Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgrieving

 
THANKSGRIEVING

i am just beginning to dip my toes
into the ocean of grief
my parents tried to protect me from

no longer here to shield me
no children i have to tend
i peer into the waters
and begin to wade in

mmmmm, with cross-lateral arm strokes
forward and back
the water is ice-cold
but underground springs spurt volcanic hot currents

this is the suffering i have put aside
in order to proceed
chopping wood, carrying water
ever mouths to feed
gas tanks to fill
compost to turn over

i have listened to your stories of suffering
and held them in my body
believing they took precedence over mine
as if grief is finite
i used up my quota of grief on others

but now
waking from sleep
or chopping vegetables
or humming on my exhales
my own ancestors peek through
lifting the curtain to enter

true grief is abundant
wraps around us like river currents
grief begets more grief
like rivers flow into oceans
and oceans flow into other oceans

grief tenderizes rage
keeps me on my knees

healing has become commoditized
sold to the highest bidder
as if reparations can satiate my grief
as if the brittleness of justice is adequate

give me the temporality of justice and repair
but let me stay here
in my ocean of grief
knowing it will never be commercialized
nor subjected to the ravages of capitalism

grief is an elder to healing
we cannot heal until we have wept each other’s tears
i absorb your grief and mine
like the wetland absorbs the hurricane
like the willow tree flails and dances through the storm

no one has exclusive rights
or a trademark for grief
no one queues for grief
all our ancestors call through the ether
in many tongues that i have come to understand

may it wash over me
may it flow through me
may we weep oceans
may we bathe ourselves in one another’s grief
and hold each other with tenderness


Monday, November 8, 2021

A Humble Request

Beloved Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective Community,

I have been unspeakably blessed with our beautiful community. I am so deeply grateful to each person who has helped to build and evolve it. I will be departing in 1 month for my new home in Hawai’i. I will continue to teach weekly online, conduct study groups, and continue to be a worker-owner from afar. I plan to return to Detroit twice each year to conduct study intensives and daily classes.

Here is my tentative teaching schedule as of January 3, 2022 in Hawai`i Standard Time (UTC-10) unless otherwise noted. Convert to your time zone here.

Sundays, 7-9am HST, Level 2
3rd Sunday, 3-4pm ET, IYDC Yoga Philosophy (Iyengar: His Life and Work)
3rd Sunday, 7-8:30pm ET, IYDC BIPOC Study Group (My Grandmother’s Hands)

Mondays, 4-5:15pm HST, Level 1B
Mondays, 5:30pm HST, Level TBD

Tuesdays 7-9am HST, Led practice

1st/3rd Wednesdays, 8-9pm ET, BIPOC Apprentice check-ins
2nd/4th Wednesdays, 8-9pm ET, Mentee assessment prep check-ins

Thursdays, 9am HST, Level TBD
Thursdays, 6:30-8pm ET, IYDC Common Ailments (formerly Yoga Therapy)

2nd Fridays, 7:15-9:15pm ET, IYDC Pedagogy Study Group

2nd Saturdays, 11am-2pm HST, Monthly Āsana/Prānāyāma Workshop
4th Saturdays, 6:30-8:30pm ET, IYDC Yoga in Society Study Group

I have been happy to teach, especially since the pandemic, for nominal pay. I have thrived with a strong roof over my head, an abundance of nutritious and homegrown food, a generous community of friends, and none of it has required very much money.

However, to be perfectly honest, I will be needing a much stronger flow of income once I move to Hawai’i on December 14.

I have gladly led study groups, taught workshops, taught Community Gift classes, participated in committees, held office hours, provided consultations, and mentored teachers and apprentices for little to no pay. My particular skills, honed over many decades–teaching, writing, caregiving, holding space–do not translate to high pay under capitalism.

As I transition to life in Hawai’i, I come to ask you to financially support me to any degree that is right for you. I will continue to follow my dharmic path no matter what, and give all I can to our community. Your financial support will not define my relationship with you, nor will it determine my teaching and mentoring commitments.

Some of you already support my work monthly as Teacher Education Subscribers. Thank you! I appreciate your continued and/or increased support as I relocate.

If you can offer dāna each month, beginning in January, that will make it much easier for me to devote myself to the yoga path and continue my work. As a full-time teacher over the past 20 years, I have sometimes taught up to 12-13 āsana classes each week, and I am prepared to do so once again if required. However, if financially possible, I would prefer to teach 6 or fewer āsana/prānāyāma classes/week, while continuing the monthly workshop, study groups, BIPOC Apprentice Program, mentoring, and continue to serve as an IYDC worker-owner on several committees.

