Yoga Vita

Musings on Yoga, Life, and the Yoga Life

My Citta’s all Vrtti.

9 Comments

My yoga teacher said something that made me really angry the other day, and now my head is all in the mud about going to the studio. Fantastic. Should I even try to explain what he said so this makes sense?

Why not.

Ok, first some background information. The yoga studio is located in a part of the Central District in Seattle that is traditionally black and traditionally low/mid income. I imagine the studio is there because that’s what was affordable when they were first starting out- – fine. Now the neighborhood also has two newer scenes creeping in- – underprivileged people of color who are homeless and often have drug problems on one hand and privileged mostly white gentrification on the other hand. So there’s a little picture of the neighborhood.

The BS comment came after chanting at the studio one morning and it went like this: “Isn’t it great that we can be here in this neighborhood, with its homeless crack scene, chanting like this? I think the people really dig it. We’re really doing a great thing–we’re raising the vibrational energy of this place. You know, these people have a lot of obstacles, so here we are chanting to Ganesh. It’s so great that we can some higher vibrations into this neighborbood.”

God, no, uh-uh. Let’s be honest. You aren’t doing a damn thing for these people, so don’t pretend you are so you can feel all cozy and self-satisfied. If anything you’re making it harder for them to live here by contributing to the area’s gentrification. You don’t know what low income black people need in Seattle- – and I can assure you that whatever it is, it sure as hell isn’t CHANTING! They can raise their own damn vibrational levels if they feel like it! This whole attitude is so effing imperialistic, I can’t believe it–justifying privileged takeover of underprivileged spaces with bullshit “spiritual” excuses. I can’t believe it and I can’t stand it.

I’m so pissed, I don’t even want to go back. I don’t want to be a part of that. But I want to practice my yoga and I want to have qualified teachers. What can I do? Aaagh! And I’m in the middle of this training, and I’m on work trade so I owe my teachers a ton of work hours–I’m pretty tied to this studio. I want to say something, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate, and if it is, I don’t know how.

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9 thoughts on “My Citta’s all Vrtti.

  1. That was a stupid and sucky comment your teacher made. But perhaps see it within its context – your teacher thinks the chanting is a good thing for everyone, that it spreads good energy. That doesn’t mean that your teacher thinks that is all that needs to be done. Think of it as an isolated comment about an isolated thing so that you can move on from this…

  2. I’m with Lauren on this. No, chanting is not the solution to poverty and addiction. But yes, devotional practices are an attempt by the spirit to recognize that we are all one.

    If you can rein in your emotional response to this comment, perhaps you can ask your teacher what he meant, and try to share how it made you feel. Not to attack, but to ask for understanding of his intentions. He may believe that the chanting really is a significant way to change the environment. Now, if you don’t believe that, it can be hard to fathom that someone might actually hold that belief — but at least you’ll know where he’s coming from, and can perhaps accept that his intention is good.

  3. Lauren, Karen, thanks for the advice. My teacher with out a doubt meant well, which is what I should keep in mind. The fact is I’m not angry at him at all, but I’m pretty all-around bummed at the lack of awareness privileged people can get away with, even when they’re in the midst of an underprivileged neighborhood. But it’s not fair or helful to get all worked up over one comment. Maybe I can find a polite way to bring up my concern though.

  4. Privilege is a fascinating subject. I try to be conscious of it, and I have my judgments about people I feel are too privileged, but obviously, when I look at it from a broader perspective, it’s pretty obvious that I am *astonishingly* privileged. Very relative, this concept, and perhaps the idea of “all being one” is appealing to me as a kind of resolution of the discrepancies.

    Interesting subject. Thanks for bringing it up.

  5. I completely understand why that would upset you, it would have bothered me as well. But like the others have said, he may have meant well and didn’t actually think chanting was as good as other more direct help. Maybe if the instructor was always saying things of that nature, I wouldn’t go back (I would find it distracting), but if it was a one time thing, then I’d give it another chance.

  6. I, too, understand your response and feelings. He/She should have really thought about that before he/she said that…regardless of what they intended. I’d bring up my feelings with that person – let them know how it sounded – if you don’t say what is on your mind you might not be able to feel at peace there until you do…or at least that is how I would feel…it would be in the back on my mind until I did say something. You already know Yoga for finding peace…why not do it with words to resolve your sour feelings? Just a thought…I know it’s sometimes easier said than done…

    o/t…I edited my Tei-Fu Post with the ingredients as you requested. Sorry I didn’t post them originally…

    http://harmonia.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/tei-fu/

  7. i totally hear ya on that rant, that’s the kind of thing that really bothers me. personally i wouldn’t say anything, unless the subject specifically came up, like the teacher wanted to discuss how the studio can more actively contribute to the community and social justice issues. but i’m guessing that might be about as likely as it would be at my studio.

    for me, how can all these attitudes equate to an isolated comment about an isolated thing?? my perspective is that it’s not, it’s about the relationship between yoga and ideals and awareness and realities including socioeconomic issues. but my conclusion is that there isn’t much point in my reactions. i can appreciate their good intentions, and that running a yoga studio no doubt has lots of challenges.

    issues of privilege can be a frustrating and slippery slope. i think sometimes the most you can do is live your life, ask challenging questions of yourself and look for productive outlets. i think my shala could be more sensitive and engaged, but i’m sure i could so i will focus on building in my own life. if i could get quality mysore instruction elsewhere, at a more community-minded place, i would in a flash, even though i like my teachers. but for now i’m comfortable with the trade off- that’s how i see it. sorry to go on but obviously you hit a nerve with me. i can’t even say how many half-enraged savasanas i’ve had at that place- it’s been an interesting learning process let’s say. namaste.

  8. What great discussion–I really appreciate all the thought and input. 🙂

    A socially engaged yoga studio. . . that would be my dream! I wonder how such a thing could work. . .

  9. mmm, I just read this, Cara, and I have to say that your instincts were right on this one. Almost all yoga teachers do ‘pro bono’ work–not so with the teacher you are talking about. Yeah, this is going to sound judgemental, but that’s probably because I am still harboring a little anger myself over how students, including myself, have been treated there. And yeah, I agree with harmonia–say something to him if you can. He has no idea how what he says affects people. Part of the reason I left is because of the way he spoke to me on a number of occasions. It’s a total blindness to the effect he’s having on every level–not seeing the other person, and in this case, not seeing the community, but only seeing what he deems is his benevolence towards them. And there are great teachers out there–certified doesn’t mean you are a good teacher. It just means you can do third series and count primary.

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