Return of the Yogi

Six months and two days ago my city went into quarantine.

Six month and five days ago, cops killed Breonna Taylor.

These two events have triggered a great deal of emotion in me. As we shut our doors and windows, turning inside rather than outside for entertainment and hobbies to pass the time, my thoughts continually turn to Breonna and what her last night was like. It probably felt normal, like most other nights in her life. Maybe it didn’t. I guess we’ll never know.

Every night over the last six months, I have gone to bed with a sense of heaviness. No matter how much joy I’ve found throughout the day, no matter how much I’ve been able to distract myself from the realities of what is happening, I’ve constantly felt that heaviness at the end of the day. I find myself not wanting to go to bed because that means drifting into an unknown, an unknown I’m not sure I’ll wake up from.

The reality, however, is that I will most likely wake up. The reality is that I probably won’t have my house by police using a no-knock warrant. The reality is, I am probably safe.

Over the last six months I’ve really come to understand my advantage in society. While I have and still find myself facing discrimination to some level, I can’t say I know the constant fear that the Black community faces. I am working to unlearn all the prejudices I have been taught and try to use my advantage to life up these suppressed voices. I am working to do what I can to make this world a better place.

This has been my yoga for the past six months and two days. What has your yoga looked like?

Connection in the Time of Coronavirus

As the world slowly closes its doors and we all hunker down in our homes, I find myself seeking more and more external connection. I haven’t posted for a while, taking time to ponder what my next post would  be about. I thought about writing about love in February and women in March, yet I find myself drawn to this idea of connection.With mandatory lockdowns in place and travel only allowed for “essential” reasons, whatever that means, it seems like the idea of connection is more and more unclear and inaccessible. In these times, the natural, default tendency seems to be isolation or alienation. We stock up on essential items, apparently toilet paper, and bring up our Netflix queue to watch. We find activities to do to kill the time we now have, maybe working from home, maybe finding a new yoga practice. Whatever it is, it seems like we’re drawn more and more to solitude and less to connection.

Social distancing does not mean we have to isolate ourselves and alienate others. We have so much technology at our fingertips, technology created to foster connection between people across vast distances. So why aren’t we using it in that way? I see posts about what people are reading, what food we’re making, and what movies we’re watching, but why am I not seeing more posts reaching out to others to have online dance parties, online game nights, maybe even online movie streaming?

My natural tendency is to be introverted. I like my time to myself and I’d rather be by myself most of the time. Given the amount of time I’m locked in, though, I find myself seeking connection. So I’m reaching out. I’m finding ways to stay connected to people through online mediums like Facebook, Instagram, and even Zoom.

If you want to connect, please reach out. Stranger or friend, we’re in this together. The only way we’ll get through this, is together.

Be well.

Yoga & Social Media

It took me a great deal of time and thought to decide on what I wanted to write about for my first 2020 post. Usually I try to start the year off with intention setting or invite you all as readers to join in on a new year reset yoga challenge. While these things are still happening in the background of my own personal life (Adrienne came out with another 30 day yoga playlist, if you haven’t checked it out, here it is: Home) I thought I would start this year with a different intention. I want to write about more challenging topics. Similar to my recent post about cultural appropriation, I was to discuss issues that matter to me that readers might relate to. Of course, I will keep bringing in posts about specific poses or yoga props, but I also want to dig a little deeper.

So for my first post in 2020, I want to discuss yoga and social media…

Image result for yoga and social media

Many of you might scroll through your favorite social media feed and find someone doing a yoga pose. Maybe it’s a celebrity sponsor of a yoga clothing company, maybe it’s your favorite yoga celebrity, or maybe it’s simply a local yoga instructor. Maybe you yourself have posted photos of yourself in yoga poses.

That is great!

Let me state very clearly, I’m not here to judge anyone for anything you have or will do on social media. If you post pictures of yourself regularly in yoga poses…great. If you don’t, that’s great too. What I want to discuss is what the intention is behind these posts.

