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Examining Power & Privilege In Yoga

Sep. 17th, 2012

Kim Katrin Milan

on 3 December 2018

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Transcript of Examining Power & Privilege In Yoga

Systems of Advantage
include discrimination, stereotypes, prejudice but most importantly, the power and the privilege required to maintain, perpetuate and establish itself through force and definition and domination.
Systems Of Advantage vs.
Imperialism & Cultural Appropriation
"The system isn't broken, it was built that way."
These are the social and political constructions that define social location and these systems are the foundation upon which our economy is based on. As it determines who gets what and in what quantity. They serve a very clear purpose and they are always intentional.
is an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotypes. Virtually everyone feels some sort of prejudice, whether it’s for an ethnic group, or for a religious group, or for a type of person like blondes or large people. The important thing is they just don’t like them — in short, prejudice is a feeling, a belief. You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you’re careful not to act on your irrational dislikes.

takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice. This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation. Or even because of their looks (there’s a lot of hiring discrimination against “unattractive” women, for example). You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you’re in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against. White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people.

Terms & Definitions
Systems of Advantage
Privilege & Power
Illuminating Examples
Community Based Responses
are generalizations about a group of people whereby we attribute a defined set of characteristics to this group

is a racial identity created by upper class colonialists to distinguish themselves from indentured servants and slaves created in the 16th century. A guarantee against being enslaved & a strategy to secure wealth & domination.

is the violent taking of land, wealth and labour of indigineous peoples through domination & conquest leading to their extermination in some cases & Trans-Atlantic slave trade which created a underclass based on race and gender that persists today. It includes the creation of borders and nation states.

combine social power, institutional power (policies & practices), cultural messages, and individual actions.

I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
White Privilege
Cis Male Privilege (MAAB)
If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.

My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.
Heterosexual Privilege
I can be pretty sure that my roommates, hall-mates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.
If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
Key Definitions:
White Saviour Industrial Complex








I have noticed that whenever you have soldiers in the story it is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history.

Paula Gunn Allen, Native American writer
Source: thedailyconservative
Native American and Xican@ students protest the 500th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas.
"Not being racist is not some default starting position. You don’t simply get to say you’re not a racist; not being racist — or ableist or a homophobe — it is a constant, arduous process of unlearning, of being uncomfortable, of eating crow and being humbled and re-evaluating."- PostBourgie

The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.
Anger Does Not Equal Hate
Another’s experience does not invalidate your own, but it should and necessarily does complicate your own.
Privilege happens at the expense of others.
Treat others the way that they want to be treated. Ask.
Imagine that your allyship card expires at the end of the day.
It is no one’s responsibility to educate you but your own.
Listen. Learn. Practice. Repeat.
Acknowledge Privilege. Dissolve Guilt.
Take up less space. Fall back.
Collect your folks.
Never deprive someone of their agency.
Center. Listen. Acknowledge. Inquire. Move towards resolution. (CLAIM)
Strategies For Solidarity
"to remain exempt from perpetuating social inequity"
(cc) photo by medhead on Flickr
Charity is not the answer.
Overexploited vs. Underdeveloped
“The notion of productivity is rooted in capitalist (and, it follows, ableist) ideas about an individual’s value. It is important that we be “productive”, not only when we are at work, but at all times.
(white) privilege doesn't only mean social mobility or status attainment, it can also mean freedom against being subject to racially motivated hate crimes, and being constantly perceived as the "other". You were born, belonging. Racialized groups were born having to prove themselves good enough, "act white" enough, to be heard and participate in western society. - Mona Zarif
“I think the problem is that many people in America think that racism is an attitude. And this is encouraged by the capitalist system. So they think that what people think is what makes them a racist. Racism is not an attitude.
If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.
— Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) answering a question about racism, sexism, and capitalism.
“If the state doesn’t recognize its indigenous people, don’t be surprised if there are people who do not acknowledge the existence of the state”
— Ridwan Djanun
We are a community not a cult. We don't have to agree on everything.
According to Kemetic teachings, ancient Egypt (then called Kemet), had a notably developed system and understanding of yoga. Wall drawings depicted figures in yoga positions and ancient Kemetic texts contain the principles and techniques of physical and spiritual excellence that are the basis of yoga. Yoga is also a practice that is indigenous to India.
Racism & Cultural Appropriation
A portrait

Let me give you a few examples of how all this plays out in holistic health care:

