Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Through A Yogic Lens: Is It Really Cultural Appropriation? Or Something Deeper?


Indian woman's head wrapped in scarf, with bindi 
between eyebrows, maang tikka jewelry on forehead

by Anjali Sunita


We’ve all seen it: the deity tattoos, the turbans, self-appointed spiritual names, goddess circles, Yoga business courses, pornographic Yoga pose selfies, events described as “tribal” galore. If you like Yoga or are of Indian ancestry, you will have been berated with these aesthetics through the algorithms on Instagram or Facebook.

In the past decade, discussions about cultural appropriation have moved from academic and legal spheres to mainstream political controversy. On the far right of the cultural appropriation debate, you have defenders of artistic evolution and free market self-expression, fearing censorship by the “culture police;” and on the far left there are those seeking acknowledgment of roots and cultural values, resisting “cultural cleansing” by assimilation. Is it really so black and white?

Savitha Enner, a Maryland-based Yoga teacher who was born and raised in India until the age of 27, presents a bigger picture:

“Every country has an aspiration…and virtues, and values, and actions…the way you act usually; there is the culture. In India, one of the main values for your life is making your life sacred. That means, if I am a farmer, I am going to treat my farmland as my god, so I have rituals, pujas, prayers, festivals, a few times a year to worship the farmland, because that’s where I get the fruit of my labor. If I am a student, I have prayers, pujas, and festivals a few times a year to celebrate books, knowledge, writing instruments like pens and even computers.

 

If I have a job where I service the country…one of the sayings that will be put up on a building would be ‘your work is god’…even your car…because that is the mode of transportation. So pretty much anything that is useful to you is sacred. By that definition, we can extend it to Yoga…how do you treat things that are sacred to you? You are going to treat it with gratitude…humility…love…. Nobody has to tell me Yoga is sacred, or not; it just is. The more useful it is to you, the more sacred it is to you. So you do not have to ask anybody about whether I should say ‘Namaste’ or not, whether I should put up a deity or not. If you think Yoga practice is sacred to you…act accordingly, act in a way that feels that Yoga is sacred to you and it will be fine.”

Between all the pithy memes of digital activism, Indian practitioners are painted with the same brush, a monolith of cultures and perspectives. Some question whether digital activism truly honors diverse values of the diaspora and ancestors. Savitha’s perspective shows there is a wider range of response than what we see in trending click bait. The danger in it is that those who looking for a single Indian person to approve and validate their behaviors as well as those who romanticize Indian people and cultures may take her statement as justification for any action they wish to justify, rather than genuinely inquiring into one’s relationship to the sanctity of life.

Frequently online, at best, we sit at the surface. Well-wishers seeking not to offend will ask for a list, a never-ending education of do’s and dont’s. Do I or don’t I say ‘Namaste’? How do I wear and hold prayer beads? Should I wear bindis? Should I or shouldn’t I speak Sanskrit names in classes? Frequently the onus of education lands on an isolated South Asian practitioner who will be either pedestaled or gaslighted for her/his/their opinions. If the opinions are unwanted, a troll will pitch in the obligatory, “If you are so unhappy here, you should just go back home” or “Nobody owns Yoga!”.

Identities Not Trends

It is not a coincidence that a conversation that frequently begins with cultural values, meanings, and practices quickly devolves into debates over citizenship and ownership.

In an article entitled From Patañjali to the “Gospel of Sweat”: Yoga’s Remarkable Transformation from a Sacred Movement into a Thriving Global Market, recently published by Administrative Science Quarterly, Kamal Munir, Shahzad Ansuri, and Deborah Brown report, “Yoga went from a movement underpinned by a religious and meditative philosophy that took years to learn to one that advocated weekend courses to become a Yoga instructor. Yoga postures were copyrighted and franchised. The representation of Yoga in popular discourse, and the values associated with it, also underwent transformation. Its image went from pictures of Yoga gurus meditating in loincloths to athletic women in acrobatic poses that represented a blend of ballet, gymnastics, and Yoga. Many of these women emerged as the new gurus serving as role models for urban middle-class women the world over.”

Once inspired by Hindu philosophy, led by ascetics who provided an antidote to the individualism, greed, and consumerism fostered by capitalism, the meaning and values of Yoga were changed to meet the market. They outline how the Yoga movement was first “de-essentialized,” untangled from its socio-historical context, then syncretized with markets; and lastly, borrowed codes from related movements, in this case, the New Age and fitness movements. Part and parcel of capitalism, they note that "movements seeking to infuse markets with moral values often end up utilizing the market mechanism and support from mainstream actors to scale up, even if it comes at the cost of diluting their founding ethos."

At the center of many debates around cultural appropriation is the publication Yoga Journal, as it provides a perfect example of the capitalization and whitewashing imagery associated with Yoga media, excluding or marginalizing the image of BIPOC. The very first episode of the viral podcast Yoga is Dead, Tejal Patel and Jesal Parikh call out Yoga Journal’s response to the American Hindu Association, when they complained that Yoga Journal doesn’t reference Hinduism (www.yogaisdeadpodcast.com). Yoga Journal responded to the American Hindu Association saying that Hinduism “carries too much baggage.” Jesal and Tejal provide a second example of the whitewashing imagery, when Yoga Journal agreed to put Jessamyn Stanley, a full-bodied queer black femme on the cover, but then seemingly threatened by this emerging market for larger bodied BIPOC, split the cover with a skinny white woman. What rots beneath the surface of the cultural appropriation debate are untold histories. Beneath these heated protests of magazine covers of skinny white women are generations of grief and trauma resulting from both the racism in America as well as the colonization on ancestral lands.

In my life, I have witnessed marginalized groups teased, bullied, discriminated against, and physically harmed for expressions of cultural heritage, while those in the dominant group profit from those same aesthetics. My mother came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 1969, four years after The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed, which abolished laws prohibiting Asian immigration to the United States. My family stories consist of how during the years of Vietnam some anti-war American white male student protestors, protesting the university my mother attended for holding classes, dehumanized her as she tried to go to class: touching my mother’s braids; pulling on her saris; and in a terrible accent saying “What would Gaaaandy do?” meaning “Mahatma Gandhi,” as they accosted her with “Americans are dying Bitch.”