I have noticed a trend in yoga instructors and yoga celebrities posting photos of themselves in advanced poses. I find accounts online called “Yoga Inspiration” highlighting a very specific type of yoga student or teacher showing off their skills in handstands, scorpion pose, and other advanced poses. So again, I ask, what’s the intention behind these? Is it truly to send inspiration to students around the social media world that they too can get there? If so, that’s great! If it’s to show off a skill you’ve worked hard to achieve, that’s great too! More often than not, I get the sense that this type of imagery creates an unrealistic idea of what yoga is. I also think that these images might actually discourage students because they may not be able to achieve certain advanced poses yet or at the same time as their peers and they may give up. Unlike many other activities, yoga isn’t just about achievement in the physical sense, it’s more (to me) about achieving alignment with yourself, mind, body and spirit. So I think to myself, what is the point of posting these images to show others what poses you can get into when the practice itself is about getting more in tune with yourself? I worry about the long term impact on yoga students as well as the yoga practice itself. I believe that yoga in the western society has already become warped and appropriated in certain ways and I don’t think social media is really helping.

Image result for yoga and social media

Now, don’t get me wrong, I myself have posted many pictures in yoga poses. My true intention is not only to inspire students and friends, but also to educate on what yoga might be good for or help with. Part of my recent journey has been to create more awareness and intention around my words and actions. So I’ve toned down on my yoga pose photos and tried to highlight life, the reality of it. I don’t want to promote myself and only my achievements. I want to promote the world and it’s beauty. Especially in these times.

So, I challenge you…the next time you want to post a picture of yourself in a yoga pose, pause. Ask yourself why…then decide whether you want to or not. The choice is yours and yours alone. No judgement, no foul.

Be well!

Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

A lot of folks hold strong stereotypes when they hear I’m a yoga instructor. They assume I work at a studio and teach asana based yoga classes. When I clarify, saying I’m a trauma-sensitive yoga instructor, many people are confused. The conversation usually goes one of two ways, I describe what trauma-sensitive yoga is in detail or I’m asked what the difference is between what I do and what “mainstream” yoga is. When I further describe sites I work at, such as addiction treatment programs and jail programs, it seems even more confusing for some. I get asked why these populations need yoga, why people who have “done something wrong” need it.

Instead of typing out a clarifying blog post, I’m going to let me own words speak for themselves. Here’s a recent interview I did for the Beyond Theory podcast, a podcast for The Meadows Behavioral Health.

Beyond Theory Podcast | S1 E12: Aditi Desai on Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

Check it out and let me know what you think! I hope this clarifies a lot of what I do and also what yoga can do for the world.

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches. I can’t help but ride the wave of gratitude I see all over social media (hopefully this wave translates to real life). Usually, this time of year, I send out practices of gratitude or I feather asanas that will help with the post-feast fullness. This year, I thought I’d change it up a little. I want to express my gratitude to YOU!

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my posts. So much of my writing is based on my opinion and the reading I do on yoga. I appreciate your interest and you taking the time to read and share.

Second, I want to thank you for your interest in yoga. I truly believe yoga is a healing practice, a holistic practice, and it can save humanity. I appreciate your interest, at whatever level it is, in learning more about this practice.

Finally, I want to thank you for trying. Whether its only been once a year, once a month, or once in your lifetime, thank you for trying to do something that is positive and helpful for yourself.

So now, I open the door for you. Share with me or with whoever…what or who are you grateful for?

Image result for gratitude

Accessible Yoga – Yoga for EVERY BODY

When you think of yoga, what images come to mind? You might see a very specific type of person. You might see a specific race, size, shape, and ability of that person. Imagine you’re walking into a yoga studio, who do you see?

As I’ve started to discuss in my last post, the Westernization of yoga has created this image of yoga that strays very far from the roots of yoga. While there are stories of yoga being restricted to men in India, there are stories and there is a history of people of all shapes, sizes, and genders practicing yoga. Now, as yoga has become a financial commodity, it seems that the population practicing yoga has narrowed. This brings me to my topic today, accessible yoga.

