From Contemplative Life Practices to A Contemporary Lifestyle
The goal of Yoga as a Peace Practice (YPP) is to turn contemplative life practices (CLP) into a contemporary lifestyle (CLS). FromCLP to CLS.
While the concept of contemplative life practices appears strange and alien to people today, in several ways they provide an antidote for coping with the exigencies we face daily. As noted in the YPP workbook, actual violence and a culture of violence have deleterious effects on African Americans.
Contemplative life practices were developed at a time and over time to deal with difficult life circumstances. We can learn lessons from these traditions and adapt them for the circumstances we face today.
Based on the traditions presented in the YPP workbook, a contemplative life style can be organized around the eight limbs of yoga. One common definition of “yoga” is a practice that unifies mind, body and soul. Another popular definition is that yoga is a set of practices that brings the mind, body and soul into “stillness.” When the mind, body and soul are unified, or they are brought into stillness, we abide in rest and relaxation, and we rejuvenate ourselves.
So, what are these eight limbs: beliefs (ethics/values), behaviors, physical exercise (postures), breathing (connecting to one’s lifeforce), withdrawal of the senses (momentarily detaching from all forms of stimuli), concentration, meditation and transcendence.
These eight limbs provide guides to “self-care.” And, the purpose of self-care is not to retreat from the world. It is to remain fortified to engage the world, and to change it.
We can better care for others if our self-care is optimal to the best of our abilities, and we can foster improvements in the conditions we and others face.
From Contemplative Life Practices To A Re-Spiritualization of Life
Regardless of whether we are theist, atheist, or non-theistic, being human includes our physical and non-physical natures.
Contemplative Life Practices awaken in us, the importance of integrating all aspects of our being – the good, the bad, the ugly. Paraphrasing Jung, wellness means being “whole” — integrating our “lightness” and our “darkness.”
Contemplative life practices awaken in us the call to heal ourselves, so we can attend to the healing of others and our world.
Yoga As A Peace Practice As A New Translation Of Contemplative Life Practices
One way in which our spiritual life grows and the “care for the self” develops is my reading a body of teachings and reading the commentaries on those teachings.
The commentaries often translate the profound understandings into the common language of the period of the commentator. One of the most profound translations — for both good for — bad was the translation of the Bible known as the King James Version. We gain insights into Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras by reading the commentaries.
YPP continues this tradition of translating what often appears as the esoteric into language that makes the teachings accessible.
YPP is a translation of the Contemplative Life Practices into an urban, Afro-centric, contemporary language and lifestyles.
Yoga As A Peace Practice As Personal, Spiritual and Social Realization
Teachings and practices that have been around for thousands of years can become very ornate and esoteric. As a result, they can be less and less accessible.
However, fundamental to Contemplative Life Practices is the “direct experience.” We no longer see “through the glass darkly.” We break the “chains of illusion.”
YPP helps remove all “mediations” of experience. Consequently, the personal becomes a direct experience of the Profound.
With a realization of who/what we really, we act and live from a place of genuine authenticity.
Yoga As A Peace Practice And The Art Of Peaceful Living
I’ve read once that the way the Zen Buddhist in Japan addressed the problem that everyone didn’t have the time or inclination to live a monastic life was to bring Zen out of the monastery to the people.
Some ways in which this was done was by infusing everyday practices with Zen.
Forms infusion took were:
Zen and the Art of Archery
Zen and the Art of Tea Ceremony
Zen and the Art of Flower Arrangement
Zen and the Art of Calligraphy.
In the U.S. there is poplar set of teachings by Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen: Love and Work.
So, another way to think about Yoga As A Peace Practice is as Contemplative Life Practices And The Art of Peaceful Living.
“Peaceful Living” is a form of living that allows us to engage ourselves, others and our world in ways that enhance overall well-being.
Peace every day.
Peace moment-by-moment throughout the day, even during the midst of the storms of life.
Publisher’s note: Yoga As A Peace Practice was shared at the Yogaville Satchidananda Ashram in August 2018 was a “had to be there,” experience. The 65 people who attended made granular to seismic shifts in awareness and consciousness that will inform and inspire them
We thank BYTA member, supporter and volunteer, Dr. Jerome Paige, for his insightful musings to contextualize and clarify the abstract nature of contemplative practice and the contemporary application of Yoga As A Peace Practice.
