Sunday, December 25, 2016

Creating a cultural context for Yoga and Yoga Based Wellness Programs

In order to create a cultural context for Yoga and Yoga Based Wellness programs that students understand I believe we have to make a safe space for the Yoga practice. Here are some techniques I use in creating this sacred container:

1) I never force any one to chant Aum or any other mantra. I tell them it is perfectly acceptable not to participate.  In some environments I don't present any Sanskrit even the mantra Aum. When using Sanskrit I explain why we yogis consider it to be beneficial to use Sanskrit.

2) I never force anyone to use a mudra. I explain how we use mudras everyday and show (in a playful way) some of the everyday mudras we are already using.  But if mudras don't feel comfortable I offer permission to opt out without any ostracism.

3) I explain that yoga as a philosophical system and explain the system.

4) I present medical research about the benefits of Yoga and Meditation

5) I offer my own testimony about the benefits of Yoga and Meditation in my life if it seems appropriate

6) I let people know that the can chose to opt out of anything the feel uncomfortable with

7) I present the ancient history of yoga and show how it has been a healing modality for centuires

8) I talk about the concept of Ishwara Pranidhana in yoga - to follow your own God, deity, guru, belief system . . .

It is equally important to decolonize Yoga.  Yoga in the West is a strange and beautiful practice that at times in racist and classicist.

I really appreciate these points from Susanna Barkataki article "How to Decolonize Your Yoga Practice."

"1. Inquire within.

One powerful way we can decolonize yoga and reunite it with its true aim and purpose is to practice Gandhian svadhyaya, or self-rule and inquiry, and to truly learn the full honest, integrity of an authentic yoga practice.

2. Explore, learn and cite correct cultural references.

As practitioners of yoga I would love to see more of us citing cultural references as we attempt to understand and connect with the complexity, culture and history from which this tradition comes. I’m not suggesting people put on a watered down, context-removed faux Hinduism. To me that is not the answer. Commitment to deep practice, questioning and learning is, perhaps, part of the answer.

3. Ask ourselves, and other yoga teachers, the hard questions.

These tensions ask us to bring all of ourselves to the table. So what I am suggesting is for us to decolonize yoga we need to inquire deeply. We each have our unique story and gifts to share as do all the practitioners we teach or learn from. Let’s ask ourselves, “For whom is yoga accessible today and how might that be a legacy of past injustices that we have the opportunity to address through our teaching practice and our lives?”

4. Live, know, share and practice all eight limbs of yoga, not just asana.

We can also decolonize yoga by studying the depth of practice beyond the postures. In addition to asana we need to understand, practice and teach all eight limbs of yoga: yama or ethical conduct, niyama or personal practice, pranayama or working with the breath, pratyahara awareness of the senses, dharana, meditation, concentration and insight, dhyana or being present with whatever arises and samadhi, or interconnection with all that is.

5. Be humble and honor your own and other people’s journey.

When we humbly and respectfully consider yoga’s history, context, many branches and practices we give ourselves a fighting chance achieving yoga’s aim of enlightenment of mind, body and spirit.

By really engaging the full, whole and multifaceted face of yoga we not only liberate ourselves but we may just overthrow this 2nd colonization of yoga, freeing ourselves as well as the yoga practitioners of the future to experience the full, liberatory, authentic and true practice of yoga. We allow our own practice to grow and our gifts to really shine.

With mutual understanding, respect, and a deep reverence and caring for the history, we can decolonize ourselves, the yoga-industrial complex, and stage our own ahimsa, or nonviolent revolution of the mind, body and spirit."

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