Yoga is a powerful way to support self- integration and feelings of wholeness. Having worked as a yoga therapist and teacher for 25 years in the UK, I would say that in my experience I recognise the value of special spaces to nurture connection and well being
BAME womxn/ BIWoC is a particular group that I identify with. Of course we come from a vast array of backgrounds; black, brown, mixed race, queer, trans, neuro-diverse, refugee, diaspora, we are not one homogenous group and might have little in common with each other. However when space is set aside and intentions made to listen; stories of how racism and sexism has harmed our bodies are shared and heard.
Yoga as a tool for liberation should support all of us to make sense of and resolve our personal experiences of injustice. Womxn of colour experience particular violations relating to the intersecting realities of being racialised and sexualised. These include distressing incidents of neglect and abuse in maternity care, hyper sexualisation and exotification in social settings, harassment, ridicule and othering in the work place, the list goes on. Yet spiritual by passing in yoga is so rife that the link between personal suffering and oppression is not connected. Social-cultural factors have a lot to answer for in impacting emotional wellbeing, yet if not explicitly stated, people will believe themselves to be “at fault”. The yoga industrial complex capitalises on this confusion and sells it back to us to improve upon.
It comes as no surprise that the multi- million dollar/pound yoga industry is white powered and privileged. As a practitioner trying to make in- roads into the yoga community to educate on cultural appropriation, race, caste and gender equity, I meet gate keeping and fierce defensiveness. However, alongside others, I act to create spaces away from this toxic status quo.
I understand that white and male centering places a disproportionate strain on the bodies of black-brown womxn. Studies have been undertaken to demonstrate how race based stress leads to increased tension, headaches and heart palpitations. In the long-term, it has a “weathering” effect, which increases the risk of development of more severe health problems and psychological effects, such as increased hypervigilance, intrusive memories and avoidance of places and people. For womxn of colour there is additional stress from weathering gender based oppression which can lead to burnout, anxiety and depression.
A yoga studio should be an oasis of calm but there is no assurance that we can find relief from micro-aggressions or the repetition of traumatic incidents. A good yoga facilitator needs to understand how oppressive norms and scripts impact people and use yoga to reverse this cycle of harm. I hold such a space for womxn of colour, who I know are exponentially affected by discrimination and have less resources available to seek support and care. Sadly I also see how BAME only services subsidised by government-third sector organisations will infantilise and victimise our community. I move right away from this trend.
I envision yoga for womxn of colour to be a special space, not a divisive one nor cut off from family, friends or colleagues who present/identify as white. It is a space that is accessible, understanding and confidential. In these spaces there is permission to cry and be with frustration and anger, to name what is felt within and say what is difficult. In our yoga practice we can step away from blame and hurt, face up to our issues and heal our own internal oppressor and prejudices e.g. anti blackness, caste supremacy, fundamentalism and queer intolerance. Most importantly we can build community, nourish each other and re connect with our wholeness and dignity.