How to begin again. I start by getting excited. This is the first post in root wisdom for over a year. In the meantime I moved a couple times. I felt it was necessary to just shove myself forward. Things were stirred up. I don’t think things are resolved or perfect now, but I feel myself to be in a place to speak again. I hope I will not ever try to speak from a place that pretends to know for others. I do have expertise, practice, experience, patience, technique, thoughtfulness. I am someone seen as a “white woman” teaching yoga and writing. No news there.
Yet it is relevant. And complicated. And entwined in a history of colonialism and oppression. “White.” I think about “whiteness,” and wonder what it means to be a teacher of yoga, discovered and developed in India by people who are not “white.” India is a country with class, race (darker-skinned people having less privilege than lighter-skinned people) and gender-based oppression. The United States is a country with class, race and gender-based oppression also, yet it would be incorrect to assume that this same-sounding comparison between countries is enough. There are important ways in which the history of these two places is different. What we call North America was colonized by people wielding power who decided to call themselves “white” (the term “white” as a classification for people was invented in the colonies—defined by slavery—that were to become the United States) as slavery was being utilized to transform the land and economy. Native Americans were moved and many killed to make way for the white colonizers. I believe that this history forms the beginnings of the culture and economy we have in the United States today, and it informs individual lives in ways that popular culture is only beginning to discover.
India was colonized by the British Empire for some time, but sovereignty was returned to people in India. The United States is a colonization process that held on, while in India colonization by British people did not keep hold. I understand that within these statements there is such complexity and specificity and difference that I am still not including.
But it might be enough background to consider that it is worthwhile to think about white peoples entitlement to yoga today. Wondering: Is the colonial mindset—that colonizers can dominate and own whatever they find—a vestigial element in the way white people regard yoga?
I feel it is not obviously okay to assume that I have full rights to expertise and ownership of this subject. The situation merits thoughtful consideration. By me. By a “white woman yoga teacher.” By whoever else engages in the subject, profession, philosophy, practice, lifestyle, business. I will say that. I think people in commercial yoga culture need to think about it. Not to establish guilt, because I’ve learned that guilt can be paralyzing or over-emotional and therefore not helpful.
I want to see and help yoga (colonized yoga?) to grow and embrace cultural complexity, and view this thinking as ideally processing towards cultural healing, growth and understanding (of white commercial culture and how it interacts with or “owns” everything is sees as useful or of value) for white people. I’m saying that specifically because I think awareness of power, inherited privilege, assumptions within white communities is imperative, super-important.
I am a yoga teacher. I have taught yoga since 2003. My livelihood is based in a yoga teaching business. I do not ask these questions lightly. What I learned in yoga has saved my life. I would be a different person if yoga, and the people I met through yoga, had not been accessible to me, and hate to think who I might have been otherwise—possibly not alive still.
I think it’s possible to examine this closely and to have something better come out of it—something more human, in the best sense of the word. And in the meantime, as this questioning is continuing, I will be teaching what I’ve learned & what has helped me and others I’ve observed over my years of teaching what I’ve known as “yoga.”