Did they view all South Asian, South East Asians as the enemy? Was my mother’s road to becoming an American inconsequential to their fights for “Americans?” A rhetorical question meant for deeper inquiry: Why did they do this? Unlike them, she pushed her way to class in 1969 with her student visa at stake, until one day a physics professor sexually assaulted her while attending a session for extra help. Unable to go back, she failed physics, and had to shift to a less prestigious university so as not to be deported.

In her later years, she has written (in her book Where Monsoons Cry) about how during her scientific career, she cried the day she put her saris in a suitcase under the bed, as they had become a spectacle at her office. Every day men would ask her how long it took her to get ready for work. Yet on any given day in a Yoga studio across America or online, a white kirtan artist is chanting poorly pronounced Hindu deity names over blaring sound systems, in a sari, with moortis on the floor near her feet. For those first generation Americans like myself, who stumble into a Yoga center to reconnect to cultural heritage, Yoga spaces can feel like looking at our lost relics. (This is usually when someone makes the argument that pointing this out is divisive, that “We are all One” before explaining some Universalist principles and transcendental philosophy.)

In a 2015 article in The Washington Post, writer Cathy Young wrote, “To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation: Their protests ignore history, chill artistic expression and hurt diversity.” Young defends cultural appropriation at large, balking at protest against it as “an obvious potential to chill creativity and artistic expression… equally bad for diversity, raising the troubling specter of cultural cleansing.” Her defense begs the question, what about the cultural cleansing marginalized people endure every day within every American institution? Are we really all “One”? Many Desis have experienced that the multicultural “melting pot” idea is a grand illusion of “diversity” and oneness. In reality, this image of a diverse country has never been about equally blending the world’s flavor into one big soup; it has been about fitting in, assimilating, into a heavily salted soup in which diverse flavors are overpowered, cooked down, or dissolved within one or two generations.

Our truths are diverse. Some people with marginalized identities choose to accept cultural appropriation because fetishization, while irritating, is preferable to bullying. David Min writes in his Duke University Chronicle column in 2019 milk before cereal, “I’m willing to let authenticity take a backseat — as bad as that sounds — when my entire existence has been predicated on finding a survival strategy to exist in this world…While I’m aware that the West’s underlying assumptions about Asians have hardly changed, this newest fad certainly makes it easier to live.” Certainly, I often think: who am I to complain about seeming trivialities when my biracial body is light skinned and I have it so much easier than my mother. However, while some might argue like Min that oftentimes our criticisms of cultural appropriation begin from both a privileged position and internal insecurity of our own identity, I will continue to argue is that our conversations about cultural appropriation are often brushing against greater social and systemic inequities.

Omissions Matter

Many of us with South Asian ancestors, born and raised outside of India, who choose to respond to the issues of appropriation, are seeing in our mind’s eyes childhood memories of micro-aggressions. In "Microaggressions in Daily Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation," Gerald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

I have memories of my mother coming to elementary school for our social studies class, showing 2nd graders India on a map, and dressing our white teacher in a sari while placing a bindi on her forehead. This generosity was met with mixed reactions: fascination, indifference, and teasing by my classmate as she pulled on her eyes to make them squint (nonsensical given how large our eyes are). “Because of the word “micro,” many people (read: non-white people) consider instances of microaggressions to be brief and relatively harmless; but there is nothing micro about microaggressions. Many psychologists refer to the impact of microaggressions as ‘death by a thousand papercuts’ for those that experience them on a regular basis.” (Nicole Cardoza, Anti-racism Daily).

We witness macro-aggressions, too, like the over 700 hate crimes that took place against Sikhs post-September 11th attacks. While this community was targeted for brown skin, turbans, and long beards, post the September 11th attacks the Kundalini Yoga industry continued to grow as mostly white Americans with beards, in turbans, profited. As of May 2021, a Dolce and Gabbana-printed cotton-blend turban sells on mytherasa.com for 635 British Pounds. It is the appropriation rooted in the inequities of crony capitalism that frequently sparks protest.

In a 2020 article in GQ, entitled Cultural appropriation: everything is culture and it’s all appropriated, George Chesterton, another defender of appropriation, seeks to minimize the inequities that are the harmful residue of colonialism when he writes, “Some believe culture is exploited like land or natural resources were exploited by colonialists, but desecrating a landscape is not the same as desecrating an idea. The landscape can be ruined, but the idea remains.” This point of view omits historical facts about the real and damaging impacts of colonialism, the loss of authentic knowledge, cultural riches, and life that have resulted from systemic violence.

I have taken numerous courses that sadly attempt to conceptualize Yoga history, for example, and completely skip the colonial periods altogether. We do not hear about how in 1773, the British banned wandering yogis (who they couldn’t land tax), associating them with “black magic” and thievery; or of the development of the “Thugee Department” of Intelligence, where British Intelligence captured such “thugs” to avoid mutiny against British rule. We do not hear about how India, once responsible for 27 percent of the world’s economy in the 1700s, was not only depleted to only three percent after the British completed their rule and looting, but how the country was made vulnerable to famine, which in combination with unceasing inhumane taxation killed an estimated 30–35 million people (asserted by Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire), threatening lineages.

How often do we consider the impact on lineages and the culture morale of the people? Instead, we hear narratives about Krishnamacarya, as the godfather of Yoga presenting yoga circus-like feats for royalty, influenced by European gymnasts. Do we ever hear how in combination with institutionalizing British healthcare system and hospitals Ayurvedic marma masters had their fingers cut off and were imprisoned for practicing their medicine? Or do we simply accept Ayurveda as “alternative” medicine? We are told that innocent gurus came to the West to spread the message of universal peace. How often are we taught that prior to Swami Vivekananda’s riveting speech that introduced Yoga to the United States at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893 that he was chased by white supremacists? Colonization has done far more than ruin landscapes. It greatly shifted the tone of how Yoga would be spread and later transformed.

This and so much more is omitted in our learning of Yoga and Yoga history in the West. I could not do justice to the vast and complex colonial history of Yoga in South Asia in this article, but simply want to point out intentional omission of certain truths. The spirit in which Yoga history is told is comparable to the spirit of the American Thanksgiving story, which claims that colonial history of this land was based upon ideals of harmony and mutual respect, when if in fact it was based upon genocide and cultural erasure.