Spring is here, and although on the East Coast it roared in dumping sleet and snow the first two days, we can trust that behind the scenes trees are budding and Mother Earth’s vegetation will soon spring forth, green, floral and bountiful!
Just like the behind the scenes working of Earth, the foundation for what will unfold to grow the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Inc., has been germinating! Here’s what we hope to manifest:
Yoga As A Peace Practice (YPP)
This is the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance flagship initiative. It offers an innovative yoga teacher training to help communities impacted by violence create resilience through contemplative and restorative yoga practices. BYTA will offer the third YPP training August 24-26, 2018, at the Yogaville Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham, VA, led by yoga teachers, Maya Breuer, Jana Long, Dr. Gail Parker and Dana Smith. Please join us.
Winter 2018 was spent developing a digital brochure to officially launch BYTA’s fundraising drive. We will be reaching out to individuals, organizations, agencies and corporate sponsors who align with our mission and vision and will show their support through financial donations to BYTA. The brochure will be published on the BYTA web site in April 2018.
BYTA will launch its annual membership drive in April. We need funds to continue to offer conference, programs and to build our infrastructure. In addition to the general fund raising drive, we must show that BYTA members are vested in the organization. Moving forward to be an active member of BYTA, there will be a $75 annual membership fee. We plan to offer a $25 discount to everyone who joins BYTA by December 31, 2018 will pay only $50.
BYTA will launch a members-only newsletter early April. This newsletter will go active BYTA members and will include information about scholarships, discounts, job referrals, as well as keep members current on BYTA business activities. Scholarships, discounts and financial assistance to attend events will be offered only to active BYTA members.
BYTA is partnering with a growing list of organizations and yoga teachers who have offered scholarships to BYTA members. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Yogarupa Rod Stryker, Susan Piver, Amy Ippoliti, and Dorothy Wadsworth. More to come . . .
In May 2008 two women sipped early morning coffee around a small kitchen table. They talked about all sorts of things — hairstyles, family, men, fashion, and reflected on their pasts of raising children as single mothers — and their current status as grandmothers and caretakers of elderly parents. Most of all they shared their hopes and dreams for the future. The two women, yoga teachers Maya Breuer and Jana Long, had become close friends and business partners since meeting seven years before at a conference for black yoga teachers. Most conversations between the two of them, would eventually turn to the topic of yoga, and become immersed in sharing their challenges and triumphs as black women on the yogic path of self-awareness and realization. However, this morning a new idea that gave birth to a new organization was birthed from their conversation.
They reminisced about conferences they had attended in past organized the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers. It was at one of the conferences that the two of them met in 2002. They talked about how affirming it was to meet, mingle and relax with other black yoga teachers and feel no pressure or the need to explain oneself because the practice of yoga met their physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual needs expressions of those gathered. Now that the organization was no longer active, the joy and magic these past events provided left a dearth that was unfulfilled at mainstream yoga conferences. Simultaneously they came up with the idea, “let’s start another black yoga teachers organization?” they said almost in unison.
“What should we call it?” Maya asked, as she reached for paper and pen to take notes.
“Let’s keep it national in scope, “Jana replied pacing the room as her thoughts flowed.
“The mission has to be different from IABYT,” said Maya.
“It’s got to be simple — something that can be reduced to a mouthful,” Jana added.
They bantered back and forth, ideas moving from mind to matter. e
“National Association of Black Yoga Teachers or NABYT.”
“No, too much like the other organization”
Black Yoga Teachers Association or BYTA”
“Almost, but let’s drop association.”
How about Black Yoga Teachers Alliance or BYTA”
“That’s it,” they both agreed.
And, thus BYTA was conceived.
On June 14, 2008, Jana opened a Facebook group to inquire whether people felt there was a need for black yoga teachers organization. Slowly yoga teachers, practitioners and enthusiasts began to join the group. By the end of 2008 there were 28 members. Over the next five years the membership to the group steadily grew and by 2013 it had reached 1,000 members.
It seemed there was a clear mandate and the time had come to begin to build the organization. The initial step was to secure the domain name and build a website, and for that they would need held. Enter Lorenzo Wilkins, Director of sd33 Art Direction and Design, who branded the BYTA identity and developed and built the website. The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance web site launched at midnight on December 13, 2014 or 12/13/14, the last sequential date sequence of the 21st century!
