A Home Practice of Your Very Own is Possible

[4 minute read]

As a yoga teacher, two of the most common explanations I hear for not exploring the practice are:  “I can’t even touch my toes” and “I don’t want to/can’t afford to/don’t feel comfortable taking classes as studios.” I empathize with these very real challenges, two that are exacerbated by selective images and narratives that advertise only the most idyllic yoga bodies. Yoga’s increasing popularity is at once intentionally welcoming and impactfully intimidating. For those who have deep personal practices, the concept that yoga should fit your ever-changing body – and not the opposite way around – has become a well-kept secret. I mean, why post the photo of yourself falling on your face when you can share the half-second moment when you nailed the handstand? Similarly, why take risks to grow your practice – or even just start one – in a space filled with sweaty strangers?

While achieving confidence and comfort in a group space is possible and should be accessible, for me, cultivating a home practice was essential to extricating myself from expectations of my body and shifting my focus to responding to my body as it is on any given day. Practicing on my own has been hands down one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself. It wasn’t – and still often isn’t –  easy. I was expected to do it as part of my yoga teacher training, but it took a massive amount of time and effort to embed it into my life and habits, and, most importantly, trust my ability to guide myself. Today it is absolutely crucial to my wellbeing – physically, emotionally, professionally.

You don’t need much to start a home practice, save a mat and ample space, and even these are debatably unnecessary. Check out the suggestions below, based on my own experience as well as what I have heard from other yoga practitioners – beginner to expert!

Designate a space. Keep a mat at home. Buy yourself a couple props or makeshift them with books, belts, and large, firm pillows. You may not have an entire room or every block, bolster, strap and wheel you think you need, but by picking a spot you’ll return to you’ll decrease distractions like deciding where to practice or moving things out of your way that you notice once you’re upside down, and this space will start to feel like a home base. Eventually.

Roll your mat out. Get on it. Do some sun salutations, some basic stretches you saw on a YouTube video once, or a silly dance. It might be an hour or it may only be five minutes. Just because you can’t dedicate the time you would if you were going to a class, just because you’re not sequencing through 20 poses or culminating in a peak pose doesn’t mean it’s not a valid practice. Your movement, in and of itself, is valid and valuable. You might consider trying different times of day. Maybe you like the idea of setting your day up for success. Maybe you’re less stiff after work.  

Breathe. This is crucial. Start with deep breaths and allow that to carry you through the practice. If you do nothing else but breathe, and maybe a child’s pose, that’s sufficient. That’s yoga. Let yourself off the hook from your expectations, enjoy the sensation of your breath moving through your body, and explore spots of tension and release, give yourself time to figure out what it all means for how you’ll carry yourself through once you step off of the mat.

Be creative. Be brave. Investigate asanas. Check out books from the library, utilize Google, identify trusted resources and take your time exploring them. There are many online resources – both paid and unpaid. If you go to a yoga class every once and awhile (or every week, or every day) ask your yoga teacher to clarify any questions you have before or after class, or ask a friend to play around with you.

Go at your own pace. Some days you might decide to focus on a specific pose or body part, other days you may work with an intention such as being present, breathing, or feeling free. One of the best parts about a home practice is you have the time to play around with poses you might not normally have time or space for in class, and you can also fall all over your living room floor without embarrassment (though embarrassment need not be a feeling you experience during a group class).

Consider tracking your practice. Get on the bullet journal bandwagon, start a habit tracker, write down what you’re focusing on for the day or the week, or journal what comes up for you at the end of each session.

Keep going. You will be on a roll, and then you’ll fall off. You won’t practice for a few weeks. Or you’ll practice something and be discouraged. Your home practice will not be linear and don’t for one moment trick yourself into thinking it so! The important thing is to come back. Yoga teachers can talk all they want about being present and the importance of the journey over the destination, but it’s your own personal exploration of this narrative that is critical to your home practice. Let yourself be surprised and remind yourself that you once started something you didn’t think you could do, and you sure as hell can start all over again.

