By: Danielle Austin
It’s a bright and breezy afternoon in Flagstaff and I’ve spent the morning drinking coffee with a human friend and three pup friends. I’m getting really excited about leaving next week for a yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. I’ve been committed to a yoga practice for the last several years, but I am feeling a renewed curiosity: why is this work my work? how can I practice yoga with a decolonial framework? what does my yoga practice mean to me, particularly in this moment of feeling immersed in thinking about climate chaos and living on the Colorado Plateau?
Why do I care about yoga? Some of the most powerful moments that I’ve led or been led in yoga were intense, collaborative healing moments. After I was sexually assaulted, I had a difficult time feeling present in my body, let alone feeling powerful and strong in my body. But then I went to a yoga class with my friends and strangers, and I did a new pose that I’ve never done before and never thought I’d be able to do. The feeling of empowerment was overwhelming, and was only possible through being both supported and pushed by the people around me. I think this kind of healing can bring individuals on the Colorado Plateau their own sense of internal empowerment in resisting environmental injustices and building a better future for their communities.
The practice of yoga- breathing, moving, holding, slowing down, playing- can be healing on many levels. To me, yoga is about love and justice. It’s about cultivating a sense of myself as an individual, who is connected to my human community, the earth, the more-than-human, all together. It’s sweet. And it can also cause pain; it’s painful to face what’s really there, given the extreme exploitation of people, labor, and the earth by capitalist forces that shape our lived experiences. That’s why the healing work is so essential. It makes working for justice an act of nurturing interconnection.
A consciousness of “love and justice” is a way of thinking and being that has a strong sense of interconnection. The “love” aspect indicates an emotional investment and sense of care for others. The “justice” aspect indicates a responsibility to help actively work to challenge oppression individually and collectively. A consciousness of love and justice helps provide balance between feminine and masculine, emotional and intellectual, theory and practice. A consciousness of “love and justice” is flexible, relational, and experimental. It’s emergent. I believe these are the things we need in order to engage in transformational work that is sustainable, powerful, and healthy. This consciousness works though practices like yoga and has a place in Uplift’s movement too.
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the colonial/imperial power dynamics often associated with popular yoga in the United States. I don’t know that I can say that anyone’s yoga practice is “wrong.” I can say that when people ignore the histories and implications of taking a spiritual practice from India and focusing on the part of yoga that makes profits contributes to further colonial harm. Decolonizing yoga is crucial for it to be a practice that is truly healing. Decolonizing yoga means contextualizing the history/practice, making it accessible, and resisting the capitalist trends. Susanna Barkataki has a lot more to say about this here. I will continue to be working to decolonize my yoga practice probably forever, and look forward to learning more.
If yoga is truly decolonial and healing, it is a powerful practice of being able to shift ways of thinking and being to align more with a consciousness of love and justice. Especially in this moment of increasing threats of climate chaos, exploitation, and destruction on my home of the Colorado Plateau, we need to continue to cultivate our sense of love and justice through healing work. It is through healing that we can come to see a future of climate justice in our ecological region.