If possible, I would prefer not to open a separate Patreon account for myself. Instead, I prefer to ask you, as a practice of sovereignty, to take it upon yourself, if you choose to donate, to use the payment method of your choice and give monthly (Venmo @PeggyKwisuk-Hong, Cash App $gwiseok, PayPal to friend at paypal.me/gwiseok, Zelle kwisuk63@gmail.com).

If it’s easier to conceive of paying me as a transaction for services provided, here is an itemized budget:
 

Teacher Education Subscription: Community Gift $50-200/month

  • Pedagogy Study Group, 2 hours monthly, $20-40/session
  • Yoga in Society/Philosophy Study Group, 2 hours monthly, $20-40/session
  • Monthly Āsana and Prānāyāma Workshop, 3 hours monthly, $20-60
  • IYDC Yoga Philosophy Study Group, 1 hour monthly $10-20
  • IYDC BIPOC Study Group, 1.5 hours monthly, $15-25
  • Email, text, and phone consultations, as needed, $100-150/hour


As further incentive, I plan to rent a 2 bedroom apartment, so that I can host visitors. A friend of my son is willing to rent her beautiful unit to me at a steep discount short term. I will need cooperative rental assistance in order to afford this $1500/month unit (normally $2300–argh!). If you would like to visit me for 1-4 weeks of intensive study and practice, please consider paying into this cooperative housing plan at an additional $50-100/month.

Thanks for supporting me in my continued growth, as I strive to come ever more into right relationship, with the planet, with the land, with the practice of yoga, with each other, and all beings.

Namaskar,
hgs

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Finding Home, Making Home


 
 
“I’ve written a whole book on home and I still don’t know what it is.” ~ Bayo Akomolafe


“If you want to fly, you have to give up the things that weigh you down.” ~ Toni Morrison


I come from serially displaced people. Koreans take great nationalistic pride in their “purity,” and are dismayed to find out their racial and ethnic make-up is an amalgam of many peoples from many lands who criss-crossed the peninsula in the name of empire, adventure, accident, and plunder. More recently, my parents left Korea in the aftermath of war. A proxy war between two aspiring superpowers and their ideologies, it devastated the peninsula, divided it arbitrarily in half, and impoverished it in the wake of genocide.

My parents ultimately embraced the occupying power, as all good survivors know instinctively to do, and brought their three children to the far fringe of the USA, Honolulu, Hawai`i, to suck on the teat of American empire.

Torn from a primary caregiver, my maternal grandmother, and the land of my ancestors, and my mother tongue, I floated along, adapting with vigor. I entered school and quickly learned English and pidgin, leaving Korean behind. Whatever sadness I experienced at this rupture I learned to bury, and move on.

I experienced further trauma when our family left the islands in 1975 seeking better research opportunities for my father at University of Buffalo. Overnight I became Asian, other, strange, alien, and fugitive, in the 7th grade. Desperate for some sense of belonging, I developed armor, practicing making fun of myself. I learned to wear pantyhose, feather and curl my straight hair, and start to speak with curled r’s.

Since then I’ve made my home in many places: New York City, Nashville, Milwaukee, Detroit, and finally, I’m circling back around to Honolulu.

This morning I said goodbye to a home in Detroit, a year-long housesitting gig for my dear friend Adela, who is now based in Puerto Rico. It was not my intention to live alone in the large duplex for the entire year. Honestly I’ve never lived alone. I went from living with my parents to living in dorms and apartments with friends, then having my own family in my own home. After my  young adult kids left home, so did I, embarking on a new stage of my life, living in house-share cooperatives and intentional communities.

Once I overcame my resistance to living alone, I savored it. I ate when I felt like eating, I cleaned when I felt like cleaning. I kept all the lights off and used a single candle. I drummed at all hours, turned music up whenever I wanted. My main room was my yoga room, stripped of all furniture. The whole house was my dance floor, the houseplants my witnesses. I didn’t realize how much I had conformed myself to the needs of others until this year. I experienced deep healing in this house, in this pandemic year, and I will be forever grateful.

Now, as I prepare, at age 58, to make a new permanent home in Hawai`i, I am relinquishing this house, and so much more. I am determined to whittle my material life down to a dozen boxes, to ship to the island.