Follow this link to the Self-Care Syllabus for resources and please feel free to comment below with your own suggestions!!

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Just Raina

[6 minute read]

I am not an activist.

Over the last 8 months or so I’ve been caught up in my feelings. Tending to my immediate needs, responding to my trauma(s), and figuring out who I am as I emerge into next-level adulthood (*le sigh*). It is an enlightening obstacle to pull myself away from what I think I *should* be doing and focus on what I need to be whole and authentic. Graduate school – which I finished in December, praise – poured salt into the open wound that is my evolving practice of letting go of my “shoulds” and allowing the deepest, most authentic parts of me breathe deeply.

When I stopped teaching “my own” weekly classes at the Phoenix Center in early 2016 the decision was the culmination of many conversations spread over multiple therapy sessions, discussions with friends and family, as well as emotional breakdowns (and breakthroughs!). I wanted so badly to fulfill an image of myself that others had come to see me as – strong, wise, capable of doing it all, capable of holding everyone else’s pain in addition to my own, making a huge dent in the yoga industrial complex. In retrospect, by holding on to the class I was searching really hard to figure out exactly what it was and mold myself into it, instead of simply being me, instead of fully practicing what I preached at the beginning of our group practices and even in this very blog.

The exploration of what it meant to let go continued throughout the year, at times deepening, but often only as shallow as a few inches of water. I was in the practice of healing but I was also sabotaging myself; my implementation manifested more as a trial and error, with mostly errors that turned into difficult moments of reflection and learning. I observed myself holding on tightly to idealized versions of myself as I collaborated with peers to plan programs that actually just drove my anxiety up the wall, as I put in hours I didn’t have outside of school and my field placement driving back and forth to Detroit to network for the sake of my job search, as I dated men who only spoke of feminism, love, and vulnerability, and as I consumed way too much fried food and alcohol in order to tolerate being with friends and classmates who projected their own anxieties into me. I gained weight. I spent money I didn’t have. I held in emotions for fear of burdening others. I ironically pushed away opportunities to reveal my own vulnerability and connect with community members over the relentless violence spiraling out of our social and political circumstances. I was knee-deep in a romanticized, overly-indulgent form of “self-care” in order to overcompensate for the over-exertion I expected of myself to look a certain way on the outside.

I think the vacation I blogged about just under a year ago symbolized a tipping point, that I had to give myself time and space to sit with my discomfort and piece together what it meant for my healing. After that, my final semester of school I withdrew for the most part, only selectively spending time with others, for better or for worse. I’d always assumed I was an introvert, the artistic kind, on an ‘Eat (and eat and eat), Pray, Love’ adventure. My therapist challenged me to consider that when I want to withdraw, I’m actually quite anxious. I pushed back even though I knew she was right. Even though I knew my Myers-Briggs personality type (LOL) rendered me an extrovert, desiring to be around people, energized by the healthy relationships in my life. Even though I knew community is crucial to personal healing and radical social change. It was almost like I went to the opposite side of the spectrum of where I’d been before. If collaborating with others, drinking with others, or networking my ass off wasn’t me, then I guessed I needed to chill alllllllll the way out.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself here: so many of the qualities I long to embody are truly a part of me, but the expression of them – how I wanted others to see them – has sometimes been misguided to my own detriment. Instead of letting my highest self ebb and flow as is natural to life, I squeezed it all out of myself until I was empty and exhausted.

Graduating, moving out of the small, dirty ass apartment I called home for a year and a half, getting a J-O-B, and instituting a new rhythm to my life laid the groundwork for a more honest and holistic way of taking care of myself. I’m frustrated that this is what it took, but I’m humbled to finally be here. I’m learning more about what balance looks like. I’m learning more about how the ways in which I honor myself translate into my work as a Health Coach, a Therapist, a Yoga Teacher, and a friend. Before, I intellectually grasped the concepts I find critical to these professions and I did practice some of them, but I spoke about them way more often. A year and a half after I really pulled back my teaching practice and I’ve just now began to give myself time to reconnect with my body, which I’ve unfortunately hated for the last year and a half, which I was angry at for being heavier, for being injured, for not doing what I wanted it to do when I wanted to do it.

