Hello and welcome. This is the yoga revolution podcast. My name is Jivana Heyman, my pronouns are he and him. This podcast is an exploration of how we can live yoga right now, and how we can apply the yoga teachings in our lives. We'll discuss the intersection of yoga and social justice, as well as how to build a practice that supports our activism. All my guests are contributors to my new book, yoga revolution, building a practice of courage and compassion. Thanks so much for joining me. Let's get started.
Welcome, everybody. Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm so excited to have as my guest Anjali Rao as the next contributor to yoga revolution.
Growing up in Bangalore, India, karma and bhakti yoga were a way of life. She studies and teaches yoga philosophy and history from a socio political perspective, and is deeply interested in the intersectionality of race, culture, gender, and the accessibility of yoga practices. She aims to make the practice and study of yoga on and off the mat helpful and joyful to people across ages, genders and abilities. She's part of the faculty in various 200 and 300 hour teacher trainings in the country and considers herself a lifelong student. She serves on the board for HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, and also on the Accessible Yoga Association Board. Right. Thanks, Anjali. Thanks for being here. I'm so excited and thrilled that we are talking today. Jivana. Thank you for having me. Yeah, me too. I love talking to you. And thanks for contributing to my book. I was just so happy when you agreed to do that.
I was wondering if you'd mind reading this section you wrote, so I've been asking all of our guests to, to read that little part. There. I think you're on page 47 in the book. Do you mind? Okay.
Yeah. Yoga and social justice work. Deeply intersect one another. One may ask, but how is this connected to yoga? Isn't yoga about peace and oneness? How is the revolution for social and racial justice, an extension of a practice. I believe that the work of social justice is itself the very essence of our practice. Our practice, our Yoga is deeply embedded in the world around us. It is a mirror, a microcosm of the world outside. Our inner lives are connected to the way we move in the world, our relationships with one another, how we practice integrity, speak truth in our work, and community around us. We learn this as students of the Yoga Sutras, the yamas and niyamas. We learn this from the ancient open sheds, we learn this from the Bhagavad Gita.
Thank you so much. I love that because that's what I'm trying to say in this book, right? I'm just trying to share that idea that the inner practice is connected to the outer world, you say, it's a mirror. Right? our inner world is a mirror. Is that how you're saying it the? And I wonder if you could speak more about that? Because I don't know if everyone agrees with that idea.
Yeah, and it's okay to disagree with that. You know, disagreement is a part of the tradition of yoga itself to have to resolve it. With respect, integrity, that's okay. The way I look at it is that our practice is in so many ways, a way of us understanding our social location, knowing what we offer, what's our Dharma, what's our duty, what's our obligation, our role, first of all, to the people in our lives, who are immediately a part of our you know, circle and then that sort of ripples out into the communities because we are in always in connection with each other. I mean, right now in the in the last two years, the world itself is sort of throwing up into into the into the, into the environment, how deeply interconnected we are. Our lives are deeply interconnected with each other our actions and inactions impact one another's lives right now. So it's in a very tangible way. We are being taught And it's the learning of this very critical moment in you in the human experience that we need to learn that we are deeply connected. So we are not practicing yoga outside of, of what is happening. What happens outside, in fact, what happens on our yoga in our yoga practice and you know, yoga, you know, yoga classroom, we don't leave that outside. Now, that doesn't mean that we have to constantly talk about it, or you know, refer to it in a Asana class or whatever. But we have to know that those thought patterns, those samskaras are what we are carrying through our practice. And so if we are in a position of power and privilege, what are we doing with that power and privilege? If we are a group of people who can make some change in the world around us, then? What what are we doing with that? Lady? So that's what, that's my question. That's my inquiry.
Yeah, that I mean, because it seems to me that I have a lot of ideas about that, it seems to me that you have to understand your position, because then you have, then you understand what your responsibility is, in a way, it's like, if you have a lot of power and privilege, then you have more responsibility to make change and to, to act, you know, and if you're, if you have less, if you're marginalized, and you need to take care of yourself, you know, that could be the focus of your practice.