We live in a world where there is potential for variety. Depending on where you live, there may be a variety of foods available, a variety of leisure activities, and a variety of people. So why has yoga in the west seemed to cater to one type of person? Accessibility is a huge issue…not just in yoga but in many realms of life. Access to healthy, fresh foods. Access to transportation. Access to healthcare. So why aren’t we talking about access to yoga? This is a multi-billion dollar company in the west and yet somehow we are limiting it to a very specific type of person for a very specific price point.

We all know the benefits of yoga. We all know that it can help with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. So why is this only available to certain people? Even studios and classes that are low-cost or promoted to “everyone” seem to only be taught or attended by specific people. Why? Simply put…accessibility. This doesn’t just mean being able to get to the yoga studio or being able to pay for the class. This means being able to do the poses comfortably, being able to do the breath and meditation practices comfortably. This lack of accessibility affects many populations, including but not limited to people of color (POC), larger bodies individuals, people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, people living with differently abled bodies, and people who may not speak or understand English well.

So what do we do? What do we, as yoga teachers and students do to make sure EVERYONE has access, in every way, to the wonderful practice of yoga? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Here are just a few of my tips to make your studios and classes more accessible (in no specific order):

  • Hire POC teachers
  • Hire larger bodies teachers
  • Hire teachers who identify as LGBTQIA
  • Provide classes in different languages
  • Promote chair yoga or accessible classes
  • Use props
  • Provide a variety of mat sizes and thicknesses
  • Do not use words like “full expression of pose” or “more difficult version”
  • Use words like “modification” or “adjustment”
  • Use invitational language
  • As a teacher, model these modifications and adjustments
  • Incorporate pauses
  • Allow students to decide what feels good for them
  • Use consent cards for hands on adjustments
  • Ask permission before using essential oils or scents
  • Attend/offer trainings for accessible yoga
  • Provide all-gender or gender neutral restrooms

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to make classes more accessible. Let’s start by being open and welcoming to EVERYONE.

Image result for accessible yoga

National Yoga Month – Honoring Yoga History and Culture

September is National Yoga Month. As yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry, there are plenty of ways in which this month can be celebrated. Lately, however, it seems that a lot of yoga practice in the U.S. has been seen as potential cultural appropriation. This has become a hot topic recently between yogis all over the U.S. How are we appreciating yoga and its culture without appropriating it? How are you honoring yoga in all it’s forms? Is it possible that where you practice yoga is sterilizing the culture of yoga?

If you’re thinking it can be difficult to understand what is appreciation and what is appropriate, you’re not wrong and you are not alone. It’s difficult to understand where the line is.

Many yogis are discussing this exact topic. In order to stop cultural appropriation, we need to acknowledge the roots and origins in India. We need to acknowledge the cultural and religious ties yoga has to South Asian countries. Understanding these connections can help one appreciate and practice yoga more authentically. By incorporating cultural appreciation by opening up to understanding and learning, we can prevent the cycle of appropriation from continuing.

Here are a few questions to ask about your local yoga studio:

  1. Are people of Indian heritage represented?
  2. Are cultural or religious symbols displayed appropriately?
  3. Do teachers use Sanskrit as a way of growing the yoga practice or as a way to divide teachers from students?
  4. Are the lineages of the yoga teachers identified and honored?
  5. Do students and teachers wear clothing that display gods and goddesses in areas of the body that are considered disrespectful or harmful to the culture and religion?
  6. Is the yoga studio accessible to all levels and abilities?
  7. Does your studio work to create community and inclusivity?
  8. Do the yoga classes focus only on physical asana?
  9. Does the studio’s yoga teacher training go over cultural history?
  10. Is the studio purposely avoiding using Sanskrit or any South Asian representation?

These are very important topics to consider when practicing yoga, at home using YouTube or at a studio. While we can make yoga available and accessible to all, it’s important to honor the roots. While yoga itself is not a religion, it has many ties to Indian religions and culture. By honoring all that yoga has to offer, not just physical but full body, mind and spirit, we can truly appreciate yoga. By honoring the history of yoga, we can better understand where it came from and why it has been so popular for generations.

