Sins of the Fathers

 

When I sit down to write a blog post about yoga, my practice, and what it has meant to me, I hesitate. It seems ideal and trendy and useful. But I haven’t managed to do it, even though I’ve planned to for over a year now. 

Part of the reason I avoid writing about yoga, I think, is that I have had far more transcendental experience in my practice of Christian mysticism. Yoga offers me undeniable physical benefits that I have come to rely on and am utterly grateful for, but being the authentic-to-a-flaw person I am, I refuse to fabricate tales of enlightenment via Indian mantras and fables (although I have caught myself envying these sorts of experiences as if they may validate my white lady yoga practice). I know there is something else at play. I struggle to put my finger on it. 

I passed the 200hr (a sort of entry-level yoga teacher certification) course in May 2018, and have taught 1-5 classes per week since then. That’s a level of dedication I am proud of, yet I feel like a bit of an imposter when I teach yoga. Sure, I was trained. But these are ancient spiritual practices linked to ancient Indian texts like the Bhagavad Gita & the Vedas that I haven’t even made it through yet. I read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, but I’ve never set foot in India, the land where it originated! (I’ve never set foot in the Middle East, either, but I have read the Bible cover-to-cover several times!) Plus, I’m white. I’m female. So many yoga teachers in the U.S.A. and a disproportionate number of yoga teachers in the city where I live are white women. Are we pimping someone else’s genius again? Are we continuing the economy of white gain at the expense of people of color? All that to say, writing about yoga, capitalizing on this ancient system of stretches, postures, meditations, and breathing exercises that I have barely scratched the surface of, makes me uncomfortable.

I wrestle with the history of my people, the white race, on a daily basis. (Most of my family members would be appalled to hear me say that.) People every day defend white privilege and white pride, despite the statistics that prove the systemic discrimination that exists against people of color (specifically in the U.S.A.). Unfortunately, it has become a truly divisive issue.

India was colonized by the British–white folks at the time–who immediately implemented systems of taxation on the Indian people. Whether or not my lineage tracks back to those colonizers, heritage is heritage. My ancestors crossed the Atlantic from Europe. And their skin was white, as is mine.

I hadn’t been able to reconcile this feeling until I stumbled upon a quote in Barack Obama’s book Dreams From my Father. In the book, Barack is on a Kenyan safari with several people, among whom is an older white doctor who was raised on the continent of Africa and, at the time when his path crossed with Barack’s, lived in Kenya. He says, “Perhaps I can never call this place home…Sins of the father, you know. I’ve learned to accept that…I do love this place, though.” 

Maybe I am uncomfortable writing about yoga not only because I know so little in comparison to the great body of knowledge that exists, but also because of the sins of my fathers. Perhaps it is 100% right that I feel this discomfort. It results from a dark history, the flaws of my fathers. I can hold this uneasiness and still find life in my yoga practice, sharing it by teaching and writing. In fact, my privilege in studying and practicing yoga gives me the responsibility to share this with people who are unable to access it.

After all, my favorite yoga teachers are a handful of white women in Little Rock, a free-spirited African American named Jessamyn Stanley, and a slight Jewish woman with a big smile.

Despite our sins as white people, we are given gifts, invited to continue to participate in the story of humanity. There is great responsibility in this. Every breath and subtle movement in my practice is an offering back to the Universe, the human family.

Sins, saints, and saviors, we all exist on the same planet.

There is room in me for the pain and the practice. I take neither lightly.

Namaste.

 

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