I have been gradually dissolving the library that had me bound for decades: small press poetry, politics and social commentary, Korean language and history, yoga and healing.… In waves, I have given away hundreds of books, and I still have more to release. Yesterday, I took four boxes of books to the free store at the recycling center. A feeling of loneliness swept over me as I stacked the books on the shelves. Who the hell is going to appreciate these literary works? Avant garde poetry, experimental fiction, and essays? Many are first edition, small press, out of print. Many are signed and have personalized inscriptions to me. Yet I cannot keep hanging on to them. They hold me back, saying, “stay, stay, hold me, turn my pages, keep me.” But as long as I hold on, my arms are full, and I cannot embrace the new.

It’s not just the books. It’s clothing: hand knit sweaters by my mother, a cashmere vest of my father’s, silken hanboks, myriad scarves–many gifted or inherited. It’s artwork–by me, my children, and friends. And endless photos, and albums from back in the day.

Worst of all, the notebooks. What was I thinking, writing all this shit down? What do I do with them now?

On the car radio, I heard a piece about a junkyard in Chicago, where the remains of significant historic buildings are piled up. You can see bits of beautiful architectural landmarks peeking out of the rubble. That’s what it felt like to see my formerly treasured, carefully curated books on the shelves at the recycling center, randomly stacked.

All the parts of my life are open to review and renunciation now. All my identities. Remember “Peggy Hong”? The poet? The wife? From Milwaukee? Remember Hong Gwi-Seok? The daughter? Teacher? Caregiver? Activist? Detroiter? Remember when I shaved my head? The Badass Yoga Nun? In Hawai`i I will be Halmoni, Aunty Peggy, and Mom.

In this grieving process, past, present, and future flow together, weave, and blend. Who am I outside of time? Who am I without my identities and their markers?

This morning I swept clean every room of the upper flat I had been occupying. I opened the windows and smudged each room clean with tulsi and sage, singing, crying, and praying. May we all move on, with grace, trust, and love. May all spirits be released and liberated. May we all joyfully enter the next stage of our lives. May this house be a blessing for the new family. My final gesture was harvesting a handful of onions from the garden, resplendent with green stalks despite the recent frost.

I’ve released so much, but there is still so much more to go. We cannot force or rush grief. I touch and stroke each piece of paper, each photo, each article of clothing. Keep, give away, recycle, or landfill? Some pieces I come back to three times, six times, ten times, undecided. Some pieces I photograph for a digital archive.

I remind myself that the objects have their own lives, outside of me. I attempt to shed my anthropocentric, Judaeo-Christian, capitalistic notions of ownership. My books at the recycling center will continue their existence, even if they are discarded, burned, or destroyed. They are artifacts of a stage of my life that is now over, and artifacts of an author’s particular expression at a particular time. Aside from the raison d’être of the book itself, it exists as paper and cardboard, made from trees, and it will, like every object and embodied being, return to the earth and be composted. If we’re lucky, we will all ultimately feed the soil, beetles, rhizomes, worms, and bacteria.

When identity through objects is shed, what is left? 

The practice.

Just what do I practice? Leaning into the unknown. Failing with magnificence. Dissolution of egoic attachments. Asking questions with no clear answers. Change as the only constant. I utilize the body, sound, image, breath. All of these modalities are available to me at all times, and have nothing to do with my possessions. This is how I find home, and make home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Aloha `Āina

I stayed up well past midnight last night, caught in endless clickbait of …… Hawai`i real estate porn. It culminated in a minor obsession with a 2-acre farm in Waipahu, with a house, mature fruit trees, off-grid with solar panels, and more. So what if they were asking $900,000? That’s a bargain on the island, and isn’t this exactly what I had been wishing for?

I forced myself to close the screen and go to bed. All night long I dreamt of the farm, and my dream journey took me all the way from conversation with the owners, to a path to cooperatively finance the purchase, and plans to build a retreat center. The dream brought me full circle: a retreat center for whom? Tourists??!? When so many Indigenous Hawai`ians will never be able to own the land they came from?

When I awoke to the light of day, everything became crystal clear: NO, I was not going to buy the farm, or buy any land. Even if I did have a million dollars.

The morning clarity snapped me back to my values and ethics through the concept of `āina: the land. `Āina is not real estate. It is the living, pulsing land itself, which is the basis of all life. `Āina is land as being.