Many Desis, those of the South Asian diaspora, don’t know (or perhaps we turn away from) the many painful aspects of our histories. We have never read about our histories in American history books. Perhaps Yoga history is so vast, varied, and ancient that it may be easier to focus on the distant past and the cultural richness that is also our history. Perhaps we are too proud. Perhaps we prefer the myth that we are a “model minority” and would prefer not to lose this privilege by upsetting the status quo. Perhaps our parents were working to survive and may not have known themselves or chosen not to teach us for our own emotional protection. Instead, we wind up in debates like Gwyneth Paltrow stating that she is responsible for Yoga’s spread — debates devoid of all context — when in fact, there are bigger elephants in the room.

I once had hoped that showing compassion, learning and teaching Yoga would counteract some of that anxiety and fragility that circulates in these conversations, but I’ve come to realize: unless you understand the functions of imperialism and colonialism either through study or through being marginalized yourself, chances are you will, intentionally or unintentionally, approach cultural, healing, natural, medicinal, and spiritual arts and sciences with a degree of entitlement and inherent racism.

To put it simply, with regards to cultural appropriation, I cannot write one more tweet or puff piece. It’s my view that learning history is essential alongside mainstream wellness education if we are ever to have genuine, meaningful, reciprocal cultural exchanges and have the courage to re-envision an equitable and honoring context for practice.


Anjali Sunita
In addition to sharing Yoga sessions and Pranayama through Baltimore Yoga Village, as well as Ayurvedic consultation as part of Village Life Wellness, Anjali Sunita creates courses for dialogue inclusive of Yoga history and philosophy. Anjali writes the blog villagelifewellness.medium.com and can be contacted through www.villagelifewellness.com. IG and FB @villagelifewellness; She is a graduate of the Sivananda Yoga Dhanwantari Ashram Yoga teacher trainings, the Ayurvedic Institute, and Oberlin College where she studied Theater and History with a focus on Gender and Colonialism.

Anjali Sunita will be presenting at Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021

This post was previously shared in villagelifewellness.medium.com


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Editor of Accessible Yoga Blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Radiant Rest: Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation and Awakened Clarity


Tracee Stanley in pink silk gown, eyes closed, one arm around waist, other hand
by collarbone, laying on white carpet on floor with head, shoulders supported by white pillows
Photo by Chloe Crispi


From Radiant Rest: Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation and Awakened Clarity by Tracee Stanley © 2021. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. [[pg. 73-85]]

by Tracee Stanley


4. The Householder’s Flow


Householder’s Prayer

The altar is in my heart.
The sun and the moon are my gurus.
I trust the earth to support me.
Each time I close my eyes, I enter the void.
My heart is the portal to my sacred cave.
I whisper the names of the Divine as I prepare my meals.
I notice the flow of my beloveds’ breath as they fall asleep,
and I synchronize my breath to the flow of love.
I place a blessing in the pause between the breaths.
I hold the power to create a new reality with every thought.
I honor silence as a blessing.
I explore who I am and who I am not in the mirror of relationship.
I question my beliefs with curiosity and courage.
I honor my ancestors.
I lay down all self-doubt with compassion and forgiveness.
I remember the light of my soul as I enter the dream state.
I recall the beauty of truth as I transition from sleep to waking.
I know the vibration of truth.
I remember that nothing is mundane.
I honor the power of the transition as a portal to transformation
Everything is an offering. My life is a sacred ritual.
—Tracee Stanley

DURING MY MORE THAN twenty years of teaching, the obstacle that people have consistently shared as standing in the way of their practice is time. When I first began practicing yoga over twenty-five years ago, I had plenty of time to practice. Back then, the workday ended the moment you left the office, most people didn’t have cell phones, and no one dared to call you at dinnertime because they knew it was family time.

For most of us today, that scenario seems like a dream. In fact, just trying to get people to put their phones down during a meal can seem like a chore. According to a recent survey, 71 percent of us are sleeping with our phones—in our hands, in our beds, or at least within reach on our nightstands.(1) We have created lives where our attention focuses on the external, gathering data and information, seeking validation through “likes,” and succumbing to intense FOMO (fear of missing out) that makes it hard to turn off the devices that link us to the outside world 24/7. This existence leaves very little room for exploration of our internal landscape, devotion to practice, spiritual study, the things that bring us joy or relaxation just for the sake of our own sanity and well-being.

MAKING CHOICES

Tech companies are banking on the fact that we would rather distract ourselves than be present to life. This was evident during “stay-at-home” orders at the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, when people ran to platforms like Instagram, Zoom, and Netflix to the point that they became overloaded and kept crashing. We are constantly making choices. But what influences the choices we make moment to moment? This reminds me of the simple but profound concept of desire and the idea that the seed of every thought, deed, and action is desire.

The Indian spiritual teacher, author, and scholar Eknath Easwaran translated this powerful verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”(2) When we consistently make choices that deny the importance of our inner lives in exchange for the things that are continually changing and not a real source of truth, we keep looking outward for validation and meaning. It’s called distraction, and by succumbing to it, we are giving our power away. All the energy that we possess is being dispersed and wasted in chasing things that can never bring us lasting happiness.

If we can begin to explore the source of our desires, we will realize that they have the power to radically shape our lives. Next time you notice that you are procrastinating or allowing yourself to be distracted with things that waste time, ask yourself, What am I avoiding? What am I denying myself by not being present? How do my actions contribute to my feelings of being overwhelmed by my life? How is this behavior shaping my life? Am I willing to change? In a life that may include any combination of partners, jobs, kids, homework, family, pets, bills, aging parents, or building a business, we have so much to take care of just to get by. But the distractions keep coming—impulse shopping, internet scrolling, social media, online dating, or overindulging in general. The question is, what is it we are being distracted from? The answer is easy: our power.

No matter how shiny those distractions are, they are not more brilliant than the eternal light that makes its home within you. Perhaps you have intuitively sensed that there is something more to who you are beyond what you see, that there is a part of you that is vibrant and thriving. Maybe you feel like you’ve lost that part of yourself under all of life’s overwhelming demands. But yogic wisdom tells us that the thriving, vibrant radiance is who we are, and it is eternal; it’s a light that never goes out. Remember the light inside the innermost tiny nesting doll? That light is your power source, your own unique ray of brilliance.