I’ve never really identified with the word ‘activist’ but I do think it’s an identity I aspired to for a long time. I’ve been really fortunate throughout my whole adult life, but especially in the last 6-12 months to call real-life organizers friends. I’ve witnessed their genuine dedication to radical movements because it is right and this rightness breathes life into their being. On the other hand, I’ve also been fortunate to have friends and mentors, especially boss women of color, who have shown me how to preserve myself whether I am or am not deeply intertwined with equity and reparative efforts. They have shown me how to own, and not be defined by, my own mental and physical health positionalities. Who have reminded me that I don’t “owe” anyone anything but that by locking arms with others I might find that sense of fulfillment my therapist also challenged me to seek.

I’m making time to be more intentional in my action in the spirit of Humanism, Black Feminism, and critical, radical Public Health Social Work. I feel strongly that while there may be moments when I embody a sentiment of “activism” the expression most authentically manifests within me as a verb, not a noun, not an identity, and that is ok. I realize that in a year, or even a few months, I will have similar feelings about where I am now. There are aspects of my past I think fondly of even though there are also aspects that caused pain and humiliation. I am more comfortable with the fact that I am constantly evolving, that I am at once perfect and imperfect, but that in order to move forward I must nurture myself, be honest about when I desire support, and only then work outwards in support of other beings. I understand I will always be figuring it out, but I hope the trial and error will feel less destructive. I do not have to fulfill a false ideal of activism to be of value to my communities. It is indeed my responsibility as a human to do my best to make an impact in collaboration with others, but I simply cannot do so if I am not grounded in my own self.

I am reconnected to my asana and meditation practices. I am energized by my work with my clients. I am beyond grateful for all my truly amazing friends and my family. I am ready to begin teaching yoga again. But not as an activist. Not as a sage. Just as a person who is learning a whole lot and is in a more stable place to join with others as they do the same. Just as Raina.

Special thanks to Verónica Caridad Rabelo for editing this piece.

[I am easing back into teaching. Stay up to date by checking my teaching calendar, requesting a workshop for your organization or community, and/or inquiring about private sessions.]

I Have Power Because I Have People

 

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[8 minute read]

I recently spoke with my new friend Elizabeth (Liz) González about her experience as a social worker and yoga instructor. We sat outside of our favorite coffee shop, excited at the opportunity to soak up the sun after being in confined air conditioned offices all day. Liz is the type of person I feel like I’ve known forever, but we’ve really only hung out three or so times. I was grateful to learn about her life and background in college access during our conversation.

Liz was the first in her family to go to college. She moved from a predominately Mexican community along the border to attend University of Texas at Austin.

“It took me a while to find my place. There was also a culture shock. But one day there was this Latino guy running for student government outside of the dining hall and we became friends. He told me he was a social work major, and when he told me what that was I was like ‘oh, that’s me!’”

Liz took Introduction to Social Work the first semester of her sophomore year and describes the experience as generally awful. “I got stuck in a group with three white women who were all in a sorority, and it was all about what was convenient for them. I was working two jobs at the time on top of 12 hours of class and there was no attempt to figure out what worked for all of us.”

Liz continued with the Social Work program despite similar persistent challenges.

“People hid true identities for fear that it didn’t align with what social work was. There was this diversity class facilitated by three white women – and not to say three white women can’t be diverse, but this is the problem.” So, Liz minored in Sociology to get the dialogue she was looking for and when she graduated worked for a long time in college access, mostly with first generation college students.

To Liz, the concept that the personal is political is foundational.

“All the work that I do is functioning from my identities. I know that these are my lived experiences, but they are not the only experiences.”

