On Yoga and White Public Spaces

This article “On Yoga and White Public Spaces” starts out with a quote by Sara Ahmed stating, “To name the problem is to become the problem.”  The quote accurately depicts the challenges faced by nonwhite people when attempting to engage in culturally sensitive issues.  The art of yoga derived from the Sanskrit word yuj translates as a spiritual practice to train both the individual mind and body to become self-observant and self-aware of ones nature by cultivating discernment, self-regulation, self-awareness, and higher consciousness.  For a fellow member of the studio, who is identified as a White woman to accuse a nonwhite member of attacking her because she spoke up about the woman saying Namastay Together instead of the customary Namaste!  For some, this may be viewed as a small slight nothing worth mentioning; however, in a space of higher spiritual practices one would desire an opportunity to bind emotionally.  To read the complete essay, click here.

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One Comment on “On Yoga and White Public Spaces

  1. I read this and reread it and decided to climb out on a limb.

    I agree that the owner of the studio was very very wrong. A white client made a lighthearted remark, using a racially charged word, that offended the Indian client, and when the Indian client earnestly tried to explain why it was offensive, the white client was taken aback, as in “white fragility,” She complained to the owner of the studio that she felt “attacked” even though the two had hugged after the discussion. The studio owner overreacted and barred the Indian woman from the studio.

    This account has multiple themes and levels of meaning but I want to make an entirely different point — about how to approach someone who has made a racist remark. Is it always the best tactic to immediately correct the person, to say something right away? Or might it be better, on at least some occasions, to offer “I have some concerns about that and I would like to discuss that with you – could we meet after (the class, the concert, the meeting).”

    If our purpose is to effect change, a strategic approach is likely to be more effective. The “fragile” white person who has NO idea she has done anything wrong is going to feel attacked. Attacked people close up. Do we want to “win” or do we want to change hearts? I suggest that advance notice — a “umm…maybe you didn’t realize that what you said is a problem for me, but it is, can we talk” — sets the stage for a useful dialogue later.

    That this controversy takes place in a yoga studio is particularly fraught. Yoga classes — at least the yoga I know — strive for a devotional state of “calm.” If this studio owner feared that a heated discussion in the studio would challenge calm, he was paranoid. Sufficiently paranoid to act badly in order to maintain his desired level of serenity.

    Takeaway — As a white person, what I say applies to everybody — black, brown, or white. If we really want to educate someone about the consequences of racism, let’s do it strategically.

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