As a woman of color, I am keenly aware of how the intersection of my identities impacts and shapes my life and my role as a community organizer. And as a leader in my community, I understand that self-care is group care.
I started working in agriculture for a myriad of mostly unforeseen reasons and have left behind certain farmlands with lessons more powerful than any convictions I had ever held prior. It was there, on the grounds of cultivation, I had the revelation of just how powerful divine energies can be. I would often be overcome with guilt when volunteering out in the fields; how could I willingly engage in and enjoy so deeply the very activity my ancestors were enslaved to for generations?
I tried to justify the cognitive dissonance by thinking about the ways in which my work would positively impact black communities, but that was not enough. That I was able to feed and nurture my own body via the literal fruits of my labor was not enough either. The irony of the situation demanded enormous attention and finally after much contemplation & meditation, a new inquiry emerged: what if I were actually healing my ancestors by exercising autonomy in circumstances where they could not? It adds a new dimension to the term “living vicariously.”
Just as we understand that stress & trauma can and are transmitted to future generations, perhaps we can also learn about the ways in which intentionality extends beyond the present moment and reaches back into the past to honor and heal those who came before us. I’m learning more each day and thus, I’ve developed the following mantra, “I know I can only heal others insofar as I heal myself. When I heal myself, I know I am healing my ancestors.”
Working to manifest this has added a new dimension to many aspects of my life but specifically and most apparently to my yoga practice. The same guilt I felt while working without pay on a farm, has crept onto my yoga mat when I, overwhelmingly more-often-than-not, walk into classes in which I am the only person of color. Issues of race and class are of the most complex and deeply driven within society today, and I never pretend to function outside of their implications—that is not a privilege afforded to me or others in vulnerable communities.
As for my commentary on the white-washing Westernization of yoga: it’s not kind and probably conveys little that hasn’t already been said. The extent to which I see prominent members of the yoga community go to to justify the sometimes tyrannical and socially ignorant aspects of the industry are appalling. In short, they like to hide behind their feelings because “everyone is entitled to how they feel.” But when you feel that supporting brands or practices perpetuating oppression or unhealthy behaviors is OK because you don’t per$onally $uffer, your opinion becomes irrelevant and antithetical to your subscribed mission as “yoga instructor.” It’s like when people who have never felt the affects of an -ism or -phobia claim it doesn’t exist… But I digress!
Instead, I’d like to encourage an exploration into the energies, knowledge, and philosophies of my eldest ancestors, instilling a widened understanding of Afro history and the rich contributions to culture and society of which we can stand proudly. However we choose to heal ourselves (maybe with Kemetic Yoga?) let us channel that nourishing energy back unto those who came before us and wear proudly our crowns of the sun. Imagine a world where we accept this not only as a role but as a responsibility…