While working at Huston Tillotson, an HBCU, she found herself overidentifying with the students. She wondered to herself, “Why is this student struggling? They need to pick up the pace,” until one day she realized she was projecting.

“And here’s social work,” Liz stated, drawing attention to an ironic trend in the field. “Often we are only having a conversation in our multicultural competency classes when the person across from us does not have a shared identity. So the curriculum is set up for white students only. Because then where’s the room for me to have a conversation about when I have a person who’s sitting across from me who is a first generation college student or Latina? All of my stuff was on alert and I had to be extra aware.”

After that, Liz worked part time for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and part time at a college access nonprofit. “Again, all personally connected to me. So I wonder how is that helpful? Where do I get stuck? Who do I talk to about this? There’s a lack of mentorship and guidance.”

Liz took up yoga at the suggestion of a friend and noticed there was no one in the room who looked like her, until one day “I found this one instructor and his was the first class in which I saw people of color, people in their 60s, women in hijabs, men who looked like football players, and for the first time I was like this is what this should look like. How do I get more of this?”

Around the same time, Liz started therapy to work through some of her trauma. Then last September she participated in a yoga teacher training at her studio mostly to enhance her own practice and complement her therapy.

“Words can’t even begin,” a teary-eyed Liz explained. “If I could support others in feeling this good because there’s an awareness there and an experience there without saying that this is the only way it should be, then how awesome would that be? When the universe shows you a gift it’s for a reason.”

Liz has since taught around campus in addition to her responsibilities at the University counseling center.

“Part of my approach to teaching is that words matter. Oh my gosh, words matter so much. You will never hear me say ‘if you need something more intense do this,’ because then you’re also saying something to folks who can’t, who aren’t ready, there’s this inherent judgement. I come from this approach of challenge by choice and if it’s not right now it doesn’t mean never and let’s play. As adults we don’t really play anymore. We’ve lost the vulnerability, the courage.”

The concepts of vulnerability and courage transcend her experience on the mat.

“Once a month as a staff we get together to do internal diversity work. Sometimes people say things that are racist or hurtful. There’s a moment of fear when I call them in, and that fear is always there, but I’d rather have that then this person walk out of the room thinking that what they just said or did was ok. This idea of power. To me, there’s a way in which power is an illusion. Some people get fancy titles, but we all answer to someone. I really do think that I have power because I have people. When I’m in those internal diversity meetings and someone says something off and you look around to see who else knows that was really messed up, it’s about making eye contact that gives me strength and power to call that person in. I am definitely shaking in my boots all the time, but I refuse to let someone walk out and think that’s ok.”

Listening to Liz, I noticed themes of balance and exploration. She believes strongly in going into your vulnerability, fear and trauma to the extent that you feel that you are empowered to do so. I admire that she recognizes that trauma is part of who she is and also part of why she’s able to serve others. I asked her how she comes to terms with that balance of authenticity and not being completely overwhelmed.

“Sometimes I’m scared that when I speak up it will hold me up from moving up the ladder or getting a good reference to go to another place, but that’s how oppression works. That’s how trauma works. Let me scare you. Let me have you think that I have something over you so that you be quiet. At the end of the day I’ve decided that if I don’t say anything then I’m not authentically me and I can’t continue to hold this hurt and frustration when there isn’t any change. I’m going to continue to bring attention to what is and not necessarily be married to whether other people choose to do something about it. When it comes to developing knowledge and cultural humility: when you know better, do better. I can’t control is someone wants to do better, but I’ll do my part by speaking up.”

Being engaged in such relentless and personal work, I wondered if and how Liz let’s it all go at the end of the day.

“This summer I got to a place of burnout. In May, I told my boss I would do a presentation at our August staff retreat on using work as self-care. By the time it rolled around I thought I could tell my boss I can’t do this, or I could be a bit more radical about my self-care and see where I show up. I did this loving-kindness meditation: send love and kindness to yourself, a neutral person and someone who you love. Then it said to give love to a difficult person. Well, I wasn’t expecting that. In a 20-minute guided meditation I went from all zen to I could be on Jerry Springer, you don’t know my life, I have every right to be angry at this person. The next line was if you are having a hard time sending love and kindness to the person, then send it back to yourself because you are the person in the moment suffering.” Liz realized that she was holding onto anger. “So when I got to the presentation I was honest about wanting to get out of the presentation and what I did instead.”

