Decolonising Yoga

I share what I can in this lifetime with lived and professional experience. I can say that in my understanding, Yoga is a truth that is beyond this world, yet prepares us to be in this world. Yoga does not describe social justice harms or processes. For that I bow down to, Black feminism, liberation psychologists and our radical thinkers and activists. Yet Yoga traditions do illuminate universal ethics, ethics that have moved communities to mobilise in social action. 

So do we decolonise yoga per se? No, rather we decolonise ourselves so that we can critically understand and be conscious of our relationship with yoga.  What do we understand yoga to be? How do we use yoga and who do we share it with?

Yoga has traditionally been found and known in radical spaces away from the ordinary yet touching into the everyday. The indescribable described through story, song, poetry, sacred text,  intimate dialogue, felt in moments of awe, breath, humility and devotion.

In my efforts to educate on the legacy of coloniality or cultural appropriation, I do not promote essentialism, identity politics or seek to severe anyone's relationship with yoga.  My wish is to deepen our critical consciousness, to open our eyes and see what we were not socialised to see. To open our hearts and feel beyond our conditioning.

There is no standard way to decolonise yoga, it depends on you. 

Do you understand how historically produced inequalities continue to shape our society? How it impacts us personally and in our professional lives? 

We face fierce commodification, white washing and ethno-nationalist erasure in Yoga.

The way that we approach justice issues and respond to them depends on what we know about the violence and harm of the past. We can account for the appropriation, loot , plunder, epistemicide, dispossession and gender violence in our lifetimes. We are not talking about the Roman empire or the Persian empire,  this trauma impacted our grandparents and parents, it is recent and inter-generational. 

Key features of a decolonised Yoga

The Sattva Gaia approach 

Somatic resonance: how might we teach with an embodied, relational attunement, to be in true service to another and to create safer, non judgemental spaces, This involves meeting people where they are at, validating them, hearing their dilemmas and respectfully entering into their hearts.

Conscious positionality: how does it help to understand one’s own bias and social cultural reference point. There is a virtue and truth that comes from acting in alignment with one’s social power and considering the impact it has on our decisions and actions.

Power with, rather than power over : how can we use our authority (as a guide, facilitator and wise counsel) to hold and create liminal space (free and protected) without interfering, rescuing or controlling.

Agency: how could we support agency through slowing down and choice as well as being with states of not knowing. Can we give freedom to express vulnerability, grief or anger and make space for people’s real experiences, emotions and complexity.

Invitation: how might we foster an invitational and non judgemental environment for body soul healing wisdom to come forth. How might we create the circumstances for Atman to wake up within the internal pranic system.

Enrichment: Yoga has been watered down to the point where  asanas  replicate a gymnastic or ballet aesthetic form.  How can we reclaim the depth and sophistication of yoga in the face of colonial & fundamentalist epistemicide?

The Pluriversality of Yoga traditions: one truth, many centres

To those teaching yoga or learning about yoga, do you know about the history of sufi yogis or yogi sufis in India? The legacy of coloniality gives us an impression that Hindus and Muslims are distinct and divided. In fact Hinduism as a heterogeneous system of practices and traditions, in particular the non brahmin, vernacular elements have a long standing interaction and synthesis with Islamic sufi traditions, of over 1000 years.

The vast majority of Indian Muslims are indigenous, have suffered caste oppression and were denied access to Sanskrit. What evolved from this interface was a yogic-spiritual tradition of the ground, carried through poetry and devotional songs, using local languages and practices. As you can expect what is left to record this remains only through formalised or patriarchal texts but I sit and wonder and imagine what happened at shrines, between communities and healers/ ascetics.

Sadly these traditions are being erased by modernity, globalisation, current day fundamentalism (both sides) and the nationalist agenda of the current Indian government.  Today, I re imagine a way to revive what was meaningful about the past as a way to practice liberation for today. Here is snippet of a sufi yogic meditation: the wisdom of turning pain into strength, an alchemy of personal transformation. The poetry on the picture below is from Shah abdul Latif from Sind.