Decolonising Yoga - with Sophia Ayesha Ansari

In India, yoga is currently being used to bolster the face of ethno-nationalism & fundamentalism. During the colonial period, internalised violence and authoritarianism fuelled dynamics of abuse that have now rotted the Guru-shishya system to its core. Yoga retreats are traps for tourists lured in by the saviour complex or an ideal of Indian romanticism

We are all part of this system and yet how do we liberate ourselves from collusion and step into a deep accountability together?
Decolonising yoga is not a mission, it is an invitation. This workshop is open to yoga teachers, therapists, activists and caring professionals ready to engage with a process of deconstructing and reconfiguring through radical love. This weekend stands as an introduction to those interested in further training in Yoga liberation therapy.

How can we decolonise yoga?
Firstly, we don’t need to re invent the wheel. Within the plurality of South Asian yogic heritage we find all the tools to work at depth with process, Spirit, psyche and relationships. Yoga wisdom gives us the means to elicit our discerning mind (buddhi) and use compassionate response and righteous action to reduce harm. In colonial times, political dynamics impacted yoga practice to become asana focused as a way to bolster the mettle of Indian men and resistance to the British Raj.

As teachers/ facilitators, we can examine our unconscious use of teaching practices that have Victorian roots and unwittingly obstruct people’s sense of agency, reinforcing objectification & dissociation. This increases more so when privilege and power is not understood or observed.

We can consider distributing power by creating community and dialogue in the spirit of satsang and seva. This can be achieved through bringing more creative, safe and non judgemental sharing into our spaces, so that we may connect in service to each other.

Finally we need to be thinking about reaching those marginalised by the yoga industrial complex. This includes members of the South Asian community and diaspora, BME/ people of color, refugees, asylum seekers, first generation immigrants, survivors of violence, working class folks, new mums and single mums, the queer community, persons with large bodies, neuro-diverse individuals, people with disabilities, vulnerable persons with addictions, abuse histories or mental health challenges. (this list is not complete).

Over the weekend, we will open our eyes to key colonial/ neoliberal capitalist power dynamics and explore how we can actively challenge them in our work.

Cherry picking: Taking the good leaving the bad, this includes but is not limited to the exotification of yoga or Indian aesthetics. Cultural appropriation leaves out acknowledging the racist realities and the historical -cultural trauma faced by the South Asian (diaspora) community and other communities of colour who currently do not frequent UK yoga spaces.

Cultural Erasure: the ‘secularization’ of yoga traditions or making yoga more palatable; as observed by certain corporate yoga or trauma sensitive yoga programmes. This involves stripping out terminology, mythology, metaphors, symbolism, and family practices, where yoga is almost unrecognisable and can be presented as beer, gin, nude or metal yoga. In India, secularization stems from internalised shame and adherence to allopathic science as validation

Privilege based bypassing: Yoga classes can unwittingly sell a desired outcome, so that students/clients buy into TLC, or the means to release pent up tension . An addiction to catharsis and purging only re adjusts us to suffering and enduring harsh systems. It also reinforces able bodied privilege

Monological teaching: Utilising rational and objective principles, we can do more. e.g maintain large class sizes. Yet by virtue of a reductionist, bio mechanical approach, emotion, feeling and energy get disqualified. It gives us very little space and time to work with personal complexity. Differences are not seen.

In balance, we will exploring how to amplify key decolonial Yoga principles:

Somatic resonance: How might we teach with an embodied, relational attunement, to be in true service to another. This involves meeting people where they are at, validating them, hearing their dilemmas and respectfully entering into their hearts.

Conscious positionality. How does it help to understand one’s own bias and social cultural reference point. There is a virtue and truth that comes from acting in alignement with one’s social power and considering the impact it has on our decisions and actions.

Power with, rather than power over
How can we use our authority (as a guide, facilitator and wise counsel) to hold and create liminal space (free and protected) without interfering, rescuing or controlling.

How could we support agency through slowing down and choice as well as being with states of not knowing. Can we give freedom to express vulnerability, grief or righteous anger and make space for people’s real experiences, suffering and pain.

How might we foster an invitational and non judgemental environment for the body’s and souls healing wisdom to come forth. How might we create the circumstances for Atman to wake up within our internal pranic system.

This workshop will be facilitated by Sophia, through a process of storytelling, sharing, creativity, mudras, breathwork and a decolonial asana practice (re imagined through Indian classical dance & Ayurvedic embodied wisdom). It is open and accessible to persons of any body shape, size, colour, gender, age and ability.

Sophia is an UKCP accredited psychotherapeutic counsellor and a Yoga teacher-therapist (BWY dip, Ayurveda therapy dip). She has been teaching for 25 years and has since acquired further professional training in mindfulness, authentic movement and polyvagal-informed movement psychotherapy for trauma. She also has a Masters in Colonial History from SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies). Sophia is in private practice in Cardiff offering yoga therapy and somatic psychotherapy to individuals and groups. This includes community practice: facilitating restorative yoga therapy to survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, substance misuse & addiction.

Price: £95 early bird till January 2020. £110 thereafter
for bookings contact Sophia on
[email protected]

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