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    “Yoga, which has for its aim the achievement of the closest correspondence between the inner mind and the outer life, uses as it’s means silence, meditation and self-recollection.” – Dr S. Radhakrishnan

    This year, more than any in recent history, black and brown voices grappled audibly with the conflicts between the inner mind and outer life of Yoga in the West today.

    Through silence, mindfulness, and a lot of self-recollection, these voices spoke their truths to the yoga world and, through their words, hoped to shape it to be more inclusive, more multifaceted, more in alignment with their own inner truths.

    2015 was a watershed year in yoga – with heated debates over yoga’s roots, cultural implications, celebration of yoga in varied sizes, forms and abilities as well as possibilities for social change.

    Here is a list of blogs, essays and articles that shaped this conversation around yoga, race, culture, inclusion and identity this year.

    A caveat: I am not neutral on this moving vinyasa of history.

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    As a writer passionate about furthering this conversation I in no way pretend to be objective.

    In fact, I don’t believe objectivity is possible, or even necessary, as we open up this conversation to lesser heard voices. I’ve included two of my own articles, as well as chosen pieces that spoke to important moments in the growing cultural consciousness around yoga.

    The wish is to be comprehensive, but that is impossible at this point. There simply aren’t enough yogi writers of color being published.

    Even with what is published, there are gaps. There is no way to include all of the wonderful writing by people of color on yoga that emerged in 2015. If you see something that should be added please share in the comments and feel free to write me personally.The aim is that this continues and grows the conversation.

    These articles cover a wide range of topics from body image to inclusion to cultural appropriation to down dog. Each piece was written by a person of color and published in 2015.

    This conversation is just the beginning of greater black and brown visibility and leadership on the yoga scene today. I’m committed to making 2016 a year where we see even more POC leadership in this yoga world. To keep the conversation going, I will be running an interview series on yoga and personal transformation. If you are interested in being published or interviewed by me please write me at susannainindia@gmail.com

    Now, without further ado, enjoy these thought-provoking conversations shaping the way we looked at and did yoga this year:

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    How to Decolonize Your Yoga Practice
    Susanna Barkataki, Decolonizing Yoga

    This article sparked debate around how to practice and decolonize yoga today. It struck a cultural chord, was posted and reposted and is now used in teaching curriculums around the world to draw attention to the complexities of practicing and teaching yoga.

    “The practices millions of Westerners now turn to for alternative health and wellness therapies were intentionally eradicated from parts of India to the point that lineages were broken and thousand-year-old traditions lost.
    To be colonized is to become a stranger in your own land. As a desi, this is the feeling I get in most Westernized yoga spaces today.
    Of course, powerful practices that reduce suffering persist, despite all attempts to end them. These facts are critical to understanding the power and privilege we continue to possess or lack, to clarifying the positionalities we embody as we practice, teach and share yoga today.”

    4 Thoughts for Your Yoga Teacher Who Thinks Appropriation is Fun
    Roopa Singh, Everyday Feminism

    In her spoken word piece Letter To My Yoga Teacher, Roopa Singh performs a scathing, tongue in cheek critique of the experience of walking into a studio class as a South Asian yogi. “I walked into your class today. As usual, I was the only Indian person. Which of course made me strive for super human, wonder woman, extra flexibility, so as to really represent for my people.”

    I’m a Yogi, Not a Stereotype
    Quentin Vennie, Lyre

    In this powerful self-reflection piece, Vennie says: “Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I didn’t know what yoga was. . . In spite of economic and emotional hardships that I’ve faced, every day I strive to become a better version of myself. I am proud to say that I am a yogi, but I am not a stereotype.”

    Speaking My Mind, No Shade, Just Truth
    Dianne Bondy, Author’s Website

    The conversation around yoga and body image, as well as a wonderful array of folks of all body sizes and shapes- started to take over our newsfeeds and Instagrams this year. The privilege of many yoga teachers was called out in this powerful article by Dianne Bondy.
    “As practitioners of yoga especially, we know that embracing change involves letting go of that which no longer serves us well. Does perpetuating the mainstream image of yoga serve us well or does it continue to oppress those of us who do not (and will never) look the same?”

    Making Yoga Truly Accessible to All
    Dianne Bondy, Yoga International

    The movement towards making yoga inclusive for all broadened and expanded with the first Yoga for All conference. “I’ve realized that there are many different barriers preventing people with large bodies, and those of color and other marginalized populations, from practicing and embracing yoga. The barriers include financial accessibility, able-ism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and geographical availability. . . I believed we needed to demystify yoga and make it possible for all to feel welcome.”