The increased number of requests to join the BYTA FB group and traffic to the new website seduced Maya and Jana into thinking the time had come to produce a national event. They planned to offer the BYTA inaugural conference in 2015 and sought venues around the Baltimore-Washington, DC metropolitan areas and in New England. They settled on the Providence Zen Center, a retreat site in Rhode Island where Maya and Jana had chosen for their initial conference collaboration in 2006. However, they had no working capital and decided to secure the facility by making a deposit with their personal money. They banked on registrations generating enough money to fund the event. They posted content on the web site and social media to promote the conference, but by early spring it was clear with only four registrations that the risk was too high. They had been given a 90-day window prior to the event to request a full refund of their deposit so they made the decision to cancel. Disheartened, but a with good lesson learned, they forged onward.
Hardly a month had passed after they had cancelled the 2015 conference that Jana got a call from an excited Maya.
“You won’t believe this,” she began, “but I had a conversation with the president of Kripalu and he wanted to know if we would be interested in producing the inaugural BYTA conference there in 2016!” The answer, a resounding “yes,” and with that the serious work of producing a 3-day conference was underway.
The weekend of August 25-28, 2016 at Kripalu was magical! You had to be there to grasp the full scope and impact of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance inaugural conference in August 2016, and those who were fortunate to be there will tell the story for years to come. Over 100 black yoga teachers, practitioners and enthusiasts gathered for this capstone event. Many claimed the conference changed their lives in both tangible and subtle ways. Strong connections were made and alliances built. We will remember what was created and shared on the sacred land of Berkshires that summer.
After the conference Maya and Jana took the long view of how much BYTA had grown in one year. By the end of 2016 the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance was an incorporated non-profit with 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Two small but successful fundraisers had supported funding 15 full and partial scholarships with a few dollars leftover for the BYTA coffers to fund administrative efforts in the coming year.
The primary goal for BYTA in 2017 is fund raising and membership development.
The organization will begin to vet potential board member and seek ways to elevate the presence of black yoga teachers in the world.
The first national initiative, “Yoga As A Peace Practice,” will launch pilot yoga teacher trainings in Oakland, CA, May 19-21, 2017, in collaboration with Mark Whitwell’s “Heart of Yoga,” training, both sponsored by the Urban Family Foundation.
Finally, the BYTA 2017 Conference is scheduled for July 6-9 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The conference theme is “We Are One,” and will bring together practitioners of Native American, African and African-American spirit traditions to offer prayers for healing the hearts of humanity and the lands, waters and all life forms on Mother Earth. A sacred drum circle led by Abigail Jefferson, Strong Oak, Shawn Stevens and Sekou Sylla will open the conference and set the tone for the weekend. Shola Arewa, Maria Broom and Dr. Gail Parker will return to offer new experiential workshops and they will be joined by Arturo Peal, an expert in the field of yoga anatomy and sacro-cranial therapy. There will be a half-day plenary session, “How’s Business?” with a panel of experts — Shola Arewa, Marshawn Feltus, Octavia Raheem and Andrew Tanner, who will offer their insights and experiences about various aspects of yoga as a business. Finally, we will have a night of deep vibration healing with the yoga sutras, yoga nidra and a gentle gong bath . . . and more . . .
By Maya Breuer, Santosha School of Yoga, Warwick, RI
The development of Yoga as a Peace Practice as the first national initiative of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance began in response to a growing epidemic of violence in our communities. It was after Trayvon Martin’s tragic death in 2012 that I began Yoga as A Peace Practice on the ground in Rhode Island.
In January of 2013 I reached out to one of the local homeless shelters to inquire about offering a free yoga class as part of their day programs and training. The class would be for homeless women recovering from physical abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. In short time I received a positive response from the shelter. Logistics were quickly confirmed to hold the classes at a community yoga center not far from the shelter.
Fifteen women show up for the first class. Most of them walked into the into the beautiful yoga space with shoulders hunched up to their ears and frustrated or angry looks on their faces. I directed them to choose a yoga mat and find a place on the floor facing me, but only half of the women complied. The remaining half either took one of the few available chairs or sat with their backs against the wall. I asked why had they come to yoga and many of the women shared that they would not be participating in yoga, for a host of reasons. One common response was simply: “I don’t really feel like it.” I taught a very easy first class that emphasized breathing and letting go to release stress. Some of the women harrumphed while nodding and a few showed a wan smile toward my general direction. Before I knew it the hour was over and all of the women were on their feet and out the door.