Nischala Joy Devi translated my favorite Patanjali’s sutra 1.36, viśokā va jyotiṣmatī, as saying, “Cultivate devotion to the supreme, ever-blissful light within.”(3) This sutra refers to a light within us that is beyond all sorrow, that is unaffected by our conditioning or life experiences. It is not tainted in any way. It is pure, blissful, and eternal. It was there before you had a name and will be there when you no longer have a body. I believe that part of our purpose in life is to taste this radiance. The remembrance of this radiance is one of the gifts of yoga nidra. In many yoga traditions, a light is said to reside inside the “cave,” or deepest recesses, of the heart. Remember that one of the sacred portals is the heart center.

Unfortunately, we give ourselves no chance of experiencing this inner light (think, the innermost nesting doll) when our focus is constantly directed outward. It might feel like modern life leaves us no choice but to be externally focused—unless we’re living in a cave somewhere. When we are living the life of a householder, which I define as those of us with duties and obligations to our families, jobs, parents, or pets, it can feel like there is little to no time for practice. You might fantasize about going to meditate in a cave and leaving all of your responsibilities behind. But what if instead your life as a householder held keys to your evolution? It can.

It was vital for me to present this book in a way that incorporates practice for the householders—especially since most of us are not living in caves. The chapters in this part are meant to inspire you to reframe what your devoted practice looks like and to give you tools to carry on a practice no matter what life events present themselves.

REDEFINING PRACTICE

I wrote the poem at the beginning of this chapter to remind myself that I have space and I have time, no matter how fast life is moving and how many things there are to do. I can always find moments during the day that connect me to my practice if I elevate my view of everyday life as not separate from my spiritual practice. If the poem resonates with you, you might consider printing it out and placing it on your altar (you’ll learn how to create one in chapter 5) as a reminder that you already have everything you need to practice. Because you do. Many times we look at spiritual teachers or “gurus” and think they are living “high up on the mountain,” untouched by the world. This is problematic because the world will change while they are up there in the clouds, and we may then be left with teachers who are out of touch or seemingly uncaring about the problems faced by those of us living a spiritual yet very worldly life. Having discernment about the teachers we choose and cultivating a relationship with our inner wisdom has never been more important.

If we can reframe how we see practice and use the myriad opportunities that daily life gives us to do that practice, we won’t need to long for a cave or an ashram. Life becomes our practice, and we can take refuge at the altars of our hearts. Our practice reminds us that life is sacred, and we can experience the quality of radiance in our daily lives.

I recently saw a man in a workshop in Vancouver scowling at me when I asked the group to join me in committing to a forty-day practice. I felt his frustration and said, “Are you wondering how the heck you’re going to fit this into your life?” He replied, “Yeah. I have five kids, and I’m a stay-at-home dad. There’s no way I’m going to be able to practice every day. It was a stretch for me just to be here for one day.” I felt a deep well of emotion rising within him. He desperately wanted to have time to dedicate to a consistent practice, and he was frustrated and sad that he couldn’t see a way to do that.

I suggested to him and the group that we reframe the idea of what yoga practice looks like—more specifically, who a dedicated yoga practitioner is. Usually when we think of dedicated yoga practitioners, we visualize people who have many hours a day to meditate, study, and practice. We see them as very disciplined. They always seem to be reading the scriptures, discovering new teachers, trying new modalities, and going to workshops or on spiritual pilgrimages. This kind of time is a luxury and a privilege and not the case for most of us. We consider ourselves lucky if we can eke out time for a class once or twice a week. Somehow, we have gotten the idea that spiritual fruits are only delivered to those who have a lot of time, resources, and discipline to dedicate to practice. We decide that if we can’t do a full hour of practice, it’s not worth even bothering. But who said that a “practice” needed to be an hour or 90 minutes to be valid? That comes from the commercialization of yoga as a wellness product to be sold and not as a lifelong practice that can lead to spiritual freedom.

It’s true that it can be a little daunting when you read in texts, such as the Yoga Sutras, that say the way to practice yoga is with consistency, for a long period of time, with no interruption.

With no interruption? For most of us, that is a nonstarter. We feel like we are set up to fail; it’s easy to give up or not even begin. Let’s drop the idea that a practice needs to be an hour just because that is what yoga studios have been selling us for years. What if we stopped compartmentalizing and saw the whole of our lives as a spiritual practice? What if we explored the many opportunities during the day that can connect us to a deeper part of ourselves? What if that became our practice?

Try seeing your practice as a twenty-four-hour cycle. Each breath, mantra, pose, mudra, or contemplation you are able to thread into your day makes up your Householder’s Flow. Your twenty-four-hour practice can flow through all the states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Let it become the fabric that supports you as you take care of family, commute to work, prepare for a meeting, do classes online, bathe your children, and prepare for a night’s sleep.

If you really want to have a dedicated practice, it’s as simple as making the choice, then figuring out how that choice can fit your life. Let go of any comparison to what you think “practice” should be like and tune in to how you want it to feel. Be honest about what is possible for you.

The Yoga Sutras tells us that we should practice with steadiness and ease. Most of the time, we think of this as steadiness in our physical posture and letting go of effort as a form of surrender. But what happens when we are not practicing asana? Is it possible to adapt steadiness and ease into our daily lives? Learning how to bring a sense of steadiness into the ever-changing ebb and flow that occurs during each day and finding small ways to keep the sacred thread of our practice running through everything we do is the key to the Householder’s Flow. You can connect to steadiness by remembering the part of you that is eternal. Remember what it is that you have unwavering faith in. If you feel like you don’t have faith right now, consider what you would like to have faith in. Contemplate what it means to be awake to this sacred thread in every moment. Let discipline transform into devotion and your life will be a sacred ritual.

The practice of yoga nidra attunes us to the transitions between the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states. The transitions are where the power and the magic lie; each one is a little space of the void. There are many transitions throughout the day. If we can begin to be aware of these transitions, we can use them to stay more awake and present to our practice and to the little nidra moments every day.

As householders, we can turn every sunrise, every breath, every pause between the breath into a sacred portal into practice. The most potent portals are the moments when you are about to fall asleep and awaken. Just by using the simple 3- to 5-minute practices I’ve included in the practice chapters as a start and end to your day, you will create a twenty-four-hour flow of practice that can begin to give your waking life a new color—one of presence and grace. You may find your relationship to time and practice beginning to shift, and my hope is that you will then be able to incorporate the longer deep relaxation practices too.

