Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice and Inclusion

This guest post is by Christine Witmer Lang, a long-time yoga and meditation practitioner, a member of QSY’s 2015-2016 Yoga Teacher Training program.

Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice, and Inclusion

Before I began Yoga Teacher Training, I admit I spent very little time thinking about the broader social and cultural aspects of yoga. Like many things that come into our lives, I came to yoga aware only of what this practice could do for me. I enjoyed the challenge of the physical movement through poses, the integration of breath, and the continual invitation to be aware of how my body felt as it moved through a sequence.  Yoga gave me a sense of embodiment and calm, which over time permeated into other parts of my life.  Through yoga, I believed I had found a home.  Yoga made my life better, my body stronger, and my mind clearer.  It felt as though yoga had been made for my body and temperament – as if yoga had been made for me.

Through discussion on yoga teacher training weekends, through readings, videos, and workshops, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that yoga has a history and cultural complexity that extends far beyond our North American understanding of its practice. The very practice through which I learned embodiment has been cut off from its roots, and has suffered a disembodiment of its own. Continue reading

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Yoga and Race: Why Representation Matters

Queen Street Yoga teacher and creative director Emma Dines shares an important personal experience about race and representation as it relates to yoga teaching and representation in the yoga studio community.

B&W yoga photo

During our March Yoga Teacher Training weekend, QSY hosted two presenters from Toronto who shared their experiences and best practices of merging anti-oppression work with the teaching of yoga/hosting of yoga studio communities. Jamilah Malika and Christi-an Slomka led the group in considering the experiences of those who are underrepresented in yoga studios and yoga media/imagery, and understanding how and why yoga studios remain mostly white and mostly cis-gendered spaces, and how and why we might work to shift this.

During our closing circle, where we shared our insights, reflections and challenges with one another, I shared the following personal story, which touches on themes of race and representation. It was a story that I had forgotten about, but it bubbled up to the surface during the circle.

A bit of background before the story. I grew up in Toronto in a mostly white neighbourhood, going to a mostly white school. I am mixed race – my mom is third-generation Japanese Canadian, and my dad is second-generation Scottish Canadian. I remember being pretty aware of my race as a child – I was one of two or three Asian or half-Asian kids in my class. When I blew the candles out on the cake at my eighth birthday, my wish was to wake up the next day with white skin and blond hair. My mother experienced what I now understand to be micro-aggressions from many of the other parents in the area. The racism that my mother, my siblings and I experienced was subtle, sometimes internalized, but definitely present. Continue reading

Acknowledging the Land We Practice On

This post was co-authored by our studio directors Leena Miller Cressman & Emma Dines, with input from Luane Lentz, Cheryl Maksymyk, and Jaydum Hunt at the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre.

mohawk residential schoolLast year the Canadian government acknowledged the reality and harm of Residential Schools in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canadians were invited to read the text of the Commission to understand the real harm that Indigenous Peoples in Canada endured. Another part of that story started earlier. The past and ongoing reality is that the ancestral land of Indigenous people has been seized, environmentally exploited, and extracted from, and many treaties and agreements between the Crown (which refers to all Canadians) and Indigenous groups were dishonoured.

Yoga means to unite or connect. The purpose of a personal yoga practice might be to listen to, bring together, and acknowledge the various parts of ourselves, including the parts that we might label uncomfortable, unworthy, or imperfect. We might also choose to extend that part of our yoga practice to the world around us, and encourage ourselves to bring together the various parts of our societal reality that might be uncomfortable, vulnerable, or unjust. We might participate in a collective practice that seeks to listen to, acknowledge, and address injustices.

The ongoing story of land in Canada is uncomfortable and hard to acknowledge. It has a complex history with current impacts. What are ways that we might be accountable and responsive to these realities?