Even though I have childhood roots in Hawai’i, I am not Native. My family, who came as settlers, albeit in the aftermath of war on the Korean peninsula, gave up any legal ties they had to the land decades ago. I come with no claim to the land.

The best I can do is return to my childhood home in the spirit of aloha `āina: in loving and humble service–kuleana–to the land and all its beings. My grandchildren are an embodiment of `āina, and will largely be my focus on the island. The spirit of aloha is created through relationships.

When I moved to Detroit in 2013, I made a commitment to come in the spirit of solidarity, and to be part of the fabric of community, already rooted here for centuries. I vowed not to come as a colonizer, to grab land, impose myself, nor exploit the community. I have done my best to be a student, to be of use, share my resources, and live my most authentic life. The generosity, which is the spirit of Detroit, has allowed me to do the work I love–teaching, caregiving, growing food, cooking, making, studying, building community–while requiring very little money. Even though I have lived below the poverty line, my life has overflowed with abundance. This has been tremendously healing for me.

I hope to bring that spirit to Hawai`i. I have so much to learn and unlearn, and remember. As I study the maps, cellular memories are coming back to me: Amana Towers–the high rise we lived in when we first arrived, and the pool across the street where I fell in; the parking lot of Mānoa Elementary where we spent recess; the sloping back yard of our house and the plumeria, gardenia, and so many kinds of ferns; the fishing spot where my brother used to go.

I need to immerse myself back into the land, back into the culture, reconnect with ohana (family), and build relations with my new ohana. I need to literally have my feet back on the land, feel the breeze, smell the plant life, immerse myself in the waters, and live among the people. This is how I can practice right relationship with the land. Will I eventually own property there? I don’t know. I must reknit the fabric of relationship to the people and the land, before I attempt to claim property of my own.

Anyway it’s not like I have deep pockets to draw from. When I made the decision in 2010 to take  the path of a renunciate, I made the vow that I would live and die in the hands of community. If I had something to offer that was needed, I trusted that community would support me. When I eventually arrive at a day when that support vanishes, it’s a signal that my work is complete. Perhaps there will be opportunity for community-based cooperative ownership of property in the spirit of aloha `āina one day. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I’ve already wasted much of my life rushing and going fast. It’s now time to slow down, and go together.

I also urge visitors to the islands to recognize and practice aloha `āina. Hawai`i is not your playground. Exactly the way some wealthy suburbanites come into Detroit for a ballgame or a concert or a wedding, without any connection or sense of responsibility to the people or neighborhoods, I feel strongly that we should not travel anywhere just for recreation, in a world so lopsided with disparities through the ravages of capitalism, colonization, and cultural appropriation. What are some ways to practice right relationship and pay reparations? Here are some thoughts.

The land has pulled me back down to earth. The avarice has settled. Capitalism says, hurry, the competition is fierce, buy it while you can! I will take my time. I will learn the land. I will step tenderly, carefully, intentionally–in service, healing, and love.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Once a Settler, Always a Settler


You could say “settler,” or you could say “foreigner.” Or you could say “outsider,” or you could say “alien.” As an obviously Asian person in Detroit, I am in the most extreme racial minority of this city.

The nature of the Black community in general has been to welcome other marginalized folks into the fold. My experience has been that, once I demonstrated that I sought to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, I earned my solidarity stripes and was welcomed with open arms. Once my Black neighbors and colleagues could see that I was not there to extract, colonize, exploit, or dominate, but rather to be part of the fabric of community, they treated me as comrade and kin. As an Asian in Milwaukee and Detroit, I have been welcomed into many Black spaces, and many wonderful relationships.

The Black community gave me a grounding I never received in the white communities I was surrounded by, once my family left our homeland of Korea, and the Asian enclave of Hawai’i. Like many middle class immigrants, my parents were coached to select white suburbs to raise their kids. White communities welcomed me too. But on an unspoken basis of: you must help us enact our agenda.

What agenda?
some might ask. The unspoken agenda of white supremacy, domination, and empire. I never heard these words, of course, and only well into my adulthood, after I’d married into the white community, and given birth to three children, was I able to put into words what I had discerned unconsciously. I was welcomed as an Asian in white society as long as I served as a wedge between white and Black, and helped to keep other Black and Brown folks at the bottom of the hierarchy, by assimilating into whiteness. The message from white society was, you’re different. You’re like us. Come on in, but close the door behind you.