When I asked Liz what gives her hope, or if there is no hope what keeps her going, she responded without a beat, “Power because I have people. People who are in it with me. People’s stories.”

And her advice to others who can relate to her?

“Know what’s non-negotiable, when you’re getting to a place that’s compassion fatigue. Self-compassion, self-compassion, self-compassion. Be authentically you, but it can be scary because who knows what the repercussions on. I have a lot of faith in the universe conspiring to put me in a place I need to be, but I co-create that. Sometimes when the universe is showing me where I need to go I’m scared, but then I remember that I have people.”

Three reasons why self-care is important and a bunch of things you can do to practice self-care for yourself: Reflections on the critical self-care syllabus

[10 min read] [Or you can skip to the bottom for the self-care syllabus link 😉 ]

Last week, I went on vacation. Aside from a mid-week layover in my apartment I was, as we say in Michigan, “up north.” It was absolutely gorgeous.

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Miners Castle, along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Lately, I have this heightened yearning to be deep in nature, and it’s nature exactly that the UP offers. Specifically, I prefer the Great Lakes, even more specifically Lake Michigan and (now I can add to my list) Lake Superior. Looking out over these unending, crystal blue entities is my happiest place. I love the clean, silky sand and the grassy dunes. It’s picturesque.

It’s magical that these bodies of water exist inland and that I am so privileged to have grown up near them. It makes me feel like I am part of a special club consisting of anyone else who has frequented these lakes and felt similarly. It also reminds me that in so many ways I am connected to and mutually dependent of nature, and that I 100% require regular exposure to thrive.

To be perfectly honest, while everything above is absolutely true, it’s also accurate to say that being in nature makes me quite anxious. The person who has grown up with technology and relies on it around the clock also understands nature time to mean that I am more far than usual from any mall, trendy cafe, craft cocktail, and gluten free restaurant. It’s a different part of my millennial “comfort zone,” to say the least.

What made my recent vacation especially simultaneously luxurious and anxiety-provoking was that I chose to delete most of my social media apps from my phone. It’s true, I used Instagram for photos and texted a few people, but I was proud of myself for ignoring email, facebook, snapchat, and honestly not really checking Instagram other than to post myself.

It took me at least 3 days to settle in to this.

I realized on day one how anxious I was. I was listening to a podcast where a Buddhist monk and meditation expert described the process of being confronted with his thoughts, after what he called the “honeymoon” period of his studies.

Listen to that podcast HERE.

Hearing him put words to my loosely acknowledged thoughts forced me to realize what was coming, and it was physically unbearable. Nervous energy bounced around in my chest, up through my shoulders, and wrapped itself around my jaw, sending my upper and lower jaw into a soft collision.

Lion-YawnAs is not always the case, I was in safe company to let out as many lion’s breaths as I needed to.

The first few days, my hand reached for my iPhone out of habit, my thumb searching for that spot sort of on the middle-right part of the screen where I normally found a “social media” folder. I felt unstimulated, bored, unsettled, and discontent.

But, after day three, it started to feel really, really good. My mind stopped searching for the right response to this one email that was tripping me up, and I didn’t feel the need to constantly be thinking, creating, doing. With much beautiful sight-seeing interspersed, I looked forward to the moments when I could simply sit outside, reach, stare into nowhere with insane purpose.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve continued to muddle over some reflections about why self-care is important. Despite that upon my return I gleefully checked every notification I could, I have returned with an amplified sense of my self-care strategies, from the drastic social media fast to lower-hanging fruit.