I sat for a while after the first class and started to reflect on what I had witnessed and experienced with the women. Several of them had teeth missing and one woman’s arm was bent in horrific fashion. A couple of them were quite pregnant and they both looked like children themselves. There were two women who often frequented the restroom during the session and I had the feeling they were getting high. The women represented several ethnicities — Asian, African-American, Latina and Native American. As I continued to reflect, I felt some sadness, but I was motivated to see whether or not the concept of yoga as a tool for healing and supporting change would match what I had personally experienced many years ago.
I developed several different classes for the first 8 weeks that focused on slow and gentle practices to give the taste of prana. The practices were basic and focused on 15 postures that included a variety of back and forward bends, standing and seated postures, and twists and inversions. I also instructed them on three breath practices: ujjayi, dirgha and nadi shodhana.
The yoga practices varied from week to week, each class ending in savasana and Kripalu’s closing salutation of J’ai Baghwan (I honor the light within you). Slowly, the bodies of the reluctant women peeled from the walls. Some joined the class in the middle of asana practice, while others joined at the end for savasana. It didn’t matter to me, as long the women participated. I taught yoga without compromise or judgment; I taught yoga in its truest form where breath informs movement. Asana teaches one how to sit while sthira-sukha, a critical component of yoga, translates as attentiveness and ease. The beauty is in the fluidity of these practices and how they can be applied to every action we take in life. I also discussed chitta vritti nirodaha, how yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind. I was even able to integrate a small sharing circle and partner yoga into the classes. After 12 weeks we finally chanted Om!
Some of the women attended consistently for as much as six months, while others participated for eight to ten weeks. Attendance was also impacted by transfers to other facilities or women leaving the program altogether to move into private apartments. The word has spread because now I observe newcomers who walk in and show respect to me as the teacher and to the space as sacred. Every now and then I hear a funny exchange between the women as they admonish the newcomers not to open the door once the class has started. Many of the women have felt comfortable enough to share stories with me about how their children have been taken from them and others talk about their relationships. I have never asked them to share personal details about their lives.
I have had the privilege to watch these women change as they get new teeth, bones mend, and babies are born. I humbly offer Yoga as a Peace Practice from my heart. It’s been three years and my Thursday evening classes are still full with homeless women in recovery and struggling to survive. A few weeks ago I received a call to ask if a man from the homeless recovery program could join the class. I thought for a few moments and then answered “yes.” I thought, “sure send him over and I’ll introduce him to Yoga as a Peace Practice!”
The lines were very long at the U.S. Embassy in London the day Shola Arewa, the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) 2016 keynote speaker, had her interview to get the appropriate visa to attend the inaugural conference in August.
After several hours she finally got to the window where the embassy officer, a white woman originally from South Carolina, lectured her to near scolding as to “why is there a black yoga teachers organization? This is wrong, because yoga is for everyone.” What if she wanted to come? Shola assured her that she would be quite welcome.
“The process [of obtaining the visa] has been an absolute nightmare,” wrote Shola in an email. “I left there almost in tears. I could not answer her questions as to why there is a need for a black yoga teachers alliance because anyone who does not know why, is unlikely to understand why.” Despite having such a grueling experience, when all was said and done, the visa was granted.
The need for a black yoga teachers’ organization is frequently questioned. Here is an example of a typical inquiry sent to BYTA about its existence:
Hello, I saw your ad on the back of the Kripalu magazine. I am curious if I could attend your retreat and conference. I am Caucasian. I am also interested to know why you would want to encourage discrimination among race? Are you aware of any yoga groups that currently discriminate as yours does? Is there perhaps a White yoga teachers’ alliance that perhaps I could attend? I’m not sure how we will all one day come together as human beings with hearts full of love for one another when there are groups like this for the black race or any other race.