The message from Black and Brown communities was, lean in with us, and help us get this door open! Or, let’s build another door to a better place together, or let’s work to get back what was taken away from us. Or simply, let’s tap into the inherent joy and celebration that is our birthright. Once I started to decolonize my mind and body, these projects as a way of life appealed to me far more than supporting the status quo of a racist society.

Yet, on some deep human level, I will still be othered, by white and Black communities alike. I will still be seen as a consummate outsider.

As I prepare to relocate to Hawai’i, where I was raised until my teens, I am once again feeling the discomfort of the settler, because I am not native Hawaiian. Meanwhile, East Asians comprise the ruling class, and many have enacted the agenda of white supremacy. White folks, haoles, comprise a minority in Hawai’i, but still represent much of the wealth, power, and leadership. Hawai’i is one of the most militarized and colonized places on earth. So what business do I have moving there?

Once a settler, always a settler. My homeland was decimated and torn asunder by American empire. My father came to Hawai’i in an effort to provide a better life for himself and his family. In the process, my brothers and I lost touch with our indigeneity and mother tongue, and assimilated into America.

Where is home now? In Korea, I am gyopo, a foreign Korean. My Korean is bumbling and childlike, and my ragtag clothes, tattoo, and long gray hair mark me as an obvious outsider. In Korea, I am perceived as American, and I come bearing my privilege, granted by the empire.

In Detroit, I remain a perpetual outsider. I am “the Chinese lady,” “that Asian woman,” and more. Last night I walked into a memorial celebration for a childhood friend of Baba Baxter Jones, the disabled elder I help care for. As usual, I was the only Asian person in the room, and the only non-Black person. In such a situation, I am typically overlooked, ignored, and treated as a servant, as most caregivers are: we become invisible. But in my case, I become more visible, and possibly suspect, because of my unusual appearance.

At this event, I was actually told by the hostess, the widow of Baba’s friend, to stop going up to the buffet. I had already gone up 4-5 times, because they only had three items that met Baba’s dietary needs, they were serving on small plates only, and I was trying to feed two people. I felt immediately confused and shamed, like a child, and was speechless. There were a hundred or more friends and family in attendance. Had someone complained about me? That Asian lady has gone up 4 times….

I had forgotten how much I stand out at such events. I was seen as an outsider. As a settler. In addition, caregiving, and the needs of people with disabilities, remains unseen and unacknowledged. The accommodation of allowing a caregiver to take multiple trips to the buffet  to feed a PWD was not understood. In a city like Detroit where so much has been stolen: land, labor, water, and more….I was perceived as another taker.

I am a settler in Detroit. I will be a settler in Hawai’i. I am a settler everywhere I go. Wherever I go, I will be occupying stolen land.

The best I can do is try to be one of the “good” settlers, like Grace Lee Boggs, who came to join the labor movement, and lived in Detroit for 60+ years, rooted on Field Street, organizing, writing, teaching, and learning, instead of myriad other settlers who came to build their fame and fortune, by buying up swaths of cheap land, making sweetheart deals with city government, and extracting knowledge, labor, and other resources from multi-generation Detroiters.

What will it mean to be a good settler in Hawai’i? Is it even possible? I take seriously the words of Haunani-Kay Trask, who points out that Hawaiians are not Americans. Americans appropriated and colonized the islands by military force. Americans are the enemy, and from the Hawaiian sovereignty perspective, are not welcome on the islands.


In every yoga class I teach, I have been offering a land acknowledgment, always closing with “We commit ourselves to coming into right relationship with the land, its people, and its spirits.” How do I make this meaningful, and not trite or rote? I embrace the overall commitment of the yogi to sovereignty, and see the practice as one that trains us to take charge of our own lives, exercise agency, and liberate ourselves, while supporting others in their own sovereignty and liberation.

I must surrender to the land and its people and spirits, including my two grandchildren. I must be a steward and a servant. At the same time, in Hawai’i, I must also challenge and dismantle the privilege of being East Asian. What will these commitments look like? What will they consist of? Caught in capitalist society, I must also make my own living. How will I do this in ways that support sovereignty and not empire?