Returning readers know I often contemplate the role of health and wellness in activist communities. This post is no different, but I also want to take a moment to explore my definition of activism, which is quite broadly defined. Activists are present across many realms of our life, and our expression of activism similarly shows up in multitudinous ways.

I consider my work as a public health professional and social worker activism. I consider my yoga teaching practice activism. I consider my personal yoga practice activism. I consider the way I interact with wage workers activism. I consider seeing a therapist activism.

Though there is breadth in my definition, however, I absolutely believe what constitutes activism and makes an activist is depth. Broadly defined does not mean that I take this definition or identity lightly. Simply signing petitions is not activism, in my point of view. Patting yourself on the back for going against the grain and doing one thing “right” is not activism. True activism requires an enormous amount of commitment and intention mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically.

I’ll also reiterate (from previous posts and public discourse) that this is especially true for marginalized folx, who have been, are, and will always be less able to unplug their awareness of discrimination and social inequity.

One thing social media has been super awesome for is facilitating informal and authentic conversations about self-care. While many of us may already be on board and recruiting our loved ones to join us I think that self-care’s popularity, as is true with many trends, causes us to participate without critical analysis of what it is and why we should do it. So, after much thinking over my vacation, I categorized a few of my own perspectives on it.

1: In case of emergency, please put on your own mask before assisting others.

Ok so I know this one is over-used, but it’s a good one, so I’m gonna talk about it anyway. Because much of our culture is detrimentally individualistic, activists often feel that they must be unwaveringly self-less. Sacrifice, we say, is necessary for the movement. This is true to an extent, yet, to me, it’s also about balance. From my perspective, the concept of sacrifice has more to do with giving up your individual sense of control and considering the needs of others in addition to yourself, rather than in spite of yourself.

If you are truly invaluable to the movement – and each one of us unequivocally is – you need to make sure you’ve got the energy to stay the course. Everyone’s energy is different, and that’s fine. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Our beautiful friends who organize protests every other week and are always the first to risk arrest are key, but so are those of us who facilitate dialogues on diversity, or who work for food banks, or may have more introverted activist tendencies. We have to infiltrate every single level, people!

Finally, when you take time to put on your own mask and breathe some much needed O2, it sets an example for others. What if we all were able to talk more openly about our needs and our limits? I think we’d be better equipped to maintain momentum by knowing when to pick up the slack of others and trust that they’ll do the same for you in the future.

2: I can see clearly now the rain is gone.

The last few times I’ve stepped away from my own expressions of activism, as well as other projects, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the ways I have felt stuck open up and the answers I couldn’t seem to find come to me with much greater ease. Letting go – not just a little bit, but a lot – helps me see with greater clarity. I can think more critically about the issues, see them from multiple sides, and think about long-term and indirect consequences.

And, to keep it 100, sometimes I find that the letting go simply helps me accept ambiguity a bit easier. Social change work is full of that stuff, that’s why we’ve been struggling with it since the beginning of society as we know it. Yeah, I know some answers are crystal clear and we’re just waiting for the stubborn straight wealthy white guys to get it, but the majority of our work is layered, complex, and answers found often reveal more questions.

3: Comfort in discomfort.

The biggest misconception about self-care, yoga and mindfulness is that it will always feel good. In fact, grappling with how to confront this both myself and in helping others has kept me up many-a-night; my blog posts, for example, are an attempt to communicate to others that the goal is not pure comfort, happiness, and fun.

Tolerating anxiety is a crucial life skill in general, and especially relevant in activism, as the very things we’re dealing with are painful, uncomfortable, unpredictable, and frightening. My first few days of vacation and the social media fast I was so anxious I could barely stand it.

Where’s the nearest bottle of wine? Maybe if I eat this I’ll feel better. I need to be alone – NO! I need to be with others. Shit, I hope I can sleep tonight. Did I answer that email? Ugh, I hope I didn’t sound too rude. What will I do over this break?

Not all of our self-care practices will test us in this way, some of it will be incredibly pleasurable; but the kind we need to truly evolve will very likely challenge us.