PARENTHOOD AND PRACTICE

I met a woman at a retreat in Austin who had completed a very rigorous yoga therapist training program and was getting back to her practice after five years away. She felt that when her child was born, she began to “lose the cushion between experiencing something and reacting to it.” Her years of practice had given her the ability to slow down and notice how she reacted to things and to be more present overall. She was able to delay reacting and to respond with better choices. But all the hours of practice and study hadn’t prepared her for motherhood and maintaining a consistent practice while caring for her child. Little by little, she “watched that cushion of sanity getting smaller and smaller until one day it was gone.” She felt she had lost her practice and her clarity.

This is a feeling we can probably all relate to, as at one time or another, something we were doing consistently that made us feel great and healthy somehow got derailed and then eventually disappeared from our lives. Months later, we find ourselves thinking that we have to get back to it and we don’t know how. Another habit or responsibility has taken its place. I would say that this woman hadn’t really “lost” her practice. It was waiting for her in abeyance, like a forgotten bank account waiting for her to claim the funds. Her practice needed a radical reframing.

What kind of practice can you do when the baby finally falls asleep, and you have so many other essential things to do like take a shower or prepare a meal for yourself ? The answer is whatever you can. The practice chapters include short mini practices that can be done in 3 to 5 minutes. They are all portals into deeper states of awareness and sacred living while taking care of day-to-day demands.

Ashley, a new mother of a one-year-old, told me, “Once you don’t have as much time, everything that is unimportant falls away. You become clear that everything is a choice. You become more discerning.” In this way, the perception of lack of time can be one of the gems of parenthood. It allows us to practice detachment, to examine the root of our desires, and to sharpen our discernment. We can use the feeling of “no time” to get clear on what we want our lives to be about. We get to create new paradigms around how, where, and when we practice; to rediscover what a personal devoted practice looks and feels like for us; and to explore what our practice means for those around us. Kate Northrup, the author of Do Less, a mother of two, and a successful entrepreneur, says yoga nidra helped her with mental clarity and physical energy: “I felt like I had gone into a state of deeper stillness and calm than I had experienced in a long time.”(4)

We get to reclaim that calm as a householder when we reinvent for ourselves what practice looks like. I have a dear friend, Bill, who has been practicing meditation in his car for over fifteen years. Every morning he goes into his garage, sits in his parked car, and does his meditation practice. His car is where he finds peace. It is comfortable, quiet, and free of distraction. He has turned his car into a meditation cave.

It’s important here to give yourself permission to find creative ways to see what works for you and what doesn’t. The more open you are to experimenting with little increments of time during the day, the more your practice will strengthen and blossom. Here are some tips to get you started. Choose one that resonates and start with that as a way to find your unique flow. Over time you can add others until you find what works best for your situation.


FIFTEEN STEPS TO GET INTO THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR HOUSEHOLDER’S FLOW
  1. Let go of the idea that your practice needs to be 15, 30, or 90 minutes long to be meaningful or valid.
  2. Instead of one long practice, try 2- to 3-minute mini practice portals that you can weave throughout your day. You can set the timer on your phone to remind you when to practice. Find time to lay down and practice the Body Awareness Exercise on page 64 or Pratyahara Practice on page 67 for 3 minutes. When you do have a few minutes of space to practice, notice how resistance to resting or practicing may show up. Be aware of what you feel called to do instead. Is it nurturing, supportive, or healing? Is your default mode moving you toward healing or toward distraction and staying stuck?
  3. Use your least favorite chore as a portal to practice. Chant, sing, or follow your breath while washing dishes, doing your taxes, doing laundry, or mopping the floor. Use your resistance as a way to turn the mundane into the sacred. You will find suggestions for mantras in the resources, but any song or affirmation that is offered with devotion will work.
  4. Leave a small space in your home—a chair, your yoga mat, a corner of a room, a closet, or even your car—set up and ready for your practice. Begin to see every seat as a potential meditation seat or yoga nidra nest. (You’ll learn how to set yourself up for the ultimate surrender in the next chapter.)
  5. Acknowledge your obstacles. Let go of being surprised and frustrated when they show up. Observe the barriers to practice that arise and the obstacles that you place in your own way. Be aware of which patterns keep showing up. How can you shift something to create a new outcome?
  6. Remember that all the practices you do, no matter how small they may seem, are preparing you for deep relaxation, yoga nidra, and truth.
  7. Decide what you are willing to commit to.
  8. Connect to the desire in your heart to deepen your practice and let that be what guides you. Even when you feel like you cannot “do” a single thing, connecting to that longing with a sense of gratitude that the fire is burning within you will support you. Connect to it with gratitude, as opposed to despair and disappointment that the desire has not yet been fulfilled; know that you are moving toward it. Connect with your faith that things can change. Remember the cycles of nature where nothing is permanent. There is a season for everything.
  9. Be creative. Look for the pauses, transitions, spaciousness, and silence. The day is full of natural transitions: sunrise, high noon, sunset, moonrise. Use these natural transitions to remind you to pause. When you pause, you create a natural void, so place a mantra, an affirmation, a bible verse, or a blessing for yourself in that space to empower yourself. These are the little nidra moments that will change your relationship to the practice.
  10. Use every relationship as a mirror to understand more about yourself. Notice your reactions and what beliefs you hold on to. Be willing to see another point of view as a way toward understanding. Examine conflicts and ask yourself, Could I have created a more healing outcome for all involved? What am I not willing to admit about myself? What systems or conditions are present that prevent me from thriving and what resources are available to me for assistance?
  11. Find at least one friend who is like-minded with whom you can connect to share insights and experiences. Even if it’s a text to say, “I had a tough day today,” or “I meditated in my closet today,” or “I removed some apps from my phone so I would have more time to practice—I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner.” Use technology as a way to support your practice instead of as a distraction.
  12. Reframe your deep relaxations and yoga nidra practices as surrenders. Remind yourself, It’s time to surrender instead of It’s time to practice. Let go of the energy of doing. Yoga nidra is a practice of non-doing, and grace descends when you let go. 
  13. Set up an altar at home. (Keep reading to learn more about how.) Let it be a reminder to pause at least once a day and remember your commitment to yourself.
  14. When you notice negative thoughts, replace them with kindness and compassion. Study and practice Yoga Sutra 2:33, translated by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait as “to arrest conflicting thoughts, cultivate thoughts opposed to them.”(5) This is said to be a way toward a peaceful mind. It also helps us become aware of our thoughts.
  15. As soon as you wake up, bring awareness to the flow of your breath for 1 minute. Even if you have a child who wakes you up, you have a moment to say to yourself, What is my breathing like? Let me bring awareness to my breathing, feeling my navel rise and fall, while I am also bringing attention to my child. Can I hold the feeling of inner peace while experiencing that a part of my attention is also being directed externally? Parents are the best multitaskers around. You can do this!
  16. Be aware of the phases of the moon, taking just one moment each night to see the moon in the night sky. Remembering the phase from the night before, see if you can imagine the current moon phase in your mind’s eye prior to looking up. Offer a prayer, a blessing, or gratitude for her cooling light. Notice how you feel at each moon phase; look for patterns and take notes. Learn the last verse of Ratri Suktum (p. 188).