Exactly. Exactly. And doing, resting without even people who have power and privilege need dress, because otherwise, we're just feeding into this whole productivity of this capitalism, you know, fed wheel that we all have to be productive beings all the time without rest. Rest is needed for all of us, for our nervous systems for our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual selves. But and it's not a but and if we are, if you have power and privilege, I think the yoga practice is a one way of looking into our own self swag idea, and polishing the internal mirror to see what is it that I how is it that I can impact how am I accountable to all the, to all the ways I'm moving in the world, and my past actions as well. And not only my past, but my the group, the community that I'm a part of. So yeah, that's not to
say that, again,
I was just gonna say there are different ways of doing it, some of us will feel more comfortable speaking out, some of us who made me feel comfortable just doing some work in a group or in a, in a setting, which is they have more agency, and some of us may feel more comfortable with art. There are so many ways of, you know, healing and connecting. So there is no one way and that's what yoga talks about, right? I mean, there's so many different paths as bhakti yoga. Nana that is, so karma yoga. So and that's the beauty of our practice.
Yeah, so would you say, we talk about some idea or a reflection, that practice of yoga that is so essential. It's and you mentioned, it shows us are some scars, but also, like, practically speaking, it shows us where we are, where we have misunderstandings about the world, for example, internalized racism, or internalized homophobia, or internalized ableism. Like, these are really the way to root out those problems within us are through this self inquiry. Otherwise, we go into the world thinking, Oh, I'm going to be of service or I'm going to be I'm going to help people actually, we might cause more harm. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, I think we need to do away with this whole savior complex is that we are all through. You know, I don't think we are trying to save the world, we are first trying to change ourselves and transform ourselves, understand our own assumptions and biases. Understand the harm that we can we can create by not acknowledging our own biases. So those are the first ways of unraveling I mean, I really look at look at it in terms of our tradition of looking at the whole self, in terms of cautious in terms of the layers, the physical layer, the mental, the emotional, the intellectual, and then the spiritual mirror. So yeah, definitely no savior complex is here. And we are trying to just learn and liberate our own from our own suffering because the biases impact our own cells. Also, you know,
right. I mean, if everyone could do that, then the problems will be solved, right? If we all could just like look at ourselves clearly. Exactly. And work on healing ourselves, then there would be really no issues in the world.
Moving with moving with self awareness, I would hope, I would think we create a place of understanding where we are angry about something, all the our shadow selves, I mean, none of us are perfect beings, we're all very human, having very human experiences there is there is so much of grief that we are now going to be we are processing throughout this past two years. There is so much of conflict, there is so much of divisiveness in the society. So much of binaries that existing everywhere, it's either you're right or you're wrong. So there's so many ways to start bridging those divides, we cannot really turn away anymore from all the problems that we are having in the world, immediately around us. And in a global in a global way. There is so much of fundamentalism, for example, religious fundamentalism, just interpersonal conflict. And and so in how, how can we as individuals, and sometimes can be overwhelming? Whenever I talk about activism, some people say it's a very intimidating concept, you know? And am I really making a difference, because the problem seems so huge, so much. And I felt that so it's, it's a completely understandable response in a reaction. So I would say, to myself, whenever I feel that or when, whenever I share about activism, I always talk about knowing what you can do. And going back to the center of why you want to do what you want to do. So annoying, knowing that whatever little whatever you think is little ripples out, if you are a parent, parenting your child in a way, which is anti racist, is a huge deal, because that's what creates, that's what creates, you know, the future also so. So in so many ways, we can create change. And so but what, what what we can't afford to do anymore, or what we can't afford to be anymore is in denial, or ignorance or apathy.
Yeah, that's beautiful. I love that. Thank you. I know that you have also studied the history of I would say that kind of social justice or activism within the yoga yoga, because I think I think sometimes people think that that's not traditional yoga. And I love that you look back into the history of yoga and say it is actually I wonder if you could talk to talk about that a little bit?