The power dynamic is off and clients/co-healers of color or queer clients/co-healers are infantalized or the healer takes on a paternalistic role.
Consultations with healers may feel unsafe because of paternalism or assumptions based on racism/homophobia/sexism/ableism,etc.
Healers reach out to a certain demographic over another because of racial biases and assumptions.
Perhaps they think that a certain community isn’t interested in being healthy or in holistic health because of these assumptions.
Failure to work with folks who are low income because they “won’t” follow a treatment plan or can’t show up on time (usually this is due to them working multiple jobs and trying to support a family)
She is a yoga instructor and counsellor for paralytic patients at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre
She is a yoga instructor and peer counsellor for paralytic patients at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) in Vasant Kunj.
She also teaches yoga as well as meditation to other able-bodied people. But what sets 26-year-old Pragya Ghildial apart is that she does all of this sitting in her wheelchair.
Founded in 2008 by Peninah Nthenya Musyimi, Safe Spaces is a project run for and by adolescent girls and young women in the Eastland slums of Nairobi, Kenya. The program office is located in the slums and performs outreach to over 500 girls in the community. It offers female youth a safe space for learning and helps facilitate discussion around the unique challenges they face as they grow through adolescence into womanhood. Through basketball, yoga, dance, theatre and a variety of training session, the program helps build leadership skills and confidence amongst young girls and women living in vulnerable conditions.
Safe Spaces Kenya
“Wearing a bindi is cultural appropriation 'cause I’ve been called a ‘dot Indian’ way too many times now. An Indian with a bindi, or with flowers in her hair, or henna, or Indian clothes on, immediately gets called out for being ‘unprofessional’ or a ‘FOB’ or in some such way, less adequate. When white people choose to claim it, it suddenly becomes the ‘right’ thing to do. In short: it’s inappropriate for you, a white person, to wear a bindi as long as you and your race continue to treat me as less than human for wearing one myself.”
Just because a fat girl is exercising does not mean she is trying to lose weight. Just because a fat girl orders a salad does not mean she is on a diet. And just because a fat girl is fat does NOT mean she is unhealthy.
Who is in your class?
The lady selling the pupusas, tamales, tacos in the corner WITHOUT fucking permits, maybe without fucking papers are THE REAL FUCKING REVOLUTIONARIES, FUCKING RADICAL ASS BEEZHIES.

We are hella DIY, some of our people don’t even need dishes cause they wrap their food with leaves. Some of our people don’t even need to buy dipers cause they use those 100% cotton panales to re-use and re-use. Some of our mamas used reusable fucking pads before being an eco-feminist was “in”.
D.I.Y & LOCALLY MADE FOOD: What the hipsters din’t tell you
Source: lalobalocaart
Asma Azim, a step-grandmother from Pakistan, has been a manager of mechanics and a truck driver for more than a dozen years. She said her male contemporaries treat her with respect – especially when they discover she can repair her own engine.
Source: calstate.fullerton.edu
“From these examples we learn what tattooing meant for these women. They were seen as not only more beautiful, but also possessing emotional and physical fortitude to endure pain and hardship, including the pain of childbirth. A woman’s tattooing was an affirmation of her strength and inherent spiritual power, procreative endowment, and as a form of clothing, an enhancement of beauty and a proclamation of her status. Finally, the tattoos were a form of recognition that allowed the soul of a woman to pass into the afterlife and join the glorious chain of her ancestors.”

-Lane Wilcken, Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern
“And why is disability never included in discussions of natural beauty, when disability is natural? Why, when people describe ideals of natural beauty, are people with physical disabilities entirely left out?”
—Disability As Beauty – this ain’t livin’
"Yet at the same time, I have encountered people who have made attempts to acknowledge roots of Hinduism, but even that ends up becoming watered down. In a recent episode of Outsourced, Todd shows the employees a workplace relaxation video about yoga. In the beginning the woman starts spouting off nonsense about India, which is clearly untrue. Later on in the video, she says:

“Yoga is the greatest gift of these spiritual, magical people.”