It’s easy, and perhaps common, to assume it’s better to ignore your own shit and just keep moving forward. But if we can’t handle our deepest anxieties, our darkest thoughts, our longest-lasting fears, how the hell are we supposed to solve centuries of sexism, racism, classism, and other injustices? These things are not outside of ourselves – they are our day-to-day experiences, from microaggressions to overt discrimination, no one is really immune.

Thus, we are called to action. Not only for the benefit of our communities or other communities, but for ourselves, as well. Self care looks different for everyone. Though my story illustrates how breaks from social media are one (yes, more is better, right?!) of my self-care practices, I realize for others that may be too much, or simply not enough. Thanks to many friends, and some strangers, I’ve put together this critical self-care syllabus. Take a peek and explore what self-care looks like for you! Hold onto your hat – it’s going to be a bumpy, terrifying, but also rejuvenating and inspiring ride!

 

Self-Care Syllabus

Hello world,

Some of you may have noticed the trend in social change work, specifically racial justice, to develop pages dedicated to readings and other resources around the topic area. Here are some examples:

Ferguson Syllabus

#BrexitSyllabus

What To Do Instead of Calling The Police

I am working on developing a “Self-Care Syllabus” for this blog.

Relevant resources could include a variety of

  • Readings (articles, books, etc.)
  • Research
  • Guided practices
  • Media (films, podcasts, etc.)
  • Art
  • and other items

I intend for this resource to be especially relevant given the recent world tragedies against people of color and other marginalized groups, and the pressing need to discuss self-care, health and wellness, and it’s intersections with identity and politics (which you know this blog is already quite focused on). I also want this resource to bridge the gap between communities, scholars, and healing practitioners, and so articles/resources that offer critique or alternative perspectives are especially welcome.

I’ve developed a Google Doc for gathering resources with loose headings – feel free to add more as you see fit! And spread the word! I’ll keep this open for at least a couple of weeks and then will be compiling, cleaning, and publishing on this blog. I anticipate I will also be updating this resource after this initial phase.

Thanks and love to you all!

 

 

The politics of underpaying yoga teachers, Part II

[6-8 minute read]

My last piece received a lot of feedback – all of it welcome and valuable. What strikes me is the correlation between who responded, what their positionality to this work is, and what they therefore made of my commentary.

I’ll over generalize just for context sake:

The general public & yoga students: “Wow, I had no idea!” and questions ensue. 

Yoga/fitness teachers: “Thank you so much for writing this piece,” with an occasional added, “I’ve been wanting to talk to someone/my supervisor/you about this.” In one case, I’ve (with much help from other powerful female friends) even inspired a friend to ask for the raise she deserves. 

Small business/studio owners: “But wait – that’s not me! I do this, this, and this!” or, “You’re missing the bigger picture,” generally with much appreciated additional perspective.

And, from larger business owners there’s been a bit of plain old, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

I’ve been thinking about some of the gaps in my previous piece, either due to my own lack of knowledge, my decision to omit nuanced facets, or my inability to think through what I have to say. My perspective on this will always be evolving, but in conversation I consistently notice a theme of begging the question:

Who, exactly, is to blame for this situation?

The answer is both simple and complex.

I’ll start by laying out my opinion, which is deeply grounded in personal experience, organizational understanding, and philosophical study (of both logic and academic nature)

So, does the fact that many business owners, particularly those of small local businesses, hustle hard to keep their doors open make it right to underpay?

No.

But, ugh. I empathize with this. How are we all ever going to be able to successfully own and operate any business without following some sort of model? Whether we know it or not, as small business owners or even as sub-contracting yoga teachers, we buy into business models that have been used for years. They are [relatively] simple, straightforward, and we know how to set them up, who to ask for support, and what to do if x, y, or z happens.

So what’s the problem?

They perpetuate the best and worst parts of capitalism because they are – no doubt about it – part of our capitalist society, which we all live and participate in no matter how hard we try.