SELF-INQUIRY
  1. Recall a time when you directed all of your will to one thing. What was it? How did it feel? How did it change you? How can you tap into that force of will within you to commit to reframing your practice to a twenty-four-hour Householder’s Flow?
  2. What do you have faith in? How can this help to shape and support your practice?
  3. Is there someone in your household you can ask for support so you can take 3 minutes a few times during the day to do mini practices?
  4. How are you careless or forgetful? When do you “check out”? Can you bring more presence and purpose into your daily activities?


NOTES
1. Groden, “How Many Americans Sleep with Their Smartphones,” Fortune.
2. Easwaran, Upanishads, second ed., p. 6.
3. Devi, Secret Power of Yoga, p. 279, Kindle.
4. Northrup, Do Less, p. 155.
5. Tigunait, The Practice of the Yoga Sutra, p. 174. 




TRACEE STANLEY
is a noted and lineaged teacher of yoga nidra, meditation, and self-inquiry. Her practices are inspired by the tradition of Himalayan Masters and Sri Vidya Tantra, into which she was initiated in 2001. She is co-founder of the Empowered Wisdom Yoga Nidra School and created the Empowered Life Self-Inquiry Oracle Deck. Tracee travels internationally leading retreats, teacher training, and presenting at festivals and conferences including Oprah and Gayle’s Girls Get Away. She has online classes available at Commune, Yoga Journal, Unplug Meditation, Pranamaya, and Wanderlust TV. For more information, please visit www.traceeyoga.com.

Tracee Stanley will be presenting at Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Editor of Accessible Yoga Blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
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Monday, June 28, 2021

Update About Accessible Yoga's Blog

Silhouette of person's hands forming heart, 
Photo by Gala Mayur

Accessible Yoga's blog will be taking a break in posting articles the first week of July while I take a vacation.

An important piece of news for subscribers:

Starting July 1, you will need to sign up 
here to continue receiving blog posts in your email box---the free subscription program we've been using is no longer available to us.

While I'm on a break you can look at old posts from the blog that you might have missed by clicking 
here or going to: https://accessibleyoga.blogspot.com

See you soon!

----Priya, Editor

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Toward a Queer Yoga

Gay Pride flag, updated design by Daniel Quasar

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book:
Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage and Compassion
2021 Shambhala Publications, Inc.

by Jivana Heyman



We each have a different role to play in creating an equitable and just world. The challenge is getting clear about our role, and standing shoulder to shoulder with others who are doing their own work. In this way, we are working separately, but together, toward liberation. This brings to mind the image of the rainbow, the symbol of the queer community, which I feel so blessed to be a part of. Our community is constantly teaching the world how to embrace differences, how to love, and how to be human on a spectrum of gender. My personal struggles as a cisgender queer white middle-aged Jewish man have been mild compared to what so many queer people endure for living their truth. Some are emotionally and physically tortured and even killed.

Gay sex was illegal in the United States when I came out of the closet in 1984 and, shockingly, it’s still illegal in many countries and punishable by death in eleven countries.[i] In the United States, there are major inequities within the queer community. In particular, trans women of color have an incredibly high murder rate that goes mostly unnoticed and unchecked by society.[ii] Trans women of color started the modern gay rights movement and are often on the cutting edge of social change, yet they don’t often benefit from these movements because of systemic racism and transphobia.[iii] The Stonewall riots, which were the spark that led to the modern gay rights movement, were led by Marsha P. Johnson and other trans women of color.[iv]

Stonewall is a good example of rioting, and protest in general, as a force for positive change. The queer community had been oppressed for so long and denied basic human rights. Stonewall was an opportunity to speak up against an oppressive system that kept us as not only second-class citizens, but complete outcasts. Similarly, I’ve seen some confusion within the yoga community about the ethics of protesting during the Black Lives Matter movement, and I think the issue is one of basic human rights. If the system that you’re living in doesn’t respect your basic human rights, then protesting that system is ethical. In other words, supporting oppressive systems is unethical, and it’s our job as yoga practitioners to speak up against suffering wherever we see it. That’s the heart of ahimsa, non-harm.

I bow to the queer leaders who are out there on the edge being themselves and challenging norms. I bow to our siblings lost to AIDS and celebrate the fact that as outsiders we can shine a bright beam of light on culture in a way that forces all of us to not look away. Although I feel protective of the queer community, I also know there is so much that we can teach the world. A queer sensibility is so often at the forefront of cultural transformation and renewal. The renewal I’m seeking is an embodied spirituality that catalyzes concrete change. I pray that this book helps lead to a small shift in our shared consciousness toward a place of acceptance, openness, and positive action.

I’m hoping to share the gift of the challenges I’ve faced. My experience as a queer person has made me stronger, and more capable of love and compassion—because I know what it’s like to not be loved and to not receive compassion. This is the hidden power of the oppressed: the ability to free ourselves and others. We’ve seen this time and time again through-out history: Black trans women leading the gay rights movement, Black people showing us what justice actually looks like through Black Lives Matter. According to Paulo Freire, in his groundbreaking work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.[v]

With this I mind, I hope to highlight the gifts of our shared suffering and consider how we can use that suffering to free ourselves and others. With this possibility in mind, I shine a light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, but this isn’t Mr. Iyengar’s light on the Sutras. This is a queer rainbow of sparkling light shining from the twenty-first century. What I see in the Sutras is a pathway for personal liberation that emphasizes a loving, engaged, and extremely discerning mind. This is different from the traditional story we hear in the Sutras that feels more like the sad tale of a lonely soul searching for its own absolution.

