I cry tears of joy and release on my mat, frequently, and experience moments of oneness and bliss through practice. Yoga is that powerful for me. And I sure need it.
As an immigrant, brown, skin and bones girl-child I had integration vertigo for years after we moved to the U.S. I never fit in, couldn't figure out why, and started to hate myself. I tried to take up as little space as possible. I bumped into everything around me. Hostile territory; my interactions with the world symbolized my inner state of complete disorientation. I was a stranger in a strange land, both inside and out.
I learned to slowly unravel the girl who had turned in upon herself through deep breath and asana. I started to admire rather than fear my surroundings as well as myself. I began to value the power of the brown-skin, bi-cultural, not-neatly-fitting in perspective I live. Yoga and breath helped me undo the binds in my body, spirit and mind. I began to love my uniqueness.
Many people want our society to be colorblind because they hold the vision of equality for all. Equality is a beautiful ideal. We've also experienced gross injustice, and now we live in a less than perfect reality. My happiness and success is interconnected with suffering and injustice. This is true in the yoga world as well. True peace and freedom are possible only when they are available to all. In the yoga-world of the West, we live in a reality where classism, shame around our bodies, different proportions, ability and disability as well as privilege and racism play into who represents and benefits from the popular face of yoga today.
My practice has been so helpful in dismantling internalized racism and self-hatred so I know others like me suffer and could benefit. I know we need to share the practice further and more widely.
So now our yoga can move way beyond the mat.
We can aspire to practice and share yoga to create spaces where ancient wisdoms' practical tools are applied to modern struggles, opening up our voices and bodies knots, undoing the binds of patriarchy, racism, heterosexism, and all forms of internal and external domination. Bringing true, full, multi-faceted liberation that is accessible to all anywhere, anytime.
Yoga means liberation from every construct, including that of race, gender, time, space, location, identity and even history herself.
Here are six ways to bring oneness to our yoga practice while honoring uniqueness:
1. See stories and self-reflect.
We each have our unique, beautiful and powerful story. Yoga is a path of embracing individuality as well as one of universality. So if we allow the practice to open us up, we are called to intimate self-reflection. We can ask ourselves the hard questions about our identity and social context. We observe who is sitting on the mat next to us, who is teaching the class. We can ask "for whom is yoga accessible today and how might any missing links be a legacy of past injustices that we have the opportunity to address through our teaching, practice and our lives?"
2. Don't feel guilty. Act to uplift.
This isn't a call to feel guilty or resentful about history and its litany of past oppressions. It is an invitation to focus on the present moment where we have the power to make change. To act where can we make our classes more inclusive, accessible and relevant to a more varied and multicultural audience. Where can we encourage someone to practice who may not have ever thought they'd walk into a studio.
3. End exclusion, own privilege and live compassionately.
We can exclude people without meaning to. Exclusion leads to misunderstanding, alienation, discrimination and even hate. We may say, "Exclusion has nothing to do with me." This is the nature of power and privilege. Those of us with it are often unaware we are wielding it. It is invisible to us but not to those who lack the very power we so blithely exercise. We can practice responsibly, considering our privilege, acting from inclusion, compassion and care. This may feel uncomfortable at times. By including those marginalized we show we are all connected and heal the forgotten places in ourselves as well as build a more authentic community of powerful practice.
4. Practice yoga holistically.
We can also increase our experience of oneness by studying yoga holistically. In addition to asana we need to understand, practice and teach all eight limbs of yoga.
5. Be inclusive and bring as many folks as possible along for the journey.
What can we do to make this powerful practice here to uplift and serve accessible to more people? We can ask ourselves the sometimes uncomfortably hard questions about who is present and who is absent as well as what role we may play in that. This is part of the practice of true union and yoga. Ask and act: How can we help address inequity and bring as many as possible toward this path of inquiry, healing, love and truth?
6. Respect individual uniqueness while holding the truth of oneness.
We can be humble with these aspirations and our practice. I too am still working out in the beautiful tension of individuality and universality, self and oneness; holding the ideal of inter-being while addressing the beauty of our differences as well as the reality of privilege and power.
Let's live our own authentic practice while not ignoring time, culture, place and context or the truth of our interconnectedness. That bliss of oneness we feel on the mat is a taste of the true union of yoga. We can amplify this in life. By practicing a yoga of liberation from every construct, including those of race, gender, class, narrow definitions of beauty, time, space, fixed identity and even history herself. We can practice and teach a yoga of unity while honoring each of our individual gifts and truths to further the evolution of all towards understanding, compassion and love.