As I prepare for the upcoming 8 Limbs workshop Compassion in Hard Times, I am reflecting on the events of the last twelve months. Exactly one year ago, I taught a people of color (POC) yoga class that changed my life.
The first official POC event I attended was a couple years ago, with Sister Jewel (now Kaira Jewel Lingo). It was a POC meditation retreat in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I really did not want to attend. A wise elder of mine (who happens to be a white woman who has known me for many years) kept insisting I look into the retreat and consider going; she was persistent. I did end up attending that 3-day retreat on Martin Luther King Day weekend, and during my time at that retreat, led by a women of color and attended by other POC, something in me healed that I did not know needed to be healed. It’s hard to put into words, but a hole in my soul shored up in the safety of that “exclusive” space.
In that space I was able to be free, from the need to fit in with, to educate, to impress, to take care of, to be let down by––those in the dominant culture. I could show up fully and fiercely without restraint, with all of my confusion, anger, loud love and brightness. I could attend wholeheartedly to the entire complex of me––my woundedness and my divinity. Doing this work in an “exclusive space” allowed me to move out into the world in a different way. It increased my capacity to hold complexities and respond compassionately, as a black woman in 21st century North America.
Sometime later, I was asked if I was interested in teaching for POC Yoga. At the time, I wasn’t really sure that I was. I wasn’t sure that I had the skill set, capacity, or desire to hold that space, but I agreed to try.
At around the same time, this monthly POC Yoga class that had been going on “underground” for nearly 5 years was naively advertised on a neighborhood social media site and received nearly 100 comments, most of them negative.
Then an anonymous person from that social media site tipped off radio personality Dori Monson about the POC yoga class and he blew the whole story up on his radio show. It went national, and that’s when the death threats came rolling in, to both the studio owner and to one of the founders of POC Yoga.
POC Yoga shut down permanently after the attacks and the studio owner closed her business for 2 weeks.
The notice advertising the POC Yoga class stated: “white friends, allies and partners are respectfully asked not to attend.” This deceptively simple request is what I believe triggered a vicious response.
The dominant culture of North America is so accustomed to having access to everything that this request to stay away triggered the well of wounded privilege in some folks. Needless to say, as a black woman I have been told directly and indirectly many times what I cannot and should not do: I should refrain from wearing my hair “wildly” as it is appears unkempt, I should not talk in “slang” as it is unbecoming and unacceptable for a professional… etc, etc.
I have, to some degree, internalized some of these messages (and other messages that the dominant culture bombards me with daily––as have you!) and I am in the process of unlearning and undoing some of this psychic damage. One of the places that this healing and undoing happens for me is in “exclusive” spaces.
The first POC Yoga class that I taught was the one that was attacked.
As a result of that single event, I am moving through the world differently.
Before the attacks on POC Yoga I took great pride in saying that I was a “people-ist” not an “activist.” Now, I am really not sure what label I would give myself. I can, however, say that I have always been committed to using spiritual practice to heal my wounded-ness (and thus access my divine nature more consistently) and to spread love.
Fast forward one very long and exhausting year––community organizing, an interfaith panel, ongoing private Yoga for POC Healing classes, personal stress and distress, offering workshops, my first public YPOCH class at 8 Limbs, anxiety and depression after the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, another yoga studio in Seattle offering public POC yoga classes, offering more workshops, and now monthly YPOCH classes at 8 limbs.
Now, I am particularly committed to using this spiritual practice to heal the special brand of wounded-ness that comes from being an African American woman in the dominant culture of North America. I plan to continue to offer other people of color this same opportunity in “exclusive” spaces. And I am beginning to explore how I can influence systems and organizations using spiritual practices.
I invite you to consider being supportive of POC spaces. I also invite you to consider looking into your own special brand of wounded-ness caused by the history of racism in America. Also, may I be so bold as to invite you to consider that you have threads of racism inside of you. These threads will not unravel by themselves; I believe we each have to do specific work to understand and unlearn /deprogram the racism that lives in us.
We are in this together and the way out of this is together, and at the same time we each have to do the work of deep inward looking and healing. And sometimes that work is done best apart.
POC yoga classes, like Yoga for POC Healing, are an opportunity to do this work apart. The workshop Compassion in Hard Times is an opportunity to do this work together. Please consider joining me.
Posted by: Geneviève Hicks
Join Geneviève this Thursday (offered once a month) for Yoga for People of Color Healing and on Saturday, October 29, 12:00-4:00pm for Compassion in Hard Times – Exploring Identity and Bias Through Yoga.