Iyengar wrote, “Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” Direct action in the world around us becomes possible, when we are rooted in santosha. And right now, with so much movement halted, we have a real opportunity to develop the consciousness that makes action possible.

However, our reality has been so altered because of Covid19. Our sense of planning, security, place, and the future so uncertain. How can we even begin to feel connected, to experience santosha?

In Pune, India there was a beautiful speech give at BKS Iyengar’s Centenary Celebration, where an Indian professor described a recent study looking at what happens in the brain when people experience a deep state of connection and peace. The study followed people of many different faiths and spiritual practices who regularly experienced some sort of deep blissful state. They found that when these practitioners where just about to experience a profound shift into peace, santosha, the part of the brain that perceives the external – the “other”- went dormant. 

This speaker (one of so many that day, I can’t track him down!) explained that the more we are entangled with the external world, the less connected we feel, and that the more connected we are within, the more we feel connected to others. Wow. I wish I could link to some cool published work on this, but instead let’s just go into this idea.

Perhaps we feel most connected and content when we are deeply awake inside, attuned to the silence within us beyond the noise of our hungry, clinging mind. Maybe this is one reason asana practice has been so nourishing for me during quarantine. It’s a chance to disentangle my awareness from the external, so that I can honestly be with what is. It lets me connect deeply inside, so that I can begin to process what happening in the external from a place of clarity. Even if the glimpses of this inner silence are fleeting, brief, they are incredibly nourishing.

Abhijata (BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter) said in her recent teachings:

“Take a dip in that silence. Sometimes the silence can be overwhelming. Let it permeate, let it just engulf you. Take a dip into that…”

So lovely. It’s been useful for me to remind myself santosha – like yoga – isn’t an end goal, but a practice. Something I can explore, cultivate. Experiment with. It’s been amazing to stumble upon moments of contentment, often just after practice, where some new space opens up and suddenly everything feels different. Spacious and full of possibility. Full of connectedness.

What a miracle to have yoga practice in our lives. It’s so cool that something that takes up so little external space has such massive internal richness. We can practice yoga where ever we are. We can explore asana, breath, and awareness whenever we decide to show up for it. We can practice in our body just as it is…. in our pajamas, using whatever we have around the house. And so long as we have the teachings and a willingness to explore we can experience profound shifts inside.

These glimpses give us faith, that shift is possible. So then we practice a bit more. And inner connection awakens. We glimpse belonging. We glimpse contentment.

Even amidst a pandemic.

And in those moments, it’s all we need.

When Familiar Self Care Stuff Isn’t Working, and What To Do About It.

When Familiar Self Care Stuff Isn’t Working, and What To Do About It.

When Familiar Self Care Stuff Isn’t Working, and What To Do About It.

 

“Trust the wait.

Embrace the uncertainty.

Enjoy the beauty of becoming.

When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

– Mandy Hale

In case you need a reminder, this is aaaall new. This, ya know, global pandemic, social distancing, unknown futures, unprecedented changes to some foundational aspects of our life…that new stuff. We haven’t experienced this before. And your intelligent, sensitive nervous system alerts to anything new. So beyond all the aspects your logical mind can spin on about this, there’s a LOT you’re reacting to. Integrating. Processing. And there’s no one right way – no wrong way – to get through.

This newness means our old ways of coping, feeling like ourselves, and experiencing wellness, health, and pleasure have shifted. We no longer have the same access points to the things we relied on to feel good about life. It’s likely some of the things that used to help you feel good, no longer are. Or, simply aren’t accessible to you any more, in the old familiar forms.

If you’re like me (and likely, most folks) you probably haven’t chosen how to react the last few weeks, you’ve just been swimming through it. Maybe you’ve been hyper busy to distract yourself from all the feelings, maybe you’ve been dull, heavy, numb, maybe scattered, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed. Maybe familiar difficult emotions, thought patterns, or habits feel amplified, erupting with surprising intensity.

This is completely normal.

I’ve been exploring this because not only am I trying to cope, I’m super curious – like a scientist in a laboratory exploring my own mind body connections. I’m also here to serve others in their own explorations. And how do I serve – when everything is stirred up and …so “new?”

