The morning after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I had to get up and teach a 6am yoga class. I did not want to teach. I was not shocked by the outcome, but I was overwhelmed with a variety of emotions, anger, sadness, nausea, and I did not feel like holding space in the yoga classroom. My yoga class was predominantly white students, both democrats and republicans. I knew some of my students who I considered my “friends” were not only republican, but Trump supporters. I walked into a room of about 25 yoga students and for the first time, I did not feel safe to be there. In this sacred space of yoga, I felt vulnerable, uncertain, heartbroken and scared.
After my children got out of school that day, I took them for a hike and wrote this:
Took my kids for a hike to be in nature and feel the healing magic of the sun. We may not like the outcome but we keep moving forward. It may be a long road but I’m keeping hope in my heart. We listen to each other more intently. We love harder. Pause. Breathe. Cry if you need it. But keep going. Everyone’s awake now. Now is the time for change.
But no one in the yoga community was awake. And there was no change. “Stay woke” was just a popular phrase, not followed by positive change or action in the yoga community. I experienced the yoga community’s shock and disbelief that Donald Trump was elected president. Some people shared with me that their son’s voted for Trump and others told me, “Don’t worry, we got your back.” For me, that meant that most yogis, liberals and progressives didn’t see that racism still exists in our society, in our communities and in ourselves. And not just racial bias, but the overwhelming support of racist policies or policies that create inequities. It is easy to point to Donald Trump and other extremists, but much more challenging to look within.
I continued teaching yoga classes, and about a year after the election, I found myself spiraling into depression. I had not been to that dark, helpless place for a long time. I realized that I was complicit in maintaining this false sense of reality that exists in the yoga world. The yoga community likes to use the phrases, “We are one,” “We are all connected,” “Spiritual Gangster.” I did not feel connected. The yoga that I loved and the yoga that helped to put the pieces of my broken self back together, began to dissipate. I began to see how much cultural appropriation, spiritual bypassing and racism exist in the yoga community. I could see how I was perpetuating and contributing to this surface level of consciousness in the yoga community. But, I wanted to do more, so much more. I wanted to help awaken people and shift this paradigm.
I saw yoga philosophy, not yoga poses, as an opportunity to create change. Many master yoga teachers will say, ultimately it does not matter if you can do a handstand or drop back into a backbend. It is fun, though. It is even fun to take a picture and post it on Instagram. I know because I have done it. People will think you are really cool. However, it does not make you a better person and it does not make you a more compassionate person. A deepened yoga practice is not just looking inward on your mat, it is looking outward into the world. The physical practice of yoga transforms the human body, but I was more interested in using yoga philosophy to transform the human spirit. And that is why I created Awakened Love Warrior, a movement. First, awaken to your true self and the truth of the world and then connect to a higher purpose or compassionate action.
I wrote the book, White Ally: A Guide to Cultivating a Deeply Spiritual AntiRacism Practice, using the first two limbs of yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas or yoga’s ten guidelines, to help you become more mindful of recognizing racism within yourself and to help you recognize the patterns and systems of oppression in the world. This book is not written for the extreme racists such as the ku klux klan, white nationalists or other hate groups. If you are reading this, it is written for you. It is written for everyone who thinks, “I’m not racist.” Racism is insidious. We are all born into a racist society. It informs our thoughts, words, actions, and inaction.
The first Yama or yoga guideline is ahimsa. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means nonviolent or non-harming. Non-harming in your thoughts, words, actions or inaction. This includes examining racism in our society and in ourselves. A deepened yoga practice urges you to create a world where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities are seen as human beings and treated equally.
It is important to separate being a “good person” from being racist. Anti-racism is a continuous practice. Antiracism is moment to moment. In any given moment, you will need to pause, reflect, and ask yourself, “Am I being racist?” It is not a fixed arrival; it is a continuous practice and a lifelong journey.
The yoga principle Svadhyaya or self-study is an intense path of self inquiry. It encourages you to discover and understand who you are and all the layers wrapped around you that shape your identity — your race, nationality, culture, gender, ancestors, family history, education, society and personal experiences. Everyone, all people — black, brown, and white people, have to look closely at race and whiteness and how they have internalized whiteness. Whiteness was created to justify oppressing Black and brown people. To be antiracist is to unpack whiteness, to do the work of healing, and to redefine what it means to be white.
Being an antiracist will help you to:
1. Be a better ally to Black, indigenous, and people of color.
2. Liberate yourself from whiteness.
There is a racial hierarchy and to be white means to be the superior race. White is the norm and everyone else is expected to erase who they are and assimilate into whiteness. We must let go of this ideology. Whiteness or white supremacy is not only killing Black and brown people, it is killing white people too. White supremacy is an attack on humanity. White supremacy is genocide.
Denial and looking away from the truth is not an option. We have to look to the future. We have to look at the truth and begin to live reparatively. Together, we practice yogic principles and we practice antiracism in order to create a more just and equitable country.
From the introduction of the book So You Want To Talk About Race byIjeoma Oluo writes:
“These are very scary times for a lot of people who are just now realizing that America is not, and has never been, the melting-pot utopia that their parents and teachers have told them it was. These are very scary times for those who are just now realizing how justifiably hurt, angry, and terrified so many people of color have been all along. These are very stressful times for people of color and who have been fighting and yelling and trying to protect themselves from a world that doesn’t care, to suddenly be asked by those who have ignored them for so long, ‘What has been happening your entire life? Can you educate me?’ Now that we’re all in the room, how do we start that discussion?”
What if the 2 billion people around the world practicing yoga (poses) began practicing yogic principles? What if those same people began practicing antiracism? What if we used our yoga practice to awaken to our own suffering and the suffering of the world, then began healing and took compassionate action?
What if we really did take our yoga practice off the mat and into the world?