Disappointed white woman
A clear and carefully crafted answer was necessary to address the assumptions and accusatory tone of this inquiry. This was BYTA’s response:
Dear Disappointed White Woman,
All are welcome to attend the BYTA 2016 conference. We do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The use of the word “black” is in no way discriminatory; it simply describes who we are and it is unfortunate that you have interpreted that as divisive. There are white yoga teachers who are members of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance. BYTA exists because the yoga community in the United States is not an inclusive community. You are correct that we don’t see the word “white” attached to yoga groups and organizations. It is the luxury of domination and privilege to assume the standards and views of the world you set are applicable to all people. It takes only a casual observance of the leaders, teachers, members, participants, and sponsors of yoga focused activities to see that they are overwhelmingly white, and if you are a person of color, often not welcoming. It is the unspoken truth. There has been a 30-year ongoing dialogue in the U.S. yoga community about the lack of diversity in yoga in these “white” spaces; however, BYTA does not exist to fix that issue. Rather, our mission is to support the educational and professional development of black yoga teachers. BYTA has an important role to play in the world of yoga and in all communities.
This question of why a black yoga teachers’ organization has yet to be asked by a black yoga teacher. Inquiries to BYTA from teachers of color tend to focus on becoming members, teaching and training opportunities, business strategies which are inquiries in alignment with BYTA’s mission “to support the professional and educational development of black yoga teachers and to elevate our presence and voices in our communities and beyond.”
Interestingly, those who claim to be color-blind to race and ethnicity are most likely to question the need for groups and organizations aligned to solely support people of color. Could it be that those in the yoga world are just plain blind, whether intentionally or inadvertently, to the experience of yoga teachers who represent diversity in white yoga environments. In a perfect world, we could drop the “black” designation and just be another yoga teachers alliance, but in a perfect world we would simply be called Americans and not qualified as black or African Americans.
The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is not the first organization for black yoga teachers. It was preceded by the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT), founded in 1998 by a group of Los Angeles-based yoga teachers and led by Krishna Kaur, who served as the group’s president for more than a decade. There is congruence between BYTA and its IABYT predecessor in the support and encouragement of black yoga teachers, but their missions diverge. IABYT’s mission was to spread the art and science of yoga throughout the African Diaspora. The group achieved great success with this mission before its demise in 2010, with multiple trips to countries in West Africa to offer yoga teacher trainings and scholarly exchange. Krishna Kaur is the BYTA 2016 honoree and will heralded for her trailblazing spirit and leadership for black yoga teachers around the world.
The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance empowers yoga teachers to share yoga at the grassroots level within urban, suburban, rural and diverse communities — in homes, schools, churches, community centers, parks, etc., — which are most often the same spaces where we live. We introduce yoga as a modality to support and improve physical health. We teach practices such as mindfulness and meditation to promote emotional and mental healing from the rigors and stress of being black in America offered in ways that are accessible to those people living with the violence that is ravaging black communities.
Black yoga teachers are no different than other teachers who serve allwho seek the path of yoga. We are also uniquely positioned to expand the definition and expectation around who is a yoga teacher and to offer unique and innovative approaches to teaching yoga for those living in the “bubble” of white America. In this way we might come together as “humans beings with hearts full of love,” as expressed by the ‘Disappointed White Woman.’ However, it has to be a two-way street where we cross color lines to learn from each other.
The inaugural Black Yoga Teachers Alliance conference, “Revival: Evolution of Spirit,” will be held at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, August 25-28, 2016, in Stockbridge, MA.
Relaxation is a lost art for many Americans. We pride ourselves on multi-tasking and checking off the “done” items on our never ending “to do lists.” The mind is always active, moving like a wild bucking horse from one thought to another that may lead to chronic conditions such as insomnia and depression. Unfortunately, many of us equate self-care with an indulgence in superficial activities such as shopping, cosmetic applications and expensive vacations where we party, keep long hours, eat and drink too much only to return home in need of a vacation from the vacation! Although these pleasurable activities give us a momentary feel good, they do not have a lasting or transforming impact on the body, mind and spirit.
This year at the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance 2016 ConferenceDr. Gail Parker, Ph.D/RYT-500, CEO of Conscious Living, LLC and Dana A. Smith, RYT-500,founder of Spiritual Essence Yoga, will present workshops to share their expertise and wisdom in restorative yoga and practices in self-love and care that will bring lasting and positive change in your relationship with yourself and others.
BYTA interviewed both teachers about their workshops, individual yoga journeys and the future of yoga.
BYTA:What do you envision for your presentation and time at the BYTA conference in August?