Well, just exploring the body-mind–breath relationship helps send a message to our brain that we are safe enough to remain present, adaptive, autonomous. I deeply trust the wisdom and efficacy of the ancient Indian teachings of yoga and I know science backs it up. And yet – the practice feels, looks, functions differently now. Have you noticed that too? Asana feels different. Embodiment feels different. So how to we practice now? How do we find our ground?

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Turning to the Yoga Sutras has once again shed some light. After all, the first word in the whole book is now. Maybe a clue for us.

Our sense of self is usually ensnared, entangled with the outer world. Now, this familiar relationship – and our sense of self -has been disrupted. On the surface, naturally there’s a lot we are processing: we may be afraid for ourselves and our loved ones. We may be grieving he loss of a sense of economic security, social gatherings that have been canceled, loved ones now distanced. We might feel outraged at the disfunction of capitalism, at the heartbreaking effects of injustice being amplified by coronavirus.

However, in the bedrock of all we are working to intellectually understand, there is a deeper loss that’s more elusive: the loss of our old sense of self. This is one reason such widespread change is so unnerving, deeply uncomfortable: the ways we move through the world, define ourselves, and the very ways we know ourselves, have been disrupted.

The massive changes we’re experiencing reveal the very nature of prakrti – of the world, the body, the mind – all part of what is ever changing. Patanjali, who thousands of years ago codified the Yoga Sutras, urges us to detach from identifying with the external, from the hamster wheel of cause and effect. *Sutra 11.17 says “The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation.” And BKS Iyengar’s commentary further explains:

“The intelligence is the vehicle closest to the soul, which must be wary of its influence if the seer is to remain free. Otherwise intelligence enmeshes the seer in a painful relationship with external objects. ….The seat of the ego or small self is the seat of the brain, and the seat of the great Self is in the spiritual heart. Though intelligence connects the head and the heart, it oscillates between the two. This oscillation ceases through right knowledge and understanding. Intelligence is then transformed: free from polarity, pure and unbiased. This is true meditation, in which ego dissolves, allowing the great Self (purusha) to shine in its own glory.”

Right now the very idea of my self, your self, as being separate from, independent, has been shaken. This virus is showing just how interconnected, interdependent, and vulnerable we truly are. It has cleared away so much illusion.

So long as we were caught up, attached, identified with external sources of happiness, we were distracted from the true source of freedom from suffering, which is within, which is the soul. Now, the terrain has shifted.

‘Happiness is an inside job’ is a cute hashtag/ pop saying, but experiencing that spacious clarifying shift is very different from intellectually “understanding.” Even a glimpse of that innermost essence is deeply transformative, and healing.

We now have a fresh reset, a new door opening to discover what brings us inside, to the experiential peace, clarity, resilience that is rooted within our own being.

Perhaps corona virus is giving us the opportunity (gift? if you really want to embrace this idea) of dissociation, stripping away old paradigms, familiar comforts, old definitions of individual self… of ego. What a discovery! We are in a new terrain in our nervous system, mind, heart. We have the opportunity to be attentive, creative, to listen deeply to what is nourishing us and bringing us deeper into a sense of resilience – a sense of now. We haven’t experienced this before so it will be different from anything in the past.

My teachers often urge me to get out the mechanical, into feeling what is right NOW. This is a precious opportunity to become present, and to recognize the source within as the true sanctuary we are seeking. 

So, I’m inviting you to wipe the slate clean on what you think you should be doing these days. Let your practice become inquisitive, intuitive, spacious. Let your days become explorative. You have permission to experiment.

Listen deeply to the effects of your decisions. The feedback loop is clear right now.

I wrote a post about a month ago along the lines of “5 Things You Can Do To Calm Vata This Spring” but… it evolved into this. The fact is, I don’t know what’s going to help you. I don’t even fully know, for me! But I’m exploring it, and wow is it interesting.

And! Even though I don’t have the answers, I think you do. I think you have what you need within yourself, to find out. What helps you recenter is up for you to experiment with, and see what actually brings harmony, acceptance, being-ness. Self care gives stability for the inward journey.

Here are a few ideas (see, I’ll still share the 5 things with you! Plus a few more) but keep in mind, what you’re needing in this moment isn’t a prescription. It’s an experiment. An uncharted journey, towards the soul. You’re allowed to play around and see what works!