Everything we do, use, buy, and sell is a commodity.

In this commodification of fitness and the ancient practice of yoga (which does not have purely, if any, fitness roots, to be clear), we (in)advertently determine who is and is not able to teach – whether full or part time – and therefore, who is and is not able to access those services (in all the ways accessibility plays out).

When I embarked on my teacher training, I hoped to share the practice primarily with folks in my ethnic community. I hoped that the presence of a familiar face would encourage participation and fully disband the myriad reasons yoga is a largely hegemonic space.

Therein lied the problem: the myriad reasons could not be confronted by simply one face. The wellness community has a diversity problem, but it’s so deep rooted that it will take multi-level and likely multi-generational efforts to change the culture and its participants.

This brings me to my interrogation of a second question: Does the complexity of all this mess make these studio owners wrong?

Eh, yes and no. Equally simple and complex.

No in the sense that everyone has to make money to live and we live in a capitalist system, blah blah blah, and most of the studio owners I know are great people (mostly women!) who are providing something lots of worthy people have benefited from.

On the other hand, complacency in the system is incredibly problematic.

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

-Paulo Freire

We all play into capitalism and other forms of oppression on a daily basis – I repeat – none of us are 100% angels.

I recently read an article for class that I appreciate so much and want to share with others. It’s dense, but it’s a must read if you consider yourself an agent of social change in any way. Andrea Smith argues that slavery/capitalism, genocide/colonialism, and orientalism/war are three pillars of white supremacy that uphold our current heteropatriarchal society. 

(I’ll add a caveat that there is contentious discussion around this individual that I cannot unpack in this piece, but I do think what she offers in her article about heteropatriarchy adds value to what I’m arguing. If you’re curious, you can read more here and here.)

As you might have gleaned from her piece (if you read it… 😉 ) nearly none of us are immune from oppression – both in perpetrating and being victimized by it. We’ve spent a long time – the whole of modern humanity, at least – creating structures that privilege some and destroy others.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

-Desmond Tutu

As humans – and especially as American humans – we long to categorize, we need to be able to identify something as right or wrong, point our finger at someone to blame, and believe there is a clear and simple solution to any problem that comes our way.

The fact is that social ills are so incredibly complex that this just isn’t possible.

In reality, often times, one solution causes another problem.

We can all benefit from intensive therapy (if you know me personally you know I think everyone on planet earth should be assigned a therapist at birth) and acknowledging that complex problems require multifaceted solutions, with lots of trouble shooting, over a long period of time.

In this way, we’d all do good to become more comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, and not having all the answers, all the while remaining committed to social change. 

In my opinion, radical thinking – that allows us to think outside of the box of what is “possible” – offers more benefit and less detriment generally. Though it might seem too difficult or too out of reach for some, maybe there are pieces that feel more realistic, at least for right now. Take, for example, this piece about rethinking the yoga studio paradigm (I know I included it in Part 1 of this saga, but wadownloadnted to share again!).

I do my best on this blog and with friends and colleagues to process my own thoughts aloud, share resources when I find them, and, as always, encourage dialogue around these topics no matter how uncomfortable, or even unprofessional they feel. 

We have to realize that explicitly, openly, and vulnerably confronting the ways we play into the commodification of fitness and yoga is the only way we can reconstruct our models for these services – students, teachers, and owners alike. The only way we will ever reach a society that feels socially just – or hell, even a damn yoga studio – we’ve got to open ourselves up to all the discomfort surrounding it.

 

 

Capitalism vs. Academics vs. Wellness

I just wanted to share two excellent articles that interrogate how wellness is positioned in our society.

This first one is incredibly thought-provoking and very dense. A friend shared it with me and I am glad she did! I’ve read it twice and need to read it thrice more: When Wellness is a Dirty Word

This one is definitely easy for me to align with, and leaves me feeling a bit stuck as to what I can personally do about changing our work culture: Why Employers Love Advocating Self-Care