GP: “I envision providing a safe space for participants to take a deep dive into their hearts, to mine their hearts for its wisdom, and to find the courage to follow their heart’s deepest desires.”
DS: “I see my presentation as deep breath. I created it to encourage hard workers to take a break and give themselves permission to take care of themselves. It is way for participants to reconnect with their passion, purpose and happiness through the sacred art of yoga. ”
BYTA: How long have you been practicing/teaching yoga? What was your motivation/inspiration? What keeps you going?
GP: “Curiosity brought me to yoga 50 years ago. I was fortunate to be introduced to the practice by one of Paramahansa Yogananda’s foremost disciples, Yogacharaya. At the time, I was 21 years old and involved in a physically abusive relationship, before domestic violence was considered a crime. Yoga helped me escape it by teaching me to listen to my inner voice. It led me into the wisdom of my heart and gave me the courage to follow it. Over the years, my yoga practice has evolved from being just an asana practice into a lifestyle. I have incorporated the eight limbs of yoga into my very being. Although I practice asana regularly, four to five times weekly, as I have matured, Svadyaya and meditation have become my priority and my daily practice.”
DS: “Yoga has helped me to heal several health issues. I have been practicing yoga since 2001 (15 years). I came to the practice in order to reduce stress and have a healthy pregnancy. Yoga keeps me connected to my passion and purpose and is the longest practice I have ever stuck to. It encourages me to grow and it helps me to celebrate my strengths, work through limitations and accept my life in the present moment.”
BYTA: What, if anything, has been your personal evolution? What is your most significant contribution or seva, to date?
GP: “The physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual benefits I derive from the practice keep me engaged as well as inspired. Yoga taught me then, and continues to teach me, that whenever I need an answer to a question or am faced with a dilemma, I have a trusted inner teacher to consult. Yoga brings me into alignment with what is best in me. I have been teaching Restorative Yoga and Meditation for fifteen years. My broad expertise in behavioral health and wellness include trailblazing efforts to integrate psychology, restorative yoga, and meditation, as effective self-help strategies that can enhance emotional balance, and contribute to the overall health and well being of practitioners, and of the community of people each of us influences. I author a blog called Taking Yoga Off Your Mat™, http://drgailparker.wordpress.com., whose purpose is to teach ways of applying the lessons yoga offers to everyday life.”
DS: Last year I decided to bring yoga out of the studio and sponsored a community day that focused on getting people moving and eating healthy. A few other businesses who focus on the moving arts partnered with me and we had nutritional experts. The event was for individuals and families. It is my intention to make it an annual effort and take it to other communities who may not necessarily have access.”
BYTA: What are your views on the future of yoga? What would you like to see unfold in your life/family/community/nation/world as a practitioner/teacher?
GP: “Yoga has the power to evolve consciousness for the betterment of humanity. I would like to see the continued expansion of yoga as a practice that can benefit all who practice it, and by extension, all those with whom practitioners/teachers come in contact. Yoga invites us to go deep into the practice of self-study, where we encounter our inner-guidance system. It invites us to open our hearts and to be compassionate and kind toward others as well as ourselves. It has the capacity to heal our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds, bringing us into deeper connection with our core self, with all sentient beings, and with mother earth. Beyond our personal growth, yoga can inspire us to build communities of diversity, making us better acquainted, and better friends than we would otherwise be, with people who are different from us. I would like to see the next evolution of yoga reflect the diversity that actually exists within the larger culture. To facilitate this, I would like to see attention paid in teacher trainings to instruction in: the awareness of the value of racial and cultural diversity; the awareness of the racial and cultural biases that inhibit and sometimes prevent inclusion; the awareness of how yoga shapes consciousness; and in the awareness of how to support a consciousness of inclusion that manifests in behaviors that feel welcoming to all.”
DS: “I believe that there is a wave of change happening. People are starting to speak up, we are creating a platform to show that yoga is much more than what you are seeing in popular media. The BYTA conference has a great opportunity to be part of the catalyst for changing the way yoga is being presented. If we won’t be invited into the mainstream we must create our own and invite others in. I want to see yoga presented as a tool for EVERYONE to heal. I want it to be accessible to all who need it. For this to happen we must see representation.”
BYTA: There’s a great deal of conversation around the issue of diversity in yoga. What are your thoughts on the subject?