Let the old definitions of self fall away. Let the old false comforts fall away.

Can you stay curious about what wakes you up, brings you home, now?

  • Regulate sleep and get lots of it. (Back body breath and long exhalations help with insomnia…!) Wake up and bedtime: keep it consistent. Bonus: Avoid any screens for the first and last hour of the day.
  • Practice savasana. Ideally, 10-20 minutes a day, even if it’s not part of an active asana practice. Make sure you’re warm; supported; use a timer. Bonus: Lay in a hammock. Rest. Daydream. Allow for shameless laying around to rest. When we rest, we integrate.
  • Take hot baths, or sun baths. Water and warmth help us feel grounded. Compliment this with fresh air.
  • Go for extra fluids; herbal teas with ginger, turmeric, lemon balm, saint johns wort, passionflower, chamomile, etc will help stregthen you immune system and calm your emotions.
  • Eat lots of ghee! Scoop into tea, soups, cook with ample amounts. Coconut oil, butter, yum. Good fats. Grounding nourishing internal lubrication!
  • Doodle. Paint. Arrange rocks, draw patterns in the dirt or mud. Go for the process, not the product. See what the medium is telling you.
  • Create an imaginary compost and whenever you have a thought like “I should be … (more productive, more calm, exercise more, etc) just put that shame and disapproval in that compost pile. Lavish in ample self compassion. You’re going through A LOT. I am too. Stop shoulding yourself.
  • Asana is always a win, in my book. But do you need to slow down? Move more? Be in a zoom class? Do you own quiet thing? Practice difficult poses to wake you up and get you out of your head? Chill out in restorative poses and let yourself finally wind down? Both?? Explore and be open. Get on your mat, guidance will come.
  • Pranayama. Pranayama. Pranayama.
  • By now I know you’re making your own list.
  • Cook amazing food.
  • Garden.
  • Call politicians.
  • Meditate.
  • Give.
  • Study spiritual texts.
  • Listen to revolutionary analysis.
  • Chant.
  • Pray.
  • ..
  • .
  • You have so many cool things you love… and theres no rush to do them all right now. Maybe just a take it a day at a time. A breath at the time. We may not have asked for a deep dose of spiritual practice, but hey. Here it is!

“Resilience does not mean we never experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity in their lives. The purpose of practicing a resilience skill is to increase emotional well-being in the face of events that can lead to physical and emotional upset.”

.-Randy Ernst, Scott Reed, Virginia Welle

*Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview

IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview

IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview

 

OCTOBER 2, 2019

Dear friends, I recently had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by Anne Marie Schultz for the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the US) Newsletter ‘Student Spotlight’ section. I enjoyed working on these questions during my annual week of study with Patricia Walden this summer. The interview eventually went through an editing process, so I thought I’d share the unedited and unabridged version here, rambling metaphors and all! We explored a lot… yoga and social justice, some personal stories… Thanks and hope you enjoy…

Demoing using the column for Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana I (Upward Facing Intense West Stretch Pose) with Patricia Walden’s guidance – and help from her feet! -At her 2019 Colorado Retreat.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.    

I have a major crush on life! I am a white, queer, non binary feminist, full time Iyengar Yoga teacher, a healing justice advocate, a devotional artist and rad mom. I’m pretty magical, a bit chaotic, full of heart. I live in Albuquerque, NM, in the beautiful high desert with big big sky, on the unceeded territory of the Tewa people, and Sandia and Isleta Pueblos. 

2. What do you do when you aren’t doing yoga? 

I have two kids, a 2 year old daughter and a 13 year old son. This tender teenager + tenacious toddler combination keeps me pretty busy and at my edge of growing and learning. Coordinating, finding balance, and sharing support amongst a large but close knit local non-nuclear family that involves coparents, grandparents, little kids, and my precious partner is a dynamic deeply woven with how I move through life. 

I’m also involved with various forms of local community organizing: queer antiracism study groups and activism, supporting immigrant justice, co-producing a monthly queer trans yoga group are a few examples. 