Absolutely, um, this is not my favorite topic. So I don't think our time together for this one. But the reason why I looked into this Jivana is because of all those questions that we were facing in terms of are we like redefining yoga when we are talking about social justice? And those are really good questions. I really, I think, because it will make us hopefully, look into our own ancestry look into our own cultural social lineages to see who are the thought leaders trailblazers, the Mavericks, the people who are disruptors of systems of oppression, and see what we can learn from them, because right now, in this moment, we need people who have challenged systems of oppression. And so, if you were to look into the the history of yoga, you will we will know that in a different periods of time, there have always been those thought leaders who have stood up to various systems of oppression, it could be it could look differently, because of the social context like for example, caste or even you know, even before caste could be like patriarchy. So, there was patriarchy, there was caste there was and then of course, it was colonialism. So, throughout history, there have been these in, you know, teachers, these seers, the sages of all genders actually standing up for two people in power and in various ways either through a debate for example, with with the king, or, you know, overthrowing caravans during the British oppression. So the, the Yogi's, the ascetics, were also warriors of all religions, not only Hinduism, but also Buddhism and Islam. In India, I'm talking about India because that's, that's where the roots of yoga are. And so, we cannot really say that yoga and activism have been completely separate and we are now Sort of creating this,
this artificial connection, I think if you look, if you were to look at the history, there is a, there is a deep interconnection. And there is a premise that the premise of yoga itself, I mean, going back to the Vedas is about, you know, I am Atma Brahma that means I am Brahman, which means all of us are essentially divine, and thus connected with each other. And so if we are connected with each other, if one part of ourselves is in pain, then what is my responsibility to
lie alleviate that suffering?
Yeah. I love that. Thank you, man. That's really the point of my whole book, right? Yeah, you said so beautifully. And I know,
I read your book. So I You do?
Yeah, I mean, I love that you go back and look at that. I know those I know lots of stories in yoga about questioning the king or Yeah, like you said, challenging the colonizing British Government. I mean, that's great, great examples. I also think to go back to what you were saying earlier about how like no saviors. I think that's really important. Because actually, if you look at this social justice activism as an internal practice, then it's easily aligned with the traditional view of yoga as a personal internal practice. You know, I think that's the place right? I tried to address it in my book, but I could see there's some tension in that, you know, traditionally, if you look at especially in the Yoga Sutras, so in the Gita, right, the Gita is more about service, but in the sutras is so much about the internal practice. But if you actually see that internal practice as a form of activism itself, you know, I feel like that's what you're saying, then it's so clearly aligned, right? Then it's so clearly yoga, to practice, you know, Yama means that you are being ethical, right? You're being ethical.
Right. And I think, you know, even with the Gita, the Gita actually talks about fighting a war. It's actually extremely far more activist ik than sense, then then the sutras because the sutras is far more about internally, understanding how we are connected and how we move in the Yama ethical observances, and then the niyama is, which is talking about the inner transformation that needs to happen also, and how it how it is not really like, you know, it's not a linear process. And, and like I said, we are all humans, and we have so much of our own trauma and grief and anger and our own biases that we have to sort of heal and understand, first of all,
so we are aware, if there is one person we are saving, in all this, it's ourselves, as we do this work, if there is one thing that we are going to be, you know, being and doing or focusing on is liberating ourselves from dukha, which is suffering.
Yeah, it's beautiful. Thank you. It's easy to say that, you know, the Gita isn't about it. Well, it's a story about war. And it's easy to say that's analogy for a social justice activism. And I think that's dangerous because I think it's dangerous to use spiritual texts you know, to support your, like, contemporary movement, you know, what I mean? Like I feel like that's, that's what religions often do. And and I didn't want to go there, you know, what I mean, although I do think what we find in the Gita is, is still this internal practice that is expressed in the world through like Karma Yoga, as you mentioned before, right through service
Yeah. And then and you know, Gita is, is the war is actually an internal war. It's not you it's an analogy or metaphor for your the different sides of a human being.
So Arjuna is the every, like you and me human being having this whole existential crisis about his role in the world. And Krishna is the higher self who's saying go fulfill your Dharma you know, so it is not and then the the color of eyes which is the you know, the quote, unquote, the bad guys in the, in the epic are your shadow selves. So it's not nobody's asking you to take up arms and do you know, things like that, but, but with Gita is a it's a beautiful metaphor for understanding your shadow selves and overcoming that and understanding your Dharma, your duty or obligation to the world around you.
In Krishna, Definitely talks about each person's, you know, role as a householder as a guest. So, right now most of us in this world and on this planet are classed as so that's what we need to look at. Right?
