Gosh, it feels like a little while since I wrote you a love letter!
I’ve been fully immersed in remote learning for the last few months, both supervising my kids and taking an immersive 100 hour teacher training myself. It’s been busy but so so nourishing and meaningful in all the ways.
While at the end of the training I’m now certified to teach more advanced Yogic breath practices (Pranayama), the course was a deep dive into so much more than breath.
Diving deeper into Yogic mythology, philosophy and purpose will take a while to settle and integrate but it brings up questions that have been bubbling for a while.
I’ve been musing for quite a while now on why I teach Yoga and Buddhist meditation. These ancient systems were in my consciousness as a kid growing up, my parents practiced Tai Chi and Yoga and had many books about Eastern traditions. I picked up a book on Buddhist meditation at University and taught myself Metta Bhavana before I ever found a Yoga studio (in fact I don’t think ‘studios’ existed!) But what was it that hooked me to these practices that were so different to the culture I grew up in?
I ask myself this at a time when many voices are calling us to look closely as the appropriation of culture. Have I appropriated Yoga and Buddhist practice in the search for deeper meaning?
Yoga has been shared with the West freely and widely by Indian teachers, yet it has often been watered down to fit into a mostly white, modern, wealthy, able-bodied, wellness industry. This is a problem.
In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important texts of the Yoga tradition, Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna that Yoga is for everyone and that Yoga is how we live our lives not just what we do on the four corners of our mat (OK he doesn’t mention Yoga mats and there is a lot more in this story but that’s the gist of one of the teachings!!)
I do my best to teach from a place of integrity and respect for the tradition. I teach the full practice of Yoga including the ethics, stories, energetic anatomy and contemplative practices. But I will still always make mistakes and fumble through it at times because Yoga is not my ancestral tradition. It is borrowed and interpreted from a culture that is not my own. And there is a huge power imbalance of my white culture over the Indian culture that Yoga comes from.
It certainly wasn’t always that way. When Yoga (as meditation and action) was first becoming popular in India a few thousand years ago, Asia was the centre of wealth and science and intellect, but colonisation changed that.
This also needs to be acknowledged in every moment if we are to decolonise this practice (and decolonise all of the systems of power we have been part of).
So, what is it that draws us all to Yoga, Eastern and Indigenous wisdom traditions?
For many it is the benefits we feel moving our body in through asana, but there are so many ways to move and get fit so this is surely not the only reason people around the world have started a practice of Yoga.
Is there something missing in our own culture that Yoga offers? Is the popularity of Yoga is our Western culture a way of re-connecting to something we all have within us?
I think so. Yoga offers us a way of connecting with ourselves and with the earth in a way that my culture has lost in so many ways. But we are remembering.
I find myself getting angry recently.
- Angry about the appropriation of Eastern and Indigenous practices.
- Angry about the ways colonisation (by my ancestors) has caused the disconnection of people from their own cultures.
- Angry about the power structures that cause racism and gender inequality.
- But also angry about the erasure of my own ancestors’ connection to the earth. Especially when I reflect that only about 600 years ago women like me sharing practices to connect us to the earth, to the earth’s healing abilities and to our own inner power would have been burned or drowned… How did this happen?
But please know, this anger comes from a deep, deep place of love. Fierce Goddess style love.
Here’s a reflection…
3000 years ago, how would your ancestors relate to the earth?
Would they have shared myths about characters and places, passed down as tellings around a fire?
Would they have shared rituals and ceremonies in circle by the moon and the seasons? Would they have used rhythm and sound?
Would they have moved their bodies in dance or acrobatics to tell stories and embody the elements of nature?
Would they have embraced stillness and deep listening to better hear the deep wisdom within each of us?
Would they have utilised the elements and plants within the natural world for healing?
And, would they have lived on the earth in a way that always gave back what was taken? Possibly?
These ways of being are deeply embedded in each and every one of us and we need them to heal ourselves and the earth.
The Eastern traditions are helping to point us the way back home to what is already within all of our DNA.
Versions of these practices are what we need to be whole.
My teacher, Uma Spender, recently shared this quote and it speaks to me so deeply:
“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and the setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and the equinox! This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table.” – D. H. Lawrence
Is it time for us all to re-wild? To remember our roots? And is Yoga pointing the way to that IF we embrace its fullness, its darkness and its light? If we let go of any attempt to colonise it and civilise it but allow these practices to do what they were intended to do. To bring union, freedom and wholeness with everything that is.
Perhaps then we are appreciating the value of Yoga and integrating it into our own path with deepest respect and integrity for the culture it was born out of, rather than appropriating it for our own personal gain?
What I feel called to more than ever is to offer practices that assist us all to connect more deeply to our own innate power and wisdom and to the power that is held in nature, her cycles and her ability to heal. More and more I find myself feeling able to draw on the Northern traditions of my own ancestors and to integrate them too. They might not have the popularity of Yoga in the West right now but the intention of connection and wholeness is there and they are powerful tools that have not been forgotten.
May these practices be of service to our awakening.
With so much fierce love & wishes of peace,