Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Svadhyaya Exercise - Biases and Prejudice in Modern Day

I have been distracted from blog posts for a while - not an excuse - holidays, an additional training, an exponentially increasing teaching schedule, and lots of marketing have put the blog on the back burner...until today.

I love NPR...it's almost the only radio station to which I listen, and I subscribe to their Facebook posts as well.  Today there was an article about What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like, and they have a whole brand new program about biases called Code Switch that has me over the moon excited.  I'd love for you to check it out, especially if you don't know the term "code switch."  It deals with something about which I am even more passionate than I am about the practice of yoga

What does this have to do with yoga?  I could say it is a part of union, or that it is a part of self-actualization, or any number of things, but none of those could begin to express how deeply intertwined they are for me.

The more time I spend in the yoga community, the more frustrated, and honestly angry, I become when I hear people, that many think quite enlightened, express blatant biases of which they are completely unaware and which are insulting and harmful to those around them.  Part of Svadhyaya for me, years before I became a yoga instructor and continuously, has been looking at my biases.  I think it is something every human should do (given that their basic needs are met of course) in order to fully participate in the world in which we live; and I believe it is something that should be required of every teacher training at the 200 hour level.  And yes, the fact that I stated that is one of my biases, as is much of the following.

I have had met more people turned off by the biases of yoga teachers and the yoga culture fostered by the likes of Lululemon, Yoga Journal, and the majority of yoga videos available in the big box stores around the country, than I care to count.  Biases based on size, socio-economic standing, ethnicity, etc. are nurtured with every ad, cover art, and article that features a European-American, female, ballet dancer body type in an add wearing a $150 pair of yoga pants doing an arm balance on a $100 mat on the beach.  It is a message of exclusivity that I believe the yoga community should be above.

Yes, I realize that these are commercial institutions fueled by the consumer they serve.  I get that, truly I do, and I'm not judging the companies for their actions.  I am however, suggesting that we, as yoga consumers - the yoga community, may want to do a little self-study to examine why this is marketable to us

Why is that designer outfit worn to class so appealing?  Why do we price classes the way that we do?  Do we offer classes in areas where the population wouldn't be the norm in our studios?  Do we feel free to express our opinion on mats and clothes to our students or others in our class?  Do we make a judgment about another student's ability based on their size?  Are we teaching that everyone can do every posture, if they just keep working at it?  What are we doing for Karma yoga on a regular basis?  Are we so adherent to our understanding of how a posture should look that we don't allow students to modify for their own body, if they know how?  Do we explain "Om" or "Namaste" anytime there is a student that may not understand the use of those terms, or do we let them decide without education whether they are comfortable saying terms that they may believe to be religious?  Do we name our classes, "Advanced" based on inversions and arm balances?  Can you create a safe space for and honestly, lovingly teach a student with whom you have diametrically opposed social or moral beliefs?  Do we as students fall into cliques with those that have the same attire or equipment, or are we inclusive of everyone in the room?

Yes, there are some yoga philosophies that have very distinct doctrines, but do we understand that this may be the only time a student will experience yoga?  Do we suggest other options if our philosophy doesn't fit?  Would we even know, or would they just leave never to return?  No, most yoga teachers aren't making a ton of money, so why would they make classes cheaper, or teach in an area that wasn't target rich for paying students? But, if we are decked in designer yoga wear, couldn't we consider donating a class a month in a park or community center where no one has ever thought of putting a studio?  Yes, with additional practice some may achieve a challenging posture, but based on anatomical structures, not everyone should safely do every posture without modifications.  Do we know how to make modifications for a large person to allow them to be fully in the pose?  I've never taken a class with anyone that did, and it has most certainly never been taught in any standard training I've ever attended.

Please don't misunderstand, I am not saying anyone is right or wrong for any of those things, it isn't my place to judge.  Yes, I am very aware of my biases that are coming through.  I am merely suggesting that if we don't know our own biases, we may be putting out information or images that are less than beneficial to others.  We may exacerbate the biases of others resulting in uneducated people making judgments about such things as yoga in schools, then we get irate that they are ignorant and closed minded - our biases.  We must know ourselves.  We will always have biases, it is part of our survival skill set, but becoming aware of them, allows us to begin to be mindful of the choices we make and the messages we send on the mat and in our daily lives instead of them coming out sideways or unintentionally.  Isn't that part of living a yogic life?

If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, some resources I have found useful are teachingtolerance.org and Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

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