Yeah. Which is interesting, because I feel like most yoga practitioners in the West use the sutras and seem to follow more monastic practices, even though they're actually householders. So it's like a kind of a lack of logic there that you're, you're a householder, you're living in the world, you have a community, you're engaged, and yet your practice seems to only exist internally on your mat, when it has a direct implication in the world, right through your, your, the way you treat your family and your, your neighbors and the people you come in contact with all day. I just feel like it's, it's not the same as withdrawing from the world.
Right. And I also think, you know, the people who have access to yoga practices in the West, are also people, typically our people of privilege. You know, so that's why we need to have more and more people from all kinds of backgrounds practicing and learning and teaching and sharing this practice so that we have multiple voices, multiple perspectives in the room.
Yeah, that's so important. I know that you're currently working on questions about colonization, is that right? Your? Are you writing about that these days?
Yeah, while I'm researching it, and I'm studying it more and more about how colonization has happened in the yoga space historically? And what does that really mean in the world right now? And how can we really what is decolonization? Really, really mean? Because we do talk a lot about it, without really understanding the complexity of it. And what, what, in terms of creating change and transformation within ourselves? What, how would a decolonized yoga practice your yoga education, for example, for ourselves look like? So that's what I've been giving myself?
What would that look like? Can I ask? I mean, is that fair? Like? Can you explain a little bit about?
Yeah, yes, I mean, it's a long one, but, but I'm trying to come up with an extra actual framework based on research from sociology, from colonial discourse scholarship, from yoga philosophy, integrating that with yoga philosophy, because I think that we cannot use a word without really understanding what the elements of that movement is. And the word decolonization itself comes from, from a movement of, of indigenous peoples, and the harm that has been caused to them, and, and that is continuously being caused to them. So when we are using that term, when we when we are talking about that movement, we need to be very careful about how we are, you know, sort of using that with awareness and sensitivity. So I wanted to kind of create a framework, which, which hopefully can help all of us understand this more, and which we can apply in our everyday yoga classes. And, and hopefully, that means we will trickle that ripple that out into the, into the other ways of moving in the world in the things that we buy in, you know, in understanding how we are in a very capitalistic framework in a very capitalistic paradigm. How would it, how would it impact it's an inquiry, and it's, that's where I am right now?
And would you say like, what would you say, are the qualities of a contemporary practice now that are colonized? Like what? How does it How is it expressed? In your?
Oh, I think I think now, what we are looking at is a new colonial framework of everything, what we are consuming, including yoga, and yoga is a product right now, right? In terms of in terms of not only the props that we buy, the clothes that we buy, but also the classes that we go to, into how we're looking at our physical bodies into who's accessing and who's looking, looking at who's who's showing up as an expert, who are the authors that are being published. Who are the you know, so
In all those ways, there are certain people certain groups that the white the able-bodied, the male, the heterosexual.
Those are the common themes that I've been repeating throughout history. And that's the legacy of the colonial paradigm. And to know that, you know, that sort of this is the right way of learning things. This is the ontology the epistemology has been completely driven by a very colonial paradigm. So what would it be? How would it be to sort of look into that and unravel that, because as you know, I learned I studied in India, my education, my undergrad, my school education was in India, and which is, which was heavily influenced by the British education system. So all the authors we looked at as experts for everything we're including our own history, which is kind of ironic and sad, has been from very India from a very British perspective. So if we were to really look into our own histories, we know that we are looking at a very colonial version of the history. So there's a there's an African saying, you know, that says, we have to look at not only what the Lion says about a hunt, but we have to also look at what the person who has been hunted, they say about that hunt. Right, right. So I think right now I'm looking into the, into our history from a de cologne from a non colonized perspective, which means we are getting more people from the marginalized populations, folklore, rural areas, people whose voices have never really been heard, when we are talking about liberation and suffering and things like that. So yeah, that's, that's what I'm looking into in terms of my next progression, well, of my yoga, yoga education for myself.
That's amazing. And I was thinking about, in practical ways, how that appears in a yoga class, you know, how you because you mentioned how the understanding of decolonization could influence the way we practice, I think thinks what you're saying and we practice and teach. And it seems like maybe things like, you know, competitