doing yoga while mumbai burns

December 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

tonight i thought for hours about writing a piece about being a healer.  or how we create and share healing within community.  or something.  but i kept banging my head against the wall.  wondering what medicine could i give in a community?

i used to teach yoga one on one.  i loved teaching yoga.  guiding another human being to feel their body, their muscles, their bones, their breath, their energy more and more.

but for the past couple of years i have had some unfortunate encounters with folks who claim to love the practice of yoga, and yet seemed to be more concerned with the image of yoga than with the act.  yoga became distasteful to me.

one woman i know started to practice yoga a couple of years.  the first time i saw her after she had begun her practice she started exclaiming about all of the cool tricks she could now do.  and how what she did was ‘real’ yoga (ashtanga) and plus something called ‘hot’ yoga and how important the ‘core’ was.  she talked about how shallow her yoga community was, because everyone was in competition with everyone as to who could hold a position longer, but it seemed that what she was really complaining about was that she consistently ‘lost’ in the competition.  she later said that she had become disillusioned with the yoga community and yet when she spoke about yoga it was usually in the vein of competition, showing off, all of these external benefits that i really didnt care about.

to make matters worse, last spring i moved into to a mexican posada/ashram.  at first i thought that i had found a little oasis of yoga.  until they tried to kick me out of the room after we had a verbal agreement and i had already paid for the month.  until they threatened to call the cops on me if i didnt leave the posada in less than 5 hours because they wanted to rent my room to people who would pay more.  how do you threaten to call the cops on a mother with her young baby and then go into your meditation room and chant about peace and wisdom?

fucking yoga bullshit.

i wanted nothing to do with yoga.  it had become seared in my mind with the ‘skinny is healthier’, ‘check out my cool pose’, ‘you have negative energy’, ‘i am so spiritual because i chant/stretch/breathe really fast/ breathe really slow/wear a turban/ have a guru’–bullshit.

tonight i got down on the floor and started sun salutations.  it was the first yoga dance i learned more than a decade ago.  it still brings me back to myself.  i had forgotten the feel of my bones against my muscles against my heart against my breath.  i had forgotten how it looks doesnt matter.  just the pulling of the spine.  the tightness of the foot’s arch. the loosening of the fingertips.  i had forgotten that breathing in a certain rhythm doesnt matter. that the body coordinates itself as it needs to in that moment and i dont need to count how many i am doing or make sure that it is athletic enough or impressive.  its just me.

whoever the hottest yoga teacher there is right now doesnt matter.  they can be who they are.

i remembered that while i have major concerns about the cultural cooptation and commodification of yoga in the west.  and that i have seen alot of practices that look more like basic aerobics garbed in ‘exotic’ symbols and words.  that the violence of exoticism and cooptation is deep and horrific.  that this dark body says thank you to the bodies who practiced this dance for millenia that we can gather whatever is good and beautiful in order to continue healing ourselves.

in the background while i was dancing the salutation to the sun i was listening to democracy now’s discussion on the recent attacks in mumbai.  i brought the fires into my dance.  the fear.  the government’s obfuscation.  the callousness.  the media’s constant reiteration about the importance of u.s. and u.k. nationals who were targeted. all of the attacks on poor neighborhoods for the past decade in india that have not garnered this level of attention. the wealthy elite who were standing amidst rubble counting the dead and yes, probably, how they could increase the coins in their pockets in the aftermath.

so on a practical level tonight i remembered, regathered my lil yoga practice.  and thought that once again i can offer this bit of healing to the communities in which i am.

on a spiritual level, i realized that we heal in the midst of trauma and unremitting pain.  not on an oasis–not for long.  our souls heal even while they are being burned.  and now, i need to stop waiting for water before i can reclaim what is always mine.  this breath.

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