    Chelsea Jackson on Diversity + Embracing Who You Are
    Chelsea Jackson, Yoga Journal

    Chelsea Jackson on the need for more diversity in yoga today: “We all have to keep inviting people to the conversation and expand the number and diversity of people sitting at the table making decisions. If you don’t see your reflection in yoga studios and yoga teacher trainings, it’s hard to believe that you belong there. When I first started practicing yoga, there was only a handful of people who looked like me that I could actually talk with about this. Whenever we saw a person of color anywhere in a major publication it was like this celebration because it was such an anomaly. When you don’t see a diverse array of people practicing self-care, it can send the message of ‘people like me don’t know how to take care of themselves.’ It is getting better and I’m excited to see different images, whether they reflect different color, size, or whatever, in the last couple of years. There are more voices being heard.”

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    Annual Yoga and Race conference

    Following on the conference theme, the writing that emerged from the second Race and Yoga Conference was powerful. Bidyut Bose of Niroga Institute called for us to share yoga in communities that have low or no access to it.

    As she spoke at the keynote,Dianne Bondy asked and offered: What makes diversity in yoga so important? Supporting equal access to health and wellness. Promoting unity as opposed to exclusion. Self-awareness as catalyst for change. . .When you begin to ask yourself: “What does yoga have to do with my community” then you begin to question these inequities.”

    Upon leaving the conference, I wrote a piece called Stronger Together: 6 Ways to Build Community. I felt more motivation to speak out across difference, centralize marginalized voices, and share the practice. “There were some radically different perspectives shared at this conference. Just because we all share a common interest doesn’t mean we will all agree. In fact, our differences are part of what makes the community more rich and beautiful. So if we can speak our truths, accept differences and embrace conflict through sharing courageous conversation we can deepen our community even further than if we never disagree at all.”

    Awakening Through Race, Sexuality & Gender
    Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Decolonizing Yoga

    Writing of her meditation practice, an integral part of the yogic path, Earthlyn Manuel says, “The tenderness that arose in my life brought with it a liberated and well-hearted engagement with life; it was a transformation of pent-up anger, rage, and dis- appointment. Instead of sinking into pain and separa- tion I did a very scary thing. I allowed tenderness—a gentle opening, a softness of mind and body—to sur- face. I followed that opening until the way of tender- ness unearthed itself as a liberated path. It is a natural, organic, innate medicine, or teaching within the body itself.”

    No Yoga is Not Cultural Appropriation
    Jaswhir Dillon, Ottawa Citizen

    There was much controversy over the shut down of a university yoga class in Ottowa. The issue was complicated, at one point being mistakenly attributed to “cultural appropriation” only to later have this debunked. Here was a local Indian yogis response to the news of a University yoga class being shut down in Ottawa due to “cultural appropriation.”

    What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm
    Maisha Z. Johnson, Everyday Feminism

    In her June Article, Johnson powerfully writes: “White People Can Freely Do What People of Color Were Actively Punished for Doing. It can feel like a slap in the face to see carefree white people enjoy the practices your ancestors were penalized for. It’s also an unsettling reminder that the process of taking our practices from us isn’t over, as white folks end up having more access to our practices than we do. The sweeping trend of yoga in the US is an example of this.”

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    What is Safe Space in Yoga Studios
    Susanna Barkataki, Huffington Post

    In response to the public outcry to a POC-Only yoga class in Seattle, I wrote this piece to encourage us all to support, provide and ask for safe, brave space in our practice spaces.
    “POC Safe Yoga space. The times and climate call for it. The yoga world needs it.
    Let’s stand with Rainier Beach Yoga and all their and other students seeking access to yoga that feels welcoming to them. What if all yoga studios began to offer some affinity group safe-space and POC yoga classes? If you are a studio with no teachers of color on staff, what a great opportunity to notice that and address the inequity by expanding your hiring pool. . .There is power in numbers. The more of us who do it, the more normalized the need becomes. We need to expand safety to include more folks in yoga spaces.”

    This was a year of important writing on Yoga from people of color. I hope you appreciate this list. My wish is that it helps you bridge inner practice and outer life. And that we uplift more voices in 2016.

    Through recollection of ourselves and others we can elevate our practice and our voices. Let’s see the diversity of our practice and our voices grow in strength, inclusivity and unity in the year to come.

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    Susanna writes from the heart, applying yoga and mindfulness to social justice.

    I would love to feature you. If you are interested in being published or interviewed by me in the new year please write susannainindia@gmail.com

    Also, if you are interested in working with me, I work with individuals 1 on 1 in distance learning custom curated yoga programs as well as in-person for 200 hour yoga teacher trainings. The next training starts in Jan. in Los Angeles. 

    Learn more at www.SusannaBarkataki.com