Then Rajiv counters by saying “we’re Indians, not elves”
Apparently, a new behavioral marketing target product developed by Blinkx, a large video search engine, has broken people into 9 categories – including “Yoga Moms,” women who are concerned about the environment, kids, family, and health and fitness. This is how the product works:
The “Yoga Mom” has replaced the “Soccer Mom” as the stereotypical (and economically powerful) middle class suburban woman with a family.
In Sanskrit, “asana” means “sitting down” and refers to strong but relaxed postures in yoga–so presumably, Moskovitz and Rosenstein are trying to help frustrated workers achieve a digital form of nirvana.
Qui Dorian
Qui is a trainer, consultant and yoga teacher based into Philadelphia. In 2012, he graduated from Beyond Asana’s 200-hour teacher training and jumped right into teaching by volunteering services at various organizations serving LGBTQ and HIV+ people. He used his vast experience with LGBTQ advocacy and group facilitation to create and hold space for folks whose identities are often not reflected in the average yoga class. Qui considers yoga a part of his work and home life and self-identifies as both a yoga dork and the target audience for cheesy family television.
I want to Google “yoga” and see beautiful brown faces, queer bodies, masculine surrender and awareness in any and every size and shape.
So what happens
when you google 'yoga'?
'Indian Yoga'
Culture is an holistic system of values, symbols, stories, narratives, norms, practices, skills, processes, ideas, models, meanings... All of these things are parts of a system. They don't make sense without the other parts of the system. They are integrated at broad, abstract and impersonal levels -- like within religious institutions, rituals and in religious texts -- but they're also integrated at the practical level of people's lives.
Religious and spiritual ideas and symbols are part of entire systems, and they can't be completely understood outside those systems.
It seems like a lot of neo-Pagans and New Age mystics believe otherwise, that they can understand and appropriate anything from outside their own system of understanding, and that it'll fit seamlessly into their own practice. I don't think that can happen without a great deal of "trimming off" of unwanted aspects of something.
Examining Power & Privilege In Yoga
Corporatization Of Yoga
Healing & Decolonizing Responses
Tourism & Cultural Colonization
A few years ago, on a pagan forum, there was an intense debate about this issue between a group of white North American and European suburbanite pagans and a Maori woman. The Maori woman was on the side of limiting appropriation, but made an argument that I remember very clearly: she said that the boundaries between cultures don't have to be rigid and exclusive, but they also shouldn't be totally open. She talked about how, in Maori culture, the way to integrate outsiders was to get to know them. To form relationships, friendships, families with the Pakeha, and to include them in the culture by preserving the ways that knowledge is passed on, which maintains cultural power.
South Asian is a political term of solidarity.
'India' as a bordered state is a colonial creation.
'Indian-ness and/or 'South Asian-ness' is a varying experience.
Do you know why you are saying this?
Do you have a connection or a relationship to it?

"Aum Namah Shivaya"

What is sacred to you?
How do you treat things that are sacred to other people?
Roopa Singh
"Love Yoga, Hate South Asians," excerpt from an article I wrote.

"Love yoga, but hate South Asians; we cannot run from the extent to which this is the moment in time we are in as Americans. We practice asanas and launch drones into Pakistan. We fuel a high end yoga fashion industry, loving our Lululemon, and supporting the exponential continuation of Triangle Factory style disasters in Bangladesh. We love the one Indian doctor on our fav hospital show, while hate crimes and shootings continue on Hindu temples, Patel Brothers grocery stores and South Asian cab drivers. We idolize spiritual South Asians like Deepak Chopra but effectively weed out all but the most right wing South Asian elected officials. But the science of yoga was created with balance in mind, to help humans be unswayed by tides of these types of extremes, balanced in the fray of life."
But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with "kid-friendly" descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.
However, the plaintiffs' expert, professor of religious studies Candy Gunther Brown, testified that yoga practice indoctrinates Hindu religious practices whether the individual knows it or not.
Dr Brown cited research suggesting yoga practice changes the user's brain and thoughts, a sort of gateway drug to the occult, Meyer said.
Because Western culture tends to promote yoga as a physical practice and misappropriates its historical connections to African and Asian culture, these sacred stories, mythologies and philosophies are being erased at an alarming pace. Today, western civilization continues to misrepresent and misappropriate the true meaning of this sacred cultural art and its critical philosophical teachings. Yoga studios no longer provide a safe space for people from all communities. Instead, they mostly cater to privileged communities in their tendencies to idolize petite, flexible white women as true yoginis. Such a tendency leaves folks who do not fit the “ideal” yogi(ni) look feeling uncomfortable in their own skin and bodies upon entering yoga studios. Ironically, identification with the body and mind is exactly what yoga ought to be liberating us from. People of color, queer folks and folks who are overweight and from oppressed communities no longer feel like they can access this liberating practice.
“How do you teach a seven-year-old the difference between institutionalized ignorance, racism, bigotry, class arrogance, and the individual white people, breeds, and mixed-bloods that make up his family? How do you teach a child the word genocide and still give him reason to love beyond his front door?”
— Cherrie Moraga
Full transcript