I also bow to the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, the song of God, and listen to the story of Arjuna, a person torn apart by the challenges of life. The Gita shows us how to transform our contemplative practice into action through service—action born from love. Krishna teaches us how our practice makes the mind clear so that we know how to act for the highest good. This is what the Gita calls “skill in action,” the ultimate goal of yoga. This is also the title of the groundbreaking book by Michelle Cassandra Johnson,[vi] who approaches the idea of applying these ancient teachings to address the contemporary issue of racism and white supremacy. She explains:

I do not see my practice of yoga as separate from the work I do to create a just world. They are one and the same to me. The way I practice and what I choose to center as the practice of yoga is focused on how we create a just world. Yoga is about selfless service, devotion, and knowledge. These paths are important keys to us realizing a world in which we all can be free. My practice of meditation and movement as well as the study of the Bhagavad Gita provide emotional and spiritual sustenance to me. This nourishment from spiritual practice allows me to fully see with clarity the ways in which injustice persists on our planet. Being spiritually fed pushes me to strive to do everything I do in my practice off of my cushion or mat in service to the collective good and our liberation.

[i] Human Dignity Trust website, “Map of Countries That Criminalize LGBT People,” www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/).
[ii] Madeleine Carlisle, “Two Black Trans Women Were Killed in the U.S. in the Past Week as Trump Revokes Discrimination Protections for Trans People,” Time, June 13, 2020.
[iii] Isabella Grullon Paz and Maggie Astor, “Black Trans Women Seek More Space in the Movement They Helped Start,” New York Times, June 27, 2020.
[iv] David Oliver and Rasha Ali, “Why We Owe Pride to Black Transgender Women Who Threw Bricks at Cops,” USA Today, June 24, 2019.
[v] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Penguin Classics, 1993), 18.
[vi] Johnson, Michelle Cassandra, Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World (self-published 2017).

You can pre-order Yoga Revolution here.

Jivana Heyman
, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of the Accessible Yoga Association, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Forums, and a popular Ambassador program. He’s the co-founder of the Accessible Yoga Training School, and the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications), as well as the forthcoming book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Nov. 2021). More info at jivanaheyman.com


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
° REGISTER here for our next conference.
° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

What To Do When You Cause Harm

Woman in pink sweater on grey couch
Photo by Renee' Thompson
by Jasmine Allen



Yoga classes are meant to be spaces where people are able to deepen the connection between their mind, body, and spirit. Unfortunately, not all yoga classes are safe spaces. Teachers and students impact the experience of others and have the power to cause harm with their words, actions, and inaction. Using offensive language, touching without consent, not being trauma-informed, and not being accessible are some of the ways harm is caused in yoga spaces. We live in a world where we are all impacted by systems of oppression whether we are the ones being oppressed or the ones benefiting from the oppression. We internalize beliefs about “others” and it impacts the way we think and behave. Whether harm is caused intentionally or unintentionally, providing a repair is essential in creating spaces that are truly inclusive and accessible. Fortunately, repair is possible and an important part of relationship building and healing.

Here are five suggestions for ways to make a relational repair once you’ve caused harm.

1. Take accountability and apologize

For people in oppressed groups, their oppression and experiences are often undermined, dismissed, or flat out ignored. If someone lets you know that they were offended, triggered, or hurt by something you said or did, the worst thing you can do is get defensive and try to argue against their experience. When someone has been offended, triggered, or harmed they don’t feel safe with you in that moment. They have fallen out of attunement with you. In order for them to be able to safely reengage, there must be a repair. Ironically, a common reaction when someone is informed that they have caused harm is to get defensive. They say things like, “No one else ever reacts like that when I say that.” “I have gay friends. I can’t be homophobic.” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” As trauma expert, Dr. Bruce Perry says, “Well, the issue isn’t your bones. It’s your brain.” Becoming defensive does not help us unlearn dangerous beliefs or help others feel safe in our presence. Arguing against someone’s feelings when you’ve caused them harm is essentially telling them, “What you are feeling is wrong!” A better alternative is to take accountability and apologize.

Understand that your intention is not what is important at that moment. What is absolutely paramount is that, like it or not, you have caused harm. The practice of ahimsa in yoga does not just mean the absence of harm but actively working against causing harm. So when someone brings it to your attention that you have caused harm, take accountability for it and apologize. Lastly, remember that an effective apology never has the word “if” in it.

2. Extend gratitude

Finding out that you have offended or harmed someone is not easy but it’s also not easy for the person letting you know that what you did was hurtful. It takes a lot of courage to tell someone that they’re being harmful, especially when you are the one being harmed. Thank the person for informing you that what you’ve done or said was wrong. They have shared with you a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. Know that it is not on the oppressed to educate the privileged. If the way you offended them was news to you, it’s probably because you sit in a place of privilege where you don’t have to be informed in order to survive. Even if the information is coming from someone who sits in a place of privilege like you but just has done the work to educate themselves to be an ally, thank them for letting you know what you’ve done so you can grow too.

3. Share your plan for changed behavior

While an apology is a great first step and is often necessary to even keep the conversation going, it’s not enough on its own. An apology means nothing without changed behavior. As stated before, being informed that what you did was offensive or harmful is an opportunity. Use this opportunity to share how you plan on changing your behavior. Perhaps, you’re never going to use that term again. Maybe you know what else you can do or say instead. Maybe you don’t know what to do but plan on getting more information so that it won’t happen again. Whatever it is, let them know your plan to move forward and do better. Remember that the burden to create that change is on the people in positions of privilege, which in this case would be you.

4. Find the appropriate space for your feelings

As humans, our nature isn’t to cause others harm and when we do, it can trigger feelings of shame, fear, sadness, or embarrassment and of course activate our own stress response. You are not expected to negate those feelings but placing the responsibility of processing those feelings on the person/people you offended is unfair and unproductive. Too often when someone has offended someone else, they are overcome with guilt and begin expressing themselves so much that the person they offended feels inclined to comfort them. Know that it’s okay to step away or step back after you have acknowledged your wrongdoing and apologized, and share your plan to change your behavior. Find a space and time to process how you are feeling. Consider speaking to a therapist who is well versed on the topic or someone within your group of privilege who has done the work to become an ally to the group that you offended or harmed. If you don’t have someone in your network like that, start to do some research and expand your circle. There are groups of people actively working to unlearn negative beliefs about “others.”

I’ve created an example repair that combines steps one through four.