I remain troubled. I have no choice but to embrace the contradictions I cannot escape. The same way that, if I wish to stay alive, I must ingest the life force of a plant or animal, I must also grapple with the issues of land, place, and settler colonialism everywhere I go. I hope you will be troubled alongside me. How do you practice right relationship with the land you are on, its people, and its spirits?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Sigh of Relief: Teaching a BIPOC Yoga Class

As a person of color in America, I am habituated to doing an unconscious audit of each room I enter. How many Black and brown faces do I see? How many people who look like me, an Asian? I habitually read the room to gauge my level of probable safety in that setting.

All too often I am The Only One: the only person of color, and/or the only Asian person. This happens in many settings, and alerts me to be on guard, and to expect microaggressions. How much I am on guard may depend on the degree of familiarity with the others present, whether there are strong, consistent allies present or not, the reason for our gathering, etc.

BIPOC often end up The Only One, or vastly outnumbered in Iyengar Yoga classrooms. The BIPOC who do show up are often the ones who have assimilated into white dominant culture, whether by choice, by necessity, or by default. I have routinely experienced racial aggression in these settings, both from members of the white dominant culture, and sometimes by BIPOC who may feel pressured to conform or remain silent.

The nature of racial aggressions, whether micro or macro, is such that the casual observer may notice nothing out of step. But those of us who have heard or observed these things many, many times are extra sensitized and on high alert. Here are some examples of racial or other aggressions from Iyengar Yoga classrooms:

  • A white teacher touches or strokes the hair of a Black student without invitation or consent.
  • A white teacher displays “fawning” or tokenizing tendencies toward students coming from underrepresented communities, giving undue attention and compliments. 
  • During class, we hear two presumably Black people in a heated exchange outside. One white student offers to call the police.
  • A white teacher repeatedly corrects a Black student’s buttock actions, implying that their body is not “good” or “right.”
  • White students feel free to frequently interject, ask questions, and centralize themselves and their experiences.
  • When George Floyd is murdered, your teacher says nothing about it at all. When a student asks for their counsel about it, they give a bland, canned response, indicating they had not prepared any kind of thoughtful response, despite their status as respected spiritual leaders in the community.
  • Teachers hold colleagues, students, apprentices, and mentees to expectations based on access to expendable funds, childcare, transportation, and other factors that may not be realistic.
  • When you point out such examples to organizational leadership they respond with incredulity and denial.

For all these reasons, a BIPOC class may be welcomed by many practitioners. It’s one place where folks of color can be that much more relaxed. Already, āsana requires us to do difficult things that may be quite uncomfortable, new, or make us feel vulnerable and awkward. Already we may feel we have had to be polite, well-spoken, and obedient in white dominant culture. When we remove as many of the potential barriers as we can, we can be more present, with more ease.

I have been teaching BIPOC-only classes with great joy since the mid-2000s. Here are some things I’ve learned.

