Yoga Vita

Musings on Yoga, Life, and the Yoga Life


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The Social Politics of Neigborhood Names

I live in a kind of physical and social borderland- – an interesting bit of geosocial real estate in the city of Seattle. If I look at a city map, I can see clearly that my third floor apartment is located well within the geographical borders of the Central District. But if I take a walk around, I can see that this area is in a phase of becoming culturally, racially, and economically more and more Capitol Hill. I never know what to tell people when they ask where I live.

Do I tell them I live in Capitol Hill, and thus associate myself with white punk-rawk hipsters, grown-up liberals with trendy glasses and well-dressed babies in designer organic cotton attachment parenting slings, seedy gay bars, ultra-hip gay bars, overpriced restaurants and coffeeshops, Seattle’s old-money-haunted-mansion enclave, and so forth? (And if they’re geographically savvy, will they know I actually live in the CD and think I’m being snobby?)

Or do I tell them I live in the Central District and associate myself with crack-dealing busts, shootings, low-income housing developments, African immigrant communities, and the only part of town in which Black people were historically allowed to live? (And then, if they see that I live in the spacious third floor of an old Victorian with a view of the Cascades and Lake Washington in a pretty decent part of town, will they think I’m trying to let on like I’m “slumming it”?)

cd-house-1953.jpg

(Central District, 1953)

These questions seem to be shared by all of the many people and businesses who occupy Central District geographical space and Capitol Hill social space. Granted, neighborhood distinctions are constantly shifting, and some people identify more with their smaller neighborhood than their larger district, but I believe that these shifts and various identifications are telling.

The yoga shala, also within the geographical borders of the CD, advertises itself as being in Capitol Hill. And the thing is, it is Capitol Hill–white-dominated, affluent, hip (ish). The somewhat dilapidated Ethiopian restaurant, the car repair lot with the handmade signs, the mosque that operates out of a run-down house, and the Philly Cheesesteak place, all on the very same street, however, are Central District.

The Trader Joe’s here calls itself the Capitol Hill Trader Joe’s, even though it too is in the CD. But the people shopping and working in it are Capitol Hill.

Well within the Central District, there are a number of tiny islands of white affluence- – a two- or three-block section of 34th Street comes to mind. It boasts no fewer than three wildly overpriced French restaurant and a popular gourmet cupcake shop to boot. This area refers to itself only as Madrona. (I haven’t seen a single actual madrona there, so I’m not sure how that particular name came to be.)

The Planned Parenthood of Western Washington main administration office and clinic is also in the Central District- – it’s right next to Mt. Zion Baptist Church, in fact. However, at least one staff member who I’ve talked to here refers to the office as the Capitol Hill location. Is she perhaps concerned about the shady, “back alley” abortion image that may enter (mostly white) people’s minds when they learn where this clinic is actually located? Or does she actually not know the name of the district she works in? She honestly may not.

When Z and I first moved here, he asked a friend whether to tell people we live in the Central District or on Capitol Hill. She said just tell people you live on Capitol Hill- – people know where that is. What people are we talking about, exactly?

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A Socially Engaged Studio

My last post and all the comments on it have me thinking about why two of my major passions- – social justice and yoga- – are so distant from each other. They certainly shouldn’t have to be, yet most yoga studios are so disengaged from the communities around them–they simply fit into a classic business model (whether they like it or not) and that’s that.

But what would it look like to have a socially engaged yoga studio? What would that entail? Would it work? What are ways plain old yoga studios can become more engaged with the community?

I’ve seen a few examples of yoga studios becoming somewhat more involved in the community, but not many and not much. What can we learn from them?


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My Citta’s all Vrtti.

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.