Originally written for Yoga Parkside's blog 9/21/20
The first time I stepped onto a yoga mat I felt a powerful sense that I had finally arrived where I needed to be. I had no idea how much this practice would shape the next ten years of my life or the direction the world would take to bring us to where we are today. When I took my first yoga class I was twenty years old and a typical product of our social conditioning. I was burned out, self-medicating with alcohol, in a long-term relationship that felt empty, and in the throes of an eating disorder that lasted for many years later. In a society that gears us to be self-destructive rather than self-aware, yoga is a radical invitation to consciously live.
The Yoga Sutras are a set of ethical principles behind yoga philosophy. Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, the first limb of the yoga sutras, and means nonviolence, not just towards yourself, but towards others. Yoga has taught me how to practice Ahimsa by working not only with my physical body as seen or imagined from the outside, but the body that we can feel from within, when we breathe and move. Yoga is the practice of coming into embodiment through movement, breath and attention.
Shortly after I first started practicing yoga I realized that where I needed to be was advocating for myself mentally, physically and spiritually. Like most things, my practice has fluctuated over the years, but every time I step onto my yoga mat I make the radical decision to advocate for myself. While it’s an ongoing journey, I had to learn how to advocate for myself before I could advocate for others as yoga teacher, doula and white, cisgender, able-bodied woman.
For a long time, and for many various reasons, I didn’t occupy my body, nor did I know how to. Yoga has taught me how to practice Ahimsa with myself, but as a system I do not think that Western yoga has embodied Ahimsa.
For too long our society has associated yoga with white, able-bodied, females. For years I taught yoga strictly to these demographics, maintaining the patterns of white supremacy and colonialism. When I became acquainted with the idea of decolonizing yoga I started to shift the way I thought of myself as a teacher and the privilege that is held in this role. Just like all things ebb and flow, I knew that it was time for me to take a break from teaching yoga in order to evaluate what I stand for.
Now when I step onto my mat I ask myself what I stand for. I know that I am capable of practicing Ahimsa towards myself, but do I practice it towards others? As a yoga teacher, am I advocating for others? What about as a white woman?
This is an ongoing journey, learning to hold the dichotomy of a practice that is healing to some like myself and at the same time may be causing pain to others. May the radical potential of yoga be something we all consider, especially now.