  • Excellent āsana instruction is not enough. Students who choose a BIPOC class often seek other kinds of support, guidance, and a sense of community from the teacher and other students.
  • Take a few minutes to help students down-regulate their nervous systems when they arrive. BIPOC have greater exposure to potential harm on a day-to-day basis than their white counterparts. It may take some time in Supta Baddha Koṇāsana, Supta Swastikāsana, or Supta Vīrāsana to finally relax.
  • Allow for some chitchat in the first 5-10 minutes. Take time for introductions and check-ins if the class is small enough. White supremacy emphasizes timeliness and productivity. An anti-racist yoga space understands that productivity cannot necessarily be quantified, and that there are many ways to be productive.
  • Consider incorporating a land acknowledgement at the beginning of class, to help students contextualize themselves in the karmic interweaving of our larger time and place. If we are not native to our land, we arrived as captives, refugees, or settlers. Whatever brought us to this place, we hope to evolve into right relationship with the people and spirits of the land. Take your time to develop your own ways and words of acknowledging the land. I like to tie it into the invocation to Patañjali, and talk about the lineage of teachings.*
  • Take time to explain why you are choosing certain poses, sequences, and set-ups, and what they have to do with being BIPOC. For instance, in Supta Baddha Koṇāsana, you could talk about how we often feel we need to protect or defend ourselves because of the racism we encounter or anticipate, and how expanding the heart/lung region and groins is an opportunity to let down our defenses and nurture ourselves. When practicing arm balances, you could discuss how empowered we feel when we can bear weight on our hands, as a reminder of our inner fortitude.
  • Put less emphasis on textbook execution of the poses, and more on the physical, emotional, and mental impact. Help students by offering individualized instructions (otherwise known as “corrections”) to promote well-being rather than correctness. For example, teach them how to straighten the front leg in Trikoṇāsana so that they can access the full length of the spine and protect the knee from hyperextension.
  • Feel free to reference current events, and how they relate to the practice of yoga. Connect the personal practice to collective liberation. For instance, we’ve discussed the current Covid-19 crisis in India, and talked about the reluctance of wealthy nations to share vaccines and technology, which is connected to the history of colonization. We’ve also discussed how our teachers are in India, and how much we all owe BKS Iyengar and his family, and when we do not give back to them in some form, that is appropriation.
  • Feel free to share poetry, music, prayers, quotes, and other sources of inspiration, and invite students to do the same.
  • Offer a flexible payment structure as an alternative to the capitalist habits which undergird systemic racism. Our economy has been built on exploitation of BIPOC. Allowing students to determine what they can pay through a sliding scale model teaches them how to practice financial sovereignty. Students take responsibility for both their own learning and their desire to support BIPOC teachers. Seek sponsors for the BIPOC class to lessen the financial burden—reparations!
  • Offer more opportunities to build BIPOC Iyengar Yoga community, such as book discussion groups, celebrations, potlucks, panel discussions, etc. They can be low-key, and community-led, so responsibility is shared. For instance, a member of our community asked to start a donation-based BIPOC reading group for Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. Since we already practice Iyengar Yoga as a form of “cultural somatics,” we gladly welcomed this offer.
  • Ask your white colleagues to do parallel anti-racist work among themselves. At Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective, white teachers and students formed Ahimsa in Action, which meets twice a month to do anti-racist work together, and support each other in dismantling generations of white supremacy. Iyengar Yoga provides the perfect backdrop for this work, because we already have a common vocabulary, ethical philosophical foundation, and a somatic practice.

Every participant releases a big sigh when they enter a BIPOC-only space. We feel less guarded, and more welcome. Hopefully, we extend that sense of ease into other parts of our lives, so that we can help our society and culture evolve toward the beloved, equitable community we all seek.

*Here is a sample land acknowledgement and invocation to Patañjali, but each person will do it differently, and vary it each time:
As you feel the earth beneath you, acknowledge the beings of this land, human and non-human, past, present, and future. Here in ______, we honor the ________ people. Whatever brought us to this land, we commit to coming into right relationship with this land, its spirits, and its people. We also commit ourselves to coming into right relationship with the lineage of yoga, passed on through generations, as we acknowledge our teachers, and chant the invocation to sage Patañjali.

More reading:
Yellow, Black, Brown, and Beautiful  

It is Time

Friday, April 23, 2021

HOW TO TAKE DOWN A DISABLED BLACK ELDER: VIDEO DOCUMENTATION

 


https://www.facebook.com/OneMichigan/videos/719453185507150

 

The allegation of sexual assault being used to discredit Baba Baxter Jones is captured in this Facebook video. Read my detailed commentary posted with the video on the Facebook link. Here are the key points:

  • The assault is announced at 2:10, loudly and publicly. The person yelling is wearing a white visor, seems agitated, and is looking over her left shoulder. The assault apparently happened seconds ago ("That man just grabbed my ass..."). 
  • Watch the video from about 1:58, pausing every second to view each frame. Pause at 2:01, when this person is 6-10 feet to the right of Baba Baxter. 
    • Note the movement and pace of the march, set by the chants and drums. 
    • To drive the chair, Baba's (dominant) right hand must stay on the joystick. To move his hand off the stick would STOP THE CHAIR. It would also require that those behind him stop, while everyone else kept walking. Power wheelchairs to do not have "cruise control" or "auto-pilot." The wheelchair user's hand must be on the joystick at all times to drive it.
    •  At 2:05, see this person walking forward diagonally to her right to report the assault.
  •  The march was paused from 1:13-1:30 to let marchers consolidate. The person making the allegation is standing behind the DWB sign, with Baba about 15-20' back (1:13).
    • As the march restarts at 1:30, Baba's right hand remains on his chair for the remainder of the video.

In conclusion, as a survivor of sexual assault, I support and believe other survivors. If the person in the video claims harm, it needs to be investigated, and the harming party held accountable. In this case, it's physically impossible for Baba Baxter to have committed assault as alleged, while driving his chair. Meanwhile, the actual perpetrator has not been held accountable.