Happy MLK Day: Yoga Exercises for White Privilege

Happy MLK Day.

As an individual who grew up in the deep South, this holiday has always carried significant meaning for me. I grew up down the street from where MLK wrote his famous “Letters from a Birmingham Jail”, and I frequented the Civil Rights Museum and Kelly Ingram Park as I pondered the horrors of Bull Connor and the prolific light that was Martin Luther King. I did all of this from the seat of a cis gender, heteronormative white female who even with the best intentions has wandered through my white privilege unaware of how deeply I benefit from it.

Privilege is like a fog that you’ve always lived in. You’ve heard about other weather but you’re perfectly comfortable in your dense fog, so you only view it from the TV screen but never get up close and personal with it. The fog is comfortable and warm, and while you are aware that the fog is caused by some unethical manufacturing practices and may adversely affect others…  it doesn’t really bother you- and you’re comfortable- so what’s the big deal? Luckily, that’s only reported on occasionally, so out of sight, out of mind right? To quote one of my favorites

Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.

In yogic terms, this fog is avidya. Avidya is fundamental ignorance. It’s the veil that covers us from seeing our true nature, and it is what inhibits us from seeing reality. Avidya is the root cause of dukkah or darkness, and is the stem of all evil and harmful deeds in the world. Our yoga practice is here to help us lift this veil so that we might see ourselves as we truly are, Divine and from the same source.

Take this holiday and Black History Month for example. While I am all about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. (and honestly would prefer to do so multiple times in a year), Black History Month is a reminder that we see it as an exception to celebrate people of color. All other 11 months out of the year might as well be labeled ‘White History Months’. What about so many other patriarchs and matriarchs of peace and importance in communities of color? How come we only acknowledge one? There’s a breadth of leaders who have drastically changed the world who are not white and who are not celebrated, but because that doesn’t fit the ‘fog’ we’re not taught about them in our history books.

In order to achieve the ‘goal’ of Patanjali’s yoga “yoga calms the chatter of the mind” or in a larger sense- to mitigate suffering- we must address the prevailing fog (avidya) that eliminates us from thinking clearly and exposing our true nature: Divine and One. To bring it back to Martin Luther King, in order to help realize his dream of equality, we have to start shaking the foundation of our privilege in order to level the playing field and to eliminate the systematic oppression that keeps all beings from being happy, healthy and free.

It is our duty and arguably every man’s dharma (to make firm/ how we stabilize a shaky, unstable world) to lift the fog and see clearly our true nature. Then, and only then, will we ALL be free. “Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

So HOW do we get out of the fog otherwise known as avidya? Well I need a PHd just to filter through what all needs to be done, but from my limited experience, here are a few practices/things you can start doing NOW to unveil your bias and start showing up for all beings (and in honor of Dr. King, specifically people of color).

  1. Do Layla Saad’s Course Me and White Supremacy and if you are able, make a donation.
  2. Follow Rachel Cargle and LISTEN. What she has to say might be difficult to hear. The truth can hurt, especially after we have systematically been taught that the way it is is fair. We (white people) have to learn to listen to our sisters and brothers of color, and for that matter any non-able bodied, cis gender, heteronormative non-white folks. The system is not rigged in their favor and in order to lift the veil, we have to LISTEN. She wrote a great article on this here: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a25747603/silencing-black-voices/
  3. If you have the funds, hit up our friends at City Yoga as they host Off the Mat Into the World in March with their Yoga Purpose and Action workshop OR hit up this online course in February on dismantling Racism: http://www.offthematintotheworld.org/events-1/ev-oc/oc-drw-2019
  4. Practice active listening. As mentioned above, to reverse avidya and the fog in place, we have to LISTEN to those who are not benefitting from the system. Active Listening is a wonderful tool to use to learn to listen to others who’s voices need to be heard (and may differ from yours!) https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm
  5. Support Haven Yoga . This is a new, local studio to Indy with the following mission: Haven Yoga Studio is a new Indianapolis yoga space where people of different identities can gather, cultivate community, and practice together. We seek to center black women and other marginalized groups without a dedicated safe space to explore and practice yoga and access holistic health services.Supporting them doesn’t necessarily mean being in class- it can! Or sponsor someone else to have a membership. Donate. Tell people about it.
  6. Support the movement and use the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter
  7. Follow @toindywithlove on Instagram or check out her website here: https://www.toindywithlove.com/  This work affirms people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and people of many faiths in Indiana (hire her/ support her! She’s doing epic sh*t locally!)
  8. Check yourself. I’m constantly having to check myself of when I’m on my moral high ground and when I’m fighting a battle that is not mine, or NOT stepping up to the plate because I’m afraid it will affect my privilege. This comes with listening and deep self- study and awareness. Personally, practicing yoga has helped me a lot with this. My yoga practice has enabled me to listen to myself. To know when I’m doing something out of ego or out of truth and love. Get on your mat, learn about yourself. Get off your mat, learn about your community. On your mat- try new poses or classes that take you out of your comfort zone. Get off your mat and do the same. The practice is a mirror.

 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I hope this post proves to be helpful and non-harming. I’m not perfect, and still have deep unconscious bias I’m working on. I would rather attempt to say something, rather than be silent and complicit. I’m a forever fan of Dr. King, and grateful for his legacy. I leave this in the spirit of love, liberty and the pursuit of higher truths. Namaste.

-Shan

Comments
  • Everly Coleman
    Reply

    I like that this post has concrete calls to action and is not just the typical, sentimental collection of MLK quotes with no commitment or follow-thru that we usually see on this day.

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