GP: “Diversity strengthens community. My ideal community is one that is racially, culturally, and ethnically diverse; a community that offers opportunities for a fuller experience through sharing our unique gifts, talents, and perspectives with each other, rather than one that requires sameness and conformity in order to have a sense of belonging. It is a more complex way to live and requires effort, but I like complexity and I don’t mind making the effort. Racial and cultural diversity are natural outcomes of conscious intention. When we intend to be inclusive and engage respectfully with those who are different from us we attract diversity. Like yoga, inclusion is more than a theory. It is a practice. Once you set your mind on practicing it, you increase your chances of actually manifesting diversity. Since yoga is about engagement and connection, the yoga of inclusion asks us to go beyond our capacity to endure or put up with difference. It invites us to enter into relationship with that which is “other” and/or unfamiliar even if it makes us uncomfortable. In this paradigm, rather than fear the tensions of diversity, we embrace them as a path of learning and living.”
DS: “It is frustrating to see the lack of diversity in yoga and how people of color are severely under represented. Whenever there is a list of yoga experts or the most influential teachers you have to search long and hard to find a person of color. Yoga has become a popularity contest, one that we are rarely invited to. The mold for standards needs to be broken once and for all. People need to see the many colors, shapes and ages of yoga.”
BYTA: What is your opinion about having a black yoga teacher’s organization? What would you like to see and experience as the organization grows and evolves?
GP: “The need for association is one of the deepest needs of the human heart. The yoga community is a microcosm of the macrocosm, mirroring all of the best and the worst that exists in the larger culture. Yogis of color have been marginalized in the yoga world just as they have been marginalized in the larger culture, thus the formation of BYTA. As I see it, BYTA is a necessary affinity group that offers yogis of color a place to feel welcomed, to feel visible, to shine, and to receive the much deserved respect, acknowledgement, and recognition for our participation in and contributions to the overall yoga community and to the world in general. In a culture that demeans and invalidates persons of color, BYTA offers an emotionally safe space where, without having to deal with the distraction and pain of racial wounding, which is an energy drain, creativity and innovation can flourish. I think BYTA can take the lead in supporting the development of the consciousness of inclusion as a universal practice. It can become the voice of change and an advocate for those, within the organization and beyond, who want to be actively involved in challenging cultural stereotypes, breaking down barriers to inclusion, and building bridges to understanding within the yoga community.”
DS: “I think it is needed. Black yoga teachers need a forum where we can get together and discuss how keep the art growing in our communities. I believe that SEVA should be the heartbeat of the organization and we should gather to discuss a plan of action and take it to the community and make things happen. I would love have a way to stay in regular contact and find a way to support each other and hold each other accountable to our mission.”
Dana A. Smith will present “Yoga for Self-Love and Care, Friday, August 26, 2016, 9:00-11:00am.
Dr. Gail Parker will lead a workshop, “Receive, Restore, Renew: The Art and Skill of Restorative Yoga, Friday, August 26, 2016, 1:00-3:00pm.
Both workshops eligible for Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Credits.
The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance welcomes all to join us for an awe-inspiring conference at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, August 25-28, 2016. This year’s theme, “Revival! Evolution of Spirit will offer a wide range of workshops for learning, healing, sharing and experiencing the ancient system of yoga and self-care integrative wellness practices.
This conference is not limited to black yoga teachers. We encourage teachers-in-training, enthusiasts, practitioners and the curious to join us. It is rare to have a full weekend program with black yoga teachers front and center leading workshops at major yoga retreat center. This conference offers everyone a unique experience to learn and share with the some of the best yoga teachers in the world. All colors, shapes, sizes, ages and genders are welcome!
BYTA’s 2016 honoree is Krishna Kaur Khalsa, who served for 10 years as president of the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers, a precursor to BYTA, and the founder of Y.O.G.A. for Youth, an international program designed to affirm and acknowledge the potential of incarcerated youth through the practice of yoga. Black yoga teachers worldwide are deeply indebted to Krishna for her dedication and service to connect us and spread the art and science of yoga throughout the African Diaspora.
It wouldn’t be a gathering of black yoga teachers without music, dance, drumming and singing. The last night of the conference will begin with African drum and dance led by the Bamidele Dancers and Drummers, and to close out the night, our DJ will rock the Rhythm Nation Dance Party!
Join us for this rare experience of yoga, roots, culture and community!