My life blooms at a vivacious rate, and brings opportunities for forays into occasional performance art/ dance, illustration projects, camping, organic gardening…I love to feed healthy delicious things to the folks I love and my kitchen is well used and often full of delicious aromas. The days are usually packed, which makes the quiet deep dive of daily asana and pranayama especially crucial. I’m grateful my life is so rich, embodied, connected, meaningful. 

3. What lead you to start Iyengar Yoga?   How long have you been practicing? 

My entrance into Iyengar Yoga was gradual; peripheral to the core. I studied deeply for 15 years with Kim Schwartz, a wonderful teacher and student of Ramanand Patel and Francois Raoult; I’ve taken many workshops with them as well. I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years, working with ‘Iyengar inspired’ and Iyengar teachers who left the system, since 2003, and about 10 years ago became a bit obsessed with what is the actual Iyengar method, something I’m of course continuing to discover, excavate, expand into, and explore. 

4.  Describe your path toward establishing a home practice.

As a teenager, I was very interested in the terrain of consciousness, and though the philosophy books my mom had brought back from travels to India were a bit too obtuse for me to get into, I developed a sort of made-up meditation practice. I didn’t know about asana. I attended my first yoga class in my freshman year of art school (my best friend took me, both of us balanced on my bike, which had pegs on the back wheels, all the way through downtown Baltimore to get there) and I fell in love with it right away. I noticed a palpable difference in how I felt, and was intrigued by this thing that was so challenging, yet felt like home. That summer I visited my cousin Melina for a month in big bad NYC. I met a friend of hers named Sigaleet – a magnetic, gleeful very energetic Isreli woman, who practiced 108 sun salutations every day (!). Needless to say I was inspired! My cousin and I would start each day on the roof with 10 surya namaskar, and from then I just kept with it, adding in things as a learned. 

5. Has there been a particular moment or memory when you realized the personal significance of practice?

There have been many. One memorable moment was half way though my second retreat with Patricia Walden. I was driving away from the day of practice, and in a stormy New Mexican twilight became overwhelmed with a sense of joy that burst to the surface in powerful tears, so strong I had to pull off the road and just cry, messy loud, sobbing tears, like that of a newborn who has found their lungs. 

In those years I had some repressed trauma and emotions, so crying was very rare for me. These were euphoric, happy tears though and I had a clear sense that finally, I had found the work, for me – this path of Iyengar yoga – that had such scope, meaning, depth, potential, that it was worth committing my life to. 

I grew up with homesteader hippie parents, in rural WV: lots of art, nature, leftist politics, and modern dance instead of TV and mainstream culture so I had a lot of creative talents and will to serve, but had struggled to pin down what to really do with my life, what is MY work, my way to serve. This was a poignant moment that seemed to clear the way. Interestingly committing to this Iyengar yoga path has opened doors for much of the these “divergent” interests such as art and healing justice work to blossom.

5. How does your yoga practice relate to your family (furry and otherwise) life?

Yoga sadhana is essential for me to show up fully for my family. My motherhood makes much of what yoga philosophy teaches, real. 

But practice it often feels at odds with my responsibilities; both pull at me and time with one means less with the other. Family time and time inside my practice create a tension that is somewhat positive; each one makes me hungry for and very appreciative of the other. 

I am inspired by Abhijata, how she is being both, mother, practitioner-teacher. In her own way, finding an ever changing balance. I’m very glad to have a supportive partner who also loves yoga, in their own way, and understands it is a big and worthwhile part of my life.

6.  If you are a teacher, what brought you to teach in this lineage?

I felt pulled towards teaching yoga from a young age, and always took it as a serious endeavor. The more experiences I had in both practice and teaching, the Iyengar system consistently emerged as the most relevant, direct, clear, bright way forward into yoga. Once I found access to the Iyengar system, other possible trajectories faded away pretty quickly. I had to work through many barriers (mostly of my own creation) to feel deserving, that I too could be part of all this. 

7. What do you love most about  Iyengar yoga?

“Most” is tricky! A Gemini answer: Top 5!

I love that it is lineage based: that there is accountability, mentorship, responsibility, practical ways to progress into an embodied, somatic experience of spiritual evolution that affects all aspects of life and self, here and now, in such exquisite ways. 