So next time you go to a yoga studio or click on your favorite YouTube yoga video, take a look around and observe what may or may not be appreciation and appropriation.

YogaCulturalAppropriation

Yoga Stereotypes

Stereotypes aren’t great. In all of life…whether it has to do with gender, culture or ethnicity. This applies to yoga as well.

I’ve recently been finding a resurgence of questions in my yoga classes that are based on stereotypes or assumptions of what the yoga class is going to entail. So many of my students ask me when they’ll be able to sit in full lotus pose. Others ask me when they’ll be able to do headstands and handstands. These questions are often on their first or second classes. These questions are also often asked in my meditation sessions. Students will ask when will I be able to sit straight without pain? When will I be able to clear my mind completely? I continue to reinforce the idea that asana isn’t about the pose, but about what the pose brings up for you. Meditation isn’t about clearing the mind, but calming it. The emotions, the sensations, the feelings, these are the things we want to focus on…but it seems like there’s so much focus on the physical look of what we are doing, whether it’s asana or meditation, that the deeper benefits get lost.

Other stereotypes I’m met with is about what it means to be a yogi. So many people think I have to be a healthy eater, that I don’t eat any sugar or carbs. Oh, if only I had that kind of self-control. Yes, I generally do eat healthy, AND I love my cakes, ice cream, candy, and donuts. Another stereotype related to what it means to be a yogi suggests that yogis can’t get mad, upset or frustrated. That we don’t have violent thoughts. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but am I not a human being? First and foremost. These thoughts, these feelings…they will always be there. Yogis aren’t all sunshine and rainbows…prayer beads and crystals. We are human beings and have the same range of emotion as anyone else. The trick is how we react to those emotions. The yogic part of me doesn’t react. I let the emotions run their course and when I’m calm and relaxed I make decisions related to the situations that previously frustrated me.

That’s what it means to be a yogi…making mindful decisions about life. Whether it’s what you eat, what pose you’re doing, or how you react to a situation.

So…if you ever notice your yoga teacher eating a candy bar while ranting, don’t say “oh wow, aren’t you a yogi?”. Just treat them like a human being who is having one of those days.

IMG_20181212_202318

 

Flow Breakdown – Moon Salutation

Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations, are common in most yoga classes. Not so common in our yoga classes is the Chandra Namaskar, or moon salutation. The moon salutation flow was designed to honor the feminine qualities we all carry. No matter what gender identity you hold, there are masculine and feminine qualities in all of us. The moon salutation is a great way to ignite that feminine energy.

Here’s the flow breakdown:

  • Mountain Pose
  • Crescent Moon Pose
  • Goddess Pose
  • Star Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Low Lunge
  • Half Split
  • Full Squat/Malasana Pose
  • Half Split
  • Low Lunge
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Star Pose
  • Goddess Pose
  • Crescent Moon Pose
  • Mountain Pose

Not only does this sequence open up the feminine energy within, it’s also great for women to do during menstruation or pregnancy. This is a great flow to honor intuition, nurturance, and receptivity…all feminine qualities that bring up our community.

Image result for moon salutation

International Yoga Day

It’s that time of year again…summer sun and International Yoga Day! Mark your calendars…June 21st is International Yoga Day. What does that mean? Well…basically various cities and countries around the world take the day to honor and practice yoga! There will be plenty of events around the world, large and small.

International Yoga Day Top Events and Things to Do

Start your own at home yoga practice. Use International Yoga Day as an excuse to get a mat and start your own practice.

Find a studio near you! There will be plenty of events happening that day, so check out the schedules at your local studios. This is a great way to find a studio and teacher that’s right for you.

Meditate. Remember yoga isn’t just about the asana practice. Find a quiet moment and meditate on what you really want to get out of your yoga practice.

Go on a yoga retreat! Summer is a great time to travel, so find a destination yoga retreat and sign up!

 

international-yoga-day