Continue reading

Cultural Appropriation & Yoga

Queen Street Yoga was approached by local newspaper The Community Edition to write something about cultural appropriation and yoga, after this Ottawa Sun news article went viral. There is a lot more to the Ottawa Sun story than was originally reported, and we highly recommend reading our colleague Matthew Remski’s take on it, in which he details how the story was mis-reported, and the way in which popular media mostly shut down and derided the idea of cultural appropriation in yoga. At Queen Street Yoga we think awareness of cultural appropriation in yoga is very important, and in the following piece that Emma wrote for The Community Edition, she shares some thoughts and reflections on how her teaching has changed in the last few years, as she has learned more about the reality of cultural appropriation. Emma wants to acknowledge SAAPYA (South-Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) and other colleagues in the yoga community for helping her better understand the issues and impacts of cultural appropriation and yoga.

reaching up yoga class imageIn the last several years, Queen Street Yoga has been looking more deeply into questions of privilege, oppression and cultural (mis)appropriation, and how they show up in the teaching of yoga, and in the experience of yoga studios. We have been examining how yoga was taught to us by mostly white, cis-gendered teachers, and thinking carefully about what it means to be North-American born practitioners of a tradition that has its origins in India. I define cultural (mis)appropriation as instances when members of a dominant culture take elements of a minority culture and use them outside of their original cultural context, often times reducing or commodifying those cultural aspects to “exotic” and meaningless fashion or activities. Cultural appropriation is a complex subject, and people often get defensive when it is mentioned. Recently an article was published in the Ottawa Sun about a yoga class at the University of Ottawa that was purportedly cancelled due to fears that it could be considered cultural appropriation. The Ottawa Sun later printed a retraction and reported that the class was cancelled due to low attendance, but that did not stop the viral media-storm in which many white columnists and writers derided the whole idea that yoga could be considered cultural (mis)appropriation.

Thinking about the issue of cultural appropriation in the last few years has changed the way that I teach yoga and create studio programming, as the Creative Director of the studio, and as the Co-Director of our Teacher Training Program. My teaching has changed a great deal from when I first began. Continue reading

Re-Post from Emma’s Blog: A Heartfelt Adventure

If you’ve been in Emma’s class in the last few months, you might have been gifted a little felt heart. This week’s blog post is a re-post from Emma’s blog thinkerpoet.com, in which Emma explains where the heart idea came from, and how it is evolving.

As a young child, I never liked hearts. Like the colour pink, hearts were on every lunchbox, pony’s butt and t-shirt meant for girls. As soon as I could understand language I was questioning gender roles, and at the age of five, I staunchly decided that hearts were too prescribed. I didn’t want to be told what symbols to like. I resisted wearing hearts and chose zig-zags, triangles and stars whenever I could. Hearts, to my young feminist brain, were a symbol of conformity.

IMG_20150612_135139Fast-forward to the present moment, where colourful felt hearts litter every surface of my home, are pinned to every piece of clothing, and stacks of which are stuffed into every pocket and bag. In the past two months I have become a regular giver of hearts. I pin them on parked bicycles, gift them to cashiers, offer them to children and parents, and drop them on my yoga students’ mats.

Continue reading

Glen’s WOW Moment with Yoga in Mexico

You might remember Glen from the blog post “A Heart-Warming Letter about Yoga from QSY Student Glen Campbell”. Glen continues to warm our hearts with this post about his recent trip to Mexico, and a connection he made with someone around the practice of yoga. You will want to read to all the way to the end of this post. We promise. 🙂

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I recently returned from an amazing trip with our neighbours to a resort in Manzanillo Mexico. It was an all inclusive type resort that included all meals, drinks, and daily activities including a 10am class every day called “ Stretching and Yoga”

The yoga class was located outside on a grassy area between one of the pools and overlooking the ocean. We would be taken through a series of yoga poses and stretches with a relaxed savasana to end the session. There was no singing of “Om”, no talk of breathing techniques or overall theme. It was different to what I’m used to at Queen Street Yoga but that was fine. I enjoyed the practice although it didn’t compare to the teachings at QSY. It was great to be outdoors in the warm morning air. Continue reading