Recently, the ever-clever Lisan Jutras asked me how it feels to be brown in a Toronto yoga class. She gets 10 points for asking me this, ’cause no one ever has before.
I have my regular stretching haunts, but thanks to the Passport to Prana (which is a sweet little deal, by the way), I have also been class-hopping around the city. So yesterday I found myself in an excellent, fast-paced class. The theme was shoulder openers, which was very welcome. Hips are the trendy tight spot of late, but as someone who types to excess, my shoulders, arms and hands can always use some attention.
The class made me think of my convo with Lisan, because the (white) teacher was very, very, very into pronouncing the full, 18-syllable Sanskrit name of every pose, every time. And then at the end of the class, along with chanting “Om,” there was another long repetitive Sanskrit chant that most of the other students knew by heart. This being downtown Toronto, I think you already know that 90% of the students were white women.
And so the question is: how do I feel? The answer is: complicated. The ruminative women’s studies bovine inside my mind goes on a long journey through Marlene Nourbese-Philip’s “She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks,” thinking about the irony of a brown chick who’s never been to India being led in Sanskrit chants by the great-grand-offspring of someone whose relatives very possibly actively forced her own great-grand-relatives to lose their native languages. The relentless urban cynic wonders if any of the other students bother to look up what their chants mean, or why they’re so eager to sing-song “Shanti, Shanti” but probably won’t accompany their moms to church this Christmas (though they will open the presents).
But, like, yoga is about positivity and accepting the world as it is right now, instead of travelling through the space-time continuum to colonial India 300 years ago. So then I get to the part where I think about all of the ass-kicking, mind-blowing white yoga teachers who have helped me physically, mentally and yes, spiritually, get closer to the person I’d like to be.
I’m me, so a super-sappy, super-snappy, or relentlessly New Agey teacher will get on my nerves, for always (also: please do not mention vaginas in class. Especially if there are male students there). But if yoga is genuinely a person’s way of positively relating to the world, well hey, that’s me too, so I try to tamper down the judgment. “Shanti” means peace, didja know that?