Nothing So Annoying as Calmness: Yoga, Ahimsa and the Mean Email

So, I blog. About yoga, culture, race, identity, pushing the boundaries of how we see yoga today. I’ve blogged now for a while. For those of you wondering do I get mean emails? The answer is yes. Does it hurt? The answer, at least for me, is yes!

Often, I don't respond to the comments, articles, personal attacks. I choose to send love and compassion. And there've been many. But something about the email I got this morning struck a chord. Perhaps because it is so familiar. So I looked deeper..

And what I saw was a chord that's been struck many times before - so I knew it was time to speak about it. First, i wrote a love letter back. Then, I began writing this piece.

The intention of the unkind email was to convince me to stop speaking about yoga, identity, race and social justice. To convince me that I don't know what I know. "You don't really know what you think." and "This is the voice of inexperience." he asserted.

The goal? To convince me to stop writing. To stop teaching. To stop speaking from my experience and sharing the experiences of other non-mainstream voices in yoga because they are invalid and irrelevant. They made him and others like him uncomfortable.

And this intention to invalidate, shame and silence is a familiar story. The intention of a controlling dominator trying to silence women, and particularly women of color is a familiar one. Especially through colonial India and yoga's history.

But even in more recent times it shows up within my own family. I recently learned that though yoga's rich history dates back 2,500 years and more before Christ, and spans the complex, organized and technologically and medically advanced societies of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, my own aunt and father did not learn of their own countries rich history. In Indian schools. They were taught, instead, all about British accomplishments.

This erasure of experience, story, history and narrative has an insidious effect. It makes us believe that our stories, our histories, our experiences aren't real.

Of course history and our stories have many interpretations.

I can openly, even lovingly, hold yours. Even when different than mine. That's part of yoga for me. And yet I can also hold mine. And the countless other women and men who've got uniquely powerful experiences to share.

But for some, comfort comes at the price of silencing other people's voices and experience.

The simple speaking, writing and sharing of my experience, and that of so many others, can be enough to shake the roots of a dogmatic, insular and outdated colonial and neo-colonial worldview. One laden with overtones of male dominance, a white dominant worldview and the manifest destiny belief that all people of color are heathen children needing to be saved.

In this view, as in the email I received today, ad hominem attacks are common: attacking the person, rather than the ideas are a sure indication that there's weakness in an argument.

Thinking that they are the great white savior, coming in to liberate me from my ignorant views is a common theme. Calling me and my views childlike, claiming that I do not understand. Even stating the ever infantilizing, "You're a kid."

I am not a child or a girl, but I am a woman sharing, clearly, vulnerably and powerfully, her life experience and story with anyone who cares to read it to the best of my ability.

The heart of yoga is in the full practice of it. As Gandhi demonstrated, satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violent power) combined are powerful enough to topple empires.

"In a gentle way, you can shake the world." he said. "Ahimsa is the weapon of the strong."

When practicing the ethics, or yamas of yoga, the first of which is ahimsa, or non-violence, we are invited to expand our perspectives beyond our own and hold other's perspectives kindly and compassionately.

“You have to have integrity and humility to realize that the truth may be bigger than you,” says Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Power of Yoga.

The beauty is- in the soul-force of ahimsa and satya. This is the power of truth. I have to do nothing- other than be me- a brown, Indian-British woman in the United States practicing the 8-fold path of yoga, as sincerely as I can.

The truth is conquering and silencing is no longer working. And this disturbs some people, like the writer of this email. Confusion and cognitive dissonance is rising because simply being ourselves is powerful: women, people of color, gender queer folks, healing and healed, artists and activists, renunciates and entrepreneurs, practitioners and dreamers.

As we Be. Practice sincerely. Share. The truth force is us, here, loud and proud.

We can hold space for you and your point of view.

We can ask, what would it mean, to you, to your life if our perspective(s) were true? What might you have to give up? What might change?

We can see the old worldview shaking, perhaps into deep insight.

Can you hold space for us?

The truth is- we can be nothing but ourselves, practicing the 8-fold path of yoga, as sincerely as we can.

Either way, we're here. We are leading now, in community centers, studios, the workplace, in education, politics and home. With our truths shared as bravely and inclusively as we can. This is our yoga.

Our yoga cannot be silenced. It can be experienced, fiercely and deeply. Our yoga does not fear or suppress views that are different than our own. Instead it explores a multiplicity of truths, perspectives and experiences.

Our yoga doesn't shy away from pain, but inquires deeper and deeper into ourselves and the world.

Our yoga is raw and real. Peaceful and profound. Full of jagged insights and annoying calmness.

And it’s this kind of love that brings our yoga off the mat and alive in the world around us.

Susanna Barkataki, M.Ed. E-YRT 500, is fascinated with what’s next in yoga and wellness. She’s the founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute - a school focused on sharing and living a fulfilling yoga lifestyle. We know yoga is more than just postures on a mat. We believe health is more than just your daily serving of vegetables. We believe you are ready to be a leader in wellness as you learn and lead others. We know a more fulfilling life is waiting for you, if you want it.

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