A black yoga instructor says that what’s more important to know about the practice than the poses is the racism and cultural appropriation by whites behind it.
In discussing her new book, “Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance,” author and activist Jessamyn Stanley told People Magazine that it is filled with essays that reflect on everything from racism to the cultural appropriation of American yoga, from consumerism to cannabis,” the outlet notes.
Stanley noted that the idea for her latest book came when she was writing her first one some years ago, “Every Body Yoga,” which is a how-to guide showing readers ways to develop yoga practices.
“I realized yoga is a lot more than postures,” she told the magazine. “The postures get to be more complicated, not because you’re practicing harder gymnastics or physical postures, but because you’re practicing emotional and mental and really spiritual postures.”
She went on to say that doing yoga is not supposed to be comfortable or necessarily feel good while doing it, and people who expect that are going to be let down.
“You’re like, ‘This is hard. Everyone else seems to know what they’re doing,'” she told People.
“‘I am not good enough, I shouldn’t be doing this, maybe my body is supposed to look different, maybe my life’s supposed to be different.’ All these feelings start to come up. That’s what the postures are leading you towards, is to have that experience,” Stanley added.
People noted further:
Stanley has been nurturing this self-awareness in the nearly 10 years since she has been breaking barriers in the yoga world, tackling topics like fat-shaming, her queer Black identity and unattainable beauty standards. In Yoke – which means yoga in Sanskrit – she uses her own life as a metaphor to further explore the coming together of mind and body, light and the dark, good and the bad – both on and off the mat.
“I wanted to reflect on what it is to practice yoga when we are as a society being forced to reckon with the long, deep, systemic, down-to-the-bone problems,” Stanley said.
“We’re being forced to look at things that we’ve never wanted to look at. And that’s all that yoga is, is looking at the things that you don’t want to look at. And ultimately, come hell or high water, accepting them,” she continued, adding that her book explicitly looks at the alleged presence of “white supremacy” in yoga as well as cultural appropriation, which she says is pervasive throughout American society.
“I would venture to say that everything in our collective society is rooted in white supremacy,” Stanley told the magazine.
“I am sure there are many people who would disagree with that, and honestly I don’t care because I believe that and I know it’s the case,” she added.
The practice of yoga is believed to be thousands of years old and having originated in a part of the world that is now modern-day India — not Europe or Africa.
“I think that we see it show up in a lot of different ways. In the same way it’s everywhere else and it has polluted everything else, it’s polluted yoga,” Stanley said.
“It’s very much a part of how yoga has spread in America. The popularity of yoga really came down to wealthy white people wanting to learn and explore in a very specific way, and that’s why yoga has been so white for so long in America,” she continued.
In explaining the cultural appropriation aspect, Stanley said it is “rampant because we are still living in the legacy of colonization.”
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