Breathing is a radical act.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of an anti-racist yoga convergence, led by two social justice advocates, yogis, and powerful women: Michelle Johnson and Patty Adams. The two hours began by each instructor sharing their Dharma talk with us – an emotional and moving grounding on why this work matters and how yoga provides a place to practice skills critical to movement building in the efforts to eradicate white supremacy.
Sharing from her experience as a person of color, Michelle’s words stirred within me feelings of shame, guilt, and fierce determination. She encouraged the white people in the room to be mindful on how we are waking up to being a part of the racial justice movement. She noted the tension between the budding excitement of white allies and agitators to the sheer exhaustion experienced by people of color as they have been waiting for us. It’s not as if this entrenched system of racism popped up overnight. Decades upon decades of systematic oppression, from the very founding of our nation, have fueled a society built on the backs of black and brown people. And as more folks, particularly white people, join this effort, it is imperative we recognize that while it’s great we’re here now, we cannot allow that to overshadow the everyday trauma experienced by people of color in our lives and in our communities.
The idea that ‘breathing is a radical act’ was new to me. Oppression succeeds only if people never reach their full potential – their space becomes smaller and smaller, essentially cutting off their ability to breathe and exist. Yoga is all about the breath. It allows us to practice discernment. It allows us to move closer towards full integration of our entire selves. We move in ways that re-negotiate our own boundaries, climbing towards that state of calm yet expanded and energized.
As Patty noted, yoga provides an opportunity to bring all of us in a place together. And we have to recognize the risk it takes for many people to be in that space. As a white person, I have to seek to understand what privilege to not have to think twice about participating in such a practice.
After the Dharma talks, we spent the next 45 minutes on our mats, moving from the floor to standing and then returning to our backs, maintaining the breath through each sequences. We sought balance and strength; quieted our minds; secured our intentions; and rooted ourselves in the power of healing and compassion. If we stopped showing up during that time together, we would let the rest of the people in the room down.
Finally, we ended by reflecting with a partner near us about what our next step would be to crate a world where racism didn’t exist. I talked about my need to let go of any inner fears of “rocking boats” when it comes to exchanging dialogue with people in my life, particularly white people, about racism in our culture, institutions, and within ourselves. I talked about the importance of asking my friends of color: “what do you need from me?” And I need to continue to grow and learn more about systemic racism and oppression; I need to listen – really listen – to what is being said and unsaid about injustices taking place in our world. And I need to always reflect on what impact my words and actions are having on dismantling racism. I cannot be a leader in this work if I am contributing to maintaining white supremacy.
I’m so grateful to Michelle and Patty for bringing us together in this anti-racist work. If you live in the Triangle area, there will be two additional opportunities in August and September to connect yoga with racial justice.
So, what would a world without racism look like? I’m continue to mull on this question. Some of my initial reactions include:
- A place where no one fears being killed simply by existing;
- A place where everyone receives the education to be successful, thriving contributors;
- A world built on sharing and abundance, not on selfishness and scarcity;
- Communities who care for each other, no matter what;
- People, not systems or institutions, hold the most political power;
- The idea of ‘silenced voices’ is inconceivable
- Safety is a norm, not an exception.
I invite you, if you have not already, to envision what a wold without oppression, racism, and white supremacy would look like, sound like, feel like. If you are willing, I also invite you to share. Perhaps journal about it. Create a vision board. Our humanity is depending on us, and I refuse to let us down.