Walking Backwards – Widening My View

This blog post was written by studio director Emma, who has been travelling across Canada and in the United States for the last few months on a sabbatical from teaching. Emma will be back to teaching at the studio in November, and wishes to share this update about her trip with the QSY community. This post relates to the recent work Queen Street Yoga has been doing on Indigenous land acknowledgement and educating ourselves about the cultural genocide of First Nations populations in Canada.

At a contact dance workshop this summer, I participated in an exercise that included walking backwards along a forest path. The exercise encouraged us to sense the space behind us, which is a useful awareness to cultivate in dance. I walked backwards for over an hour along a winding forest path, over jagged rocks, bumpy tree roots and clumps of moss. The sensation was fascinating. I realized that I have had a habit of looking down at the ground as I walk, in order not to trip. Facing away from where I was walking to required me to slow down a great deal and sense carefully with my feet the texture and topography of the ground. Looking down was no longer a helpful strategy. My gaze was up and my awareness surrounded me like a sphere. I was no longer focused on moving ahead, on getting somewhere; I was filled up with the view of the landscape I was moving through, and an energetic sense of the landscape I was backing into.

One of the most noticeable differences in the experience of walking backwards is that your view is constantly widening.  Rather than things disappearing from your peripheral vision (which is what happens when you move forwards) the landscape appears slowly at your sides and seems to bloom out and emerge from the edges of your vision. What you see seems to grow in context and size, rather than shrink in anticipation and pursuit of your destination. Walking backwards, one is not preoccupied with the destination, rather, with having the fullest sense of the landscape, and of treading carefully on the ground. Continue reading

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

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

Re-Post: Teaching as Learning [A Forever Process]

 

This is a re-post of a piece that Emma originally wrote for her own blog, thinkerpoet.com. We hope you enjoy reading some of her reflections on the process of teaching and learning.IMG_20160101_151838

This past New Year’s I was given an opportunity to choose the “key” to my coming year. Two dear friends (artists and community convenors) had salvaged wooden piano keys from a scrap yard, and painted and anointed each one with different colours, designs and words. They were jumbled together in a cloth bag, and throughout the night they brought out the bag and invited friends to reach into the bag and pull a key. “Make sure you get the right one.” they teased as we reached, eyes closed, into the bag. As our fingers sifted through the jumble of keys, feeling raised black keys and narrower white keys, they invited us to let our intuition guide our choice. “You’ll know your key when you feel it.” they said. “It will be clear.”

Keys bearing the words “Equanimity”, “Wisdom” and “Contentment” emerged in different peoples’ hands. “Acceptance”, “Integrity”, and “Simplicity” followed. I watched my friends interact with their keys, unwrap their strings and hang them around their necks, bulky but meaningful necklaces. Continue reading

Going Beyond After Feeling Defeated – An Update from Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell has been regularly practicing at Queen Street Yoga for the past two years and has written some wonderful blog posts for the QSY blog about his yoga journey. In this most recent post, Glen shares more about his personal transformation and how he sees yoga as a major part of his learning and growth. We deeply appreciate hearing from students about what the impact of yoga has been on their lives, and we celebrate Glen’s effort and openness to the insights that have come as a result of engaging with the practices of yoga and meditation. We hope you enjoy reading this. Glen told us ,“It comes straight from my heart”.

Every spring, summer and fall my life is filled with many camping trips to my favorite Provincial Parks located throughout Ontario. One of which is Killarney located at the top end of Georgian Bay. Killarney is truly the jewel of the Ontario Provincial Parks. The turquoise colored lakes and two billion year old rock face spread out far and wide can leave you in awe! I get very excited and can feel my heart getting warm whenever I come back. There are many trails and lakes to explore by hiking, biking or canoe/kayaking. One hike I love to do is called the Crack. It is a bit of a hike and climb getting to the top but the view is amazing! Also there is a 26km canoe/kayaking day trip I have come close by canoe but never completed which includes 3 portages with the longest portage of about 500 meters. This will take you into four different lakes from George Lake into OSA lake and from pictures I had seen is spectacular. I thought that this hike and kayaking trip would no longer be available to me due to my heart issues. I was very disheartened to think that some of the things I love to do had possibly come to an end.

Stepping back to the fall of 2014, that was when I decided to really take control of my life. My doctors had advised me of my condition 8 months earlier, and I started seeing positive results from about six months of yoga practice. I decided to dedicate myself to practicing yoga as much as possible. I would get my mind in a very positive place. I would get rid of the extra weight I was caring. I would eat even healthier by educating myself and keep fine tuning the quality of my food intake. I would exercise at least once a day. I would find more ways to be more active like riding my bike to yoga or picking up my favorite tea. I would taper back my business hours. I would do all I can to reduce and manage stress. I was very motivated to avoid a risky surgery and to keep at a minimum or even reduce the medication prescribed to me. Continue reading

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Singing Mantra – Continuing the Inquiry into Cultural Appropriation and Yoga by Emma Dines

Last December I recorded five songs that I sing for students at the end of my classes, while they rest in savasana, a final resting pose. We have been releasing the songs periodically throughout the last year on our blog. You can listen to and download all of them on Soundcloud. This last song is actually a mantra, called the Gayatri Mantra. It is one of the oldest Vedic chants, and this version that I sing is a shortened version of the original.

It is interesting and a bit uncomfortable that I am releasing this song now, after posting a reflection about cultural appropriation and yoga in December. In that post, I wrote, When I first began teaching yoga six years ago, I was excited about the philosophical content I was learning and eagerly shared my interpretations/understanding of Tantra with my yoga students. I taught my students to sing mantras, and told them stories of Hindu deities. Now, looking back on that, I feel embarrassed. I would describe my early teaching as uninformed cultural misappropriation. Whatever cultural aspects of yoga I was sharing, they had been taught to me by white teachers, some of whom were scholars, but nevertheless, I was taking aspects of Hindu religious culture and teaching them as if they were mine.” 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