That in teaching I can serve directly at a root level. Students can come out of pain, or change their relationship to pain, that healing is possible and accessible, and that this opens the gateway to the deeper potentials of practice: a miracle every time.

I love that it is a vast endeavor, humbling, that the subject will only ever be barely touched, even after a lifetime of practice. 

I love that to practice Iyengar Yoga is to step into a river of Devotion, that it brings me to total trust and terrifying levels of surrender, that it requests all I can give and more, so I know my capacity for focus, for strength, for patience, for love, is much greater than my mind tells me.

I love that what I’m exploring in asana practice are the exact skills I need to navigate work in the external world: to awaken to and challenge my own internalized oppressions, to disrupt the harm I inevitably create, to stay present during the discomfort of working towards change, of directing attention to what I’ve been socialized to ignore, of compassion and clarity amidst fracture and conflict. I love that there is space within Iyengar Yoga community for culture shift to grow and that conversations around inequity, privilege, race, class, gender, etc are becoming more and more a part of the space. 

I love that Iyengar yoga brings me in, to really experience what is beyond, what is  God, what is real. To sense the hum of the earth’s living soul, the awake vital pulse of the universe. 

8. Any particular asanas you are currently focusing on?

Mostly: Actions WITHIN asanas! How do the combined actions of socketizing the femur and work in the buttocks elongate the lumbar and pacify my adrenal glands, especially in back extensions? How do I verticalize, centralize, and sense the relationship of my joints in inversions? How does the space behind my sternum directly relate to states of mind, emotions? How to feel many areas in my body at once, in such a way that they harmonize, rather than compete? How do I work with my discouragement? 

Currently excited about a lot: Adho mukha vrksasana, pincha mayurasana, sirsasana 2, vipariti dandasana, working patiently towards kapotasana. Also seated twists in general. And supported versions of Halasana. Viloma 3. Also having a recent love affair with parivrrta trikonasana, WHO KNEW?!

9. What are your thoughts about the relation of yoga philosophy to questions of inclusivity and/or or questions of social justice?  

I love this question! 

In an asana, if there is an intense injury or imbalance in the body, we must first address that, triage what puts someone in danger. Similarly, addressing and disrupting the harm of injustice and inequity is very important, foundational, if we value compassion and healing.

I see Iyengar yoga as an invaluable practice to help humanity evolve and survive, and the necessity of centering a justice framework key the survival of Iyengar yoga for future generations. 

 

Society in the US has been constructed on a foundation of imbalance, and these systemic oppressions permeate our world, and live inside us, too. They spoil it for everyone. Although our culture is obsessed with individualism, what happens in the collective, social, political affects our connection to our hearts, our embodied aliveness, each other  – and vis versa. I see yoga and social justice to be deeply intwined, inseparable, even. 

Although yoga in the US has been deliberately whitewashed, divorced from it’s source, and rebranded as a “feel good” luxury lifestyle for the privileged few (I blame consumer capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, to name a few) we know that it was never meant for escapism or erasure, or to sell fancy yoga clothes. Yoga is about awakening, liberation, healing – and the ways oppression and imbalance in our outer world live inside us ARE the very things that yoga seeks to address: the kleshas, the illusion of isolation, the unchecked repetition of the ways we perpetuate harm without realizing. Arjuna was called to action, after all, to fight injustice.

It’s very important we address these uncomfortable realities, squarely and honestly. For instance, in the US the attempted genocide and colonization of Indigenous people and forced importation of African people for slavery laid the foundation for our country and its cultural values. In far reaching ways white supremacy has been baked in to our culture at a systemic, institutional level, and it affects all aspects of our life, including our yoga classes. 

As a white person, I benefit from these systems which privilege my life and liberty over black and brown folks. White people have been socialized not to see these dynamics, even as we contribute to them. We’ve been socialized to believe all sorts of dangerous beliefs around who deserves power, protection, respect, and who doesn’t, based on gender, class, body size, ability, citizenship status, and how well others perform rules around gender expression and heteronormativity. This is avidya. This conditioning keeps us blindfolded, and entrenched in suffering. 