"I am so sorry for my choice of words (or actions). It was inappropriate and thoughtless. I apologize for causing you pain and disrupting this space. Thank you for letting me know that what I did was wrong. I recognize that you didn’t have to do that and I appreciate you for enlightening me so that I can be better. Moving forward, I will never use that language again because I understand that it is offensive and harmful. I am going to do some work to educate myself so that I can fully understand the history behind it and its impact today. I’m really embarrassed by this whole situation so I’m going to take some time to be silent but I will continue to listen if anyone has anything they’d like to share.”

Depending on the context, you will need to make tweaks and every repair does not have to look exactly like this. The point is taking accountability, apologizing, extending gratitude, and committing to rectification.

5. Do the work to educate yourself

Finally, be intentional about getting informed and making better choices. Take this experience and give it meaning. Let it be the moment that you started investing in learning about the experiences of others who don’t look like you or have access to resources in the way you do. Become proactive about learning what real change looks like. Be intentional about where you are spending your dollars and attention. Oftentimes, when people set out to do this work of acknowledging their privilege they will only tolerate it coming from certain people. Are you only willing to listen to conversations about race when it’s coming from Jada Pinkett-Smith on the Red Table or do you give that same level of reverence to your neighbors or a stranger at the store? Do you only care about body positivity when you see Jessamyn Stanley on the cover of Yoga Journal or do you think about the ways you internalize fatphobia even in your view of your own body? Remember that people are not a monolith and there are often nuanced perspectives and complicated histories to understand.

Fortunately, there are many experts doing work to help educate people in privilege. Be intentional about researching experts and investing in their work. There are books, websites, workshops, articles, and research available at your disposal. Use your privilege to get access to information that will help you become an ally and truly practice ahimsa. By taking accountability, extending gratitude, sharing a plan for better action, finding an appropriate space for your feelings, and taking intentional steps we can create the environment for authentic healing and restoration.



Jasmine Allen
is a trauma-informed yoga instructor and trainer, writer, and business owner. She teaches hundreds of students virtually three times a week in her yoga program, Abundance with Jasmine Allen and sells cork yoga mats and props through her online boutique, With Jasmine Allen. She provides trauma-informed trainings and workshops for businesses, organizations, small groups, and individuals. Her articles on trauma-informed yoga have been featured in Yoga International and XONecole. Jasmine holds a 200hr yoga teacher certification and 40hr trauma-informed yoga teacher certification from Yogaworks. Jasmine is also trained in accessible yoga. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Temple University and Master's Degree in Education Policy from Columbia University.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

We’re All Addicted to Something

Blurry double image half blue, half red of man looking down

Elaine Jackson


Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution. — Russell Brand

A sweet friend of mine recently lost his mother to lung cancer. We were talking one day about how his grief was playing out, and he described being angry that she had been a heavy smoker despite knowing all the risks and potential outcomes of the behavior. He said something like this: “I can’t believe her addiction was more powerful than her brain.” In response I asked him to give me his cellphone for the day. You can guess what his reply was.

In short, we’re all addicted to something, and the part of the brain that controls judgment is simply not as powerful as the lizard brain that wants what it wants.

In recent years, with advances in brain-imaging technology, and with the internet allowing research to become public knowledge faster than it used to, we’ve learned a lot about addiction. We’ve discovered that temperament plays a role, and that children who have difficulty with delayed gratification at the age of five have a higher likelihood of suffering from addiction later in life. We’ve learned that children can learn to delay gratification with a little help from caring adults. Also, we’ve discovered physiological differences from person to person that directly affect how prone we are to become addicted to substances. Finally, we’ve awakened to the idea that the fundamental cause of addiction is pain—not lack of willpower.
The pain could be physical, emotional, or even existential; for example, being unemployed or on the receiving end of discrimination or prejudice.

In yoga psychology, we examine the spaces between having a sensation in the body, developing a feeling about it (I like this, I hate this), and taking action. An addiction works something like this: It’s dreary and damp outside, I feel tired and depressed, I don’t like the feeling, so I go get myself a piece of chocolate from the leftover Halloween stash. The chocolate gives me a way to feel something I like better. Myriad things achieve the same end—caffeine, nicotine, potato chips, Facebook, TV, wine—basically anything I find pleasurable. In moderation, none of these things are a problem. If we turn to them habitually and compulsively, however, and if we lose our ability to moderate, all can be damaging to our well-being.

The way we treat addicts, unfortunately, is usually based in judgment and intellectual ideals as opposed to a sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the problem. Historically we’ve treated addicts as losers who lack self-discipline. We’ve denied them the benefit of sympathy or curiosity. It’s easier not to regard their suffering if we think about them as “less than” or “inferior” to the rest of us. This is not to deny the fact that people with addictions can cause terrible pain and suffering to the people who love them, but rather to say that addiction is complex, and that we’re all affected by it.

Our whole culture is addicted to consuming at rates higher than at any other time in human history. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, since the 1970's we have been “over-shooting” the natural resources the Earth can sustainably regenerate. The amounts of water, soil, minerals, fish, trees, and fuels we consume have been growing at alarming rates and are leading to deforestation, extinctions, loss of biodiversity, pollution, and climate change. “Earth Overshoot Day,” the date each year that marks us taking more than Nature can regenerate, fell on July 29, 2019, the earliest date since these metrics have been collected. We are “consuming” ourselves to extinction.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with diversion or enjoying the finer things in life—as long as it feels like a choice. The hope is that as we practice more, we develop better awareness of what is driving us, the cheese balls and cocktails become less tempting, and we can consciously decide between self-restraint or indulging in life’s little pleasures.

Practice & Reflect

Journal:
  • What are you addicted to? When are those addictions most likely to show up? When you’re alone? With others?
  • Are you addicted to something that you haven’t previously thought of as an addiction? Horoscopes? Newsfeeds? Instagram?
  • How do you feel about others who have addictions? Choose three descriptive words.
  • How do you feel about your own addictions? Choose three descriptive words.
Excerpt from Enough Already, Elaine Jackson. Apple Books.

Elaine Jackson
began working in healthcare as a teenager and was a licensed Occupational Therapist for 29 years. She completed her 775-hour yoga teacher training (Scaravelli Method) in 2003-2004 at Esther Myers Yoga in Toronto. She has been teaching and learning about yoga ever since. In November 2020 she published Enough Already: 7 Yoga-Inspired Steps Toward Calm Amid Chaos. She can be found online at www.jacksonyoga.ca or about ten minutes by car outside of the rural village of Mount Albert, Ontario.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

° REGISTER here for our next conference.

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.