"it’s great that yoga has spread here, but i fear you have all missed the point"

back in october, i was catching up with my friend, huma, and amidst our expansive conversation, she relayed something her uncle said and it stung (in a good way). paraphrasing, he (a punjabi man) said:

it’s great that yoga has spread here, but i fear you have all missed the point.

one of my goals for 2017 was to begin practicing decolonized yoga. since then i’ve been keeping an eye out for yoga materials and thinking from people who lived in societies where yoga is tradition. and i have been intentionally avoiding colonized yoga spaces. that mostly looks like checking out a teacher beforehand and seeing their yoga practice is really just practicing asanas (poses) or if they make an explicit commitment to more than just that one limb of yoga. given the industrial complex capitalism has created about pretty much everything spiritual here, it’s pretty hard to find a teacher who isn’t like that. it’s possible, but difficult.

i’ve also been reading the heart of yoga by t.k.v. desikachar. and one of the points that stuck out to me was that yoga is meant to be taught in small, intimate group contexts. the 1on1 or 1on-a-few dynamic seems to be best, particularly because a teacher can observe and watch you closely and clearly. then they can give you tailored advice or insights into how to be ever more in tune with your body.

group class contexts make that very difficult. it happens and i’ve experienced it, for sure, but it’s rare.

and another issue with the big-class setting is that there are often many people (which i’ve only assessed by the convos i hear before and after class) who are there for exercise. they want a way to fit it into their westernized lifestyles that gives them something they need. essentially, they want to atomize it, slice it up (consumer-style), take what they want, and leave the rest.

colonization at its finest. yuck.

practicing decolonized yoga has meant that i’ve done a lot less yoga this year, but i think my practice is deepening as i read and i hope maybe it needed to slow down before i could step into it more fully in the future. we’ll see.

ps - of course, the glaring question for me in all of this is: can a black man living in america, maybe the strongest colonizing nation in history, ever practice decolonized yoga? just by virtue of the fact that i live here and did not grow up with yoga as tradition, maybe i am disqualified… something to explore, i think. i know my friend kate as well as members of the radical dharma community discuss this question except with buddhism. i imagine they have lots of teach and share about their wrestling with an eastern practice as (black) folks living in america.

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