From a place of privilege, how do we lift these veils of ignorance, face our fragility, overcome our defensiveness, our wanting to skip to good “spiritual” feelings? From the places where we are marginalized, how do we reclaim our dignity, ease, authenticity, shed the internalized bondage of society’s sickness? How do we truly anchor ourselves in bhavana, in tender humanity? How do we support each other in this work? Even now, how are you feeling as you read this: are you shutting down, intellectualizing, assuming it’s not about you? While you and I did not choose these systems of oppression, I do feel a responsibility to understand and dismantle them, especially in my beloved yoga communities, and I hope we can keep exploring together what this means. 

Where are the transgender, black, brown, queer, fat, poor, undocumented folks in our classes, workshops, trainings? In what ways do marginalized students and teachers of Iyengar yoga have to code switch, shut down, hide, or armor themselves in order to show up? In what ways do our actions, assumptions, etc perpetuate this imbalance? 

“Inclusivity and diversity” is a hot topic in yoga in the west but we need to use both paksa and pratipaksa to address the harm in our yoga spaces. Yes, being welcoming and kind is great but we need to seek out the root cause, understand these systemic problems and how they affect us, so that we can create something different. In his commentary on sutra II.33 Guruji writes, “Instead of trying to cultivate the opposite condition, he should go deep into the cause of the anger or violence. This is paksabhava. One should also study the opposite forces with calmness and patience. Then one develops equipoise.” 

This inner work and outer action is a powerful combination. It is not enough to be kind. It’s not OK expect diverse folks to assimilate into our yoga culture, so that we don’t have to change, or tokenize, or expect people from marginalized groups to be a representative or spokesperson. What needs to transform within our selves, our studios? As Sonali Fiske says “You cannot be inclusive without examining your exclusivity.” Healing justice opens doors to deep svadhyaya, deep ahimsa. And deep liberation, not only for others, but for us, too. These systems of inequity hurt everyone. We are all in this together. 

I trust that as we explore this aspect of practice, our ‘on the mat’ work can become even more rich. I envision an Iyengar community strengthened, uplifted and beautifully expanded by the vulnerability, courage, and growth that healing justice work involves. Positive change takes many forms, and we each hold a piece of the equation. 

10.  How might we as a community come together to uphold each other in practice? 

I really appreciate space for vulnerability, for real listening, curiosity, unpacking conditioning, opening to new possibilities, with others. It’s wonderful to practice with Iyengar friends, to study together, have group projects that keep me accountable. I’m excited about an NEW collaborative blog exploring Iyengar Yoga and Social Justice: Ahimsa in Action which will be a hub for local and national organizing and inspiration. The more we have the courage to bring our whole selves to the yoga space, the more integration is possible.

11. How have you worked to build up community in your area? How it might be a model for other communities?

Community constantly reminds me how interdependent we all are, how nourished and upheld by others I am. It is a source of true wealth and resilience. Showing up for other people’s causes, bringing my full attention to interactions, having clear boundaries around what I can really offer, reorienting to what is true vs convenient, working to diminish ego in interactions, and staying heart centered in conflict rather than running away, having a birds eye view, long term vision  – these are ways I’m striving to show up for community now. 

I’ve learned a lot by bringing yoga classes out of the studio, into trans, queer, and community spaces, to local Native reservations, to women transiting out of incarceration, etc. I think we need to be willing to make mistakes, and learn from them, and not give up because it’s not “perfect.” There are things I can offer, and things I can’t. It’s an ongoing process to explore how to be a conduit, how Iyengar yoga practice can meet people where they are at, how to work with others in collaboration, how to step back, listen, share power and build trust. 

At my studio I’ve helped start a teacher meet up group to explore the inner work around critical whiteness, privilege of all sorts, we have readings, help from a local trainer who specializes in this work, it’s been incredibly beautiful to see how this has fostered more connection amongst the group, shifts in the space. 

What does an Iyengar yoga environment look like, feel like, where many different types of people can bring their whole selves into the practice, where no particular way of being is dominant? What needs to change, evolve, open, so that the purity and spirit of Iyengar yoga can continue to grow? When we define Iyengar yoga in the US, what are the essential roots of the practice, and what are dry husks ready to fall away? I don’t have answers, but I’m grateful we will all keep learning, together.

“Yoga has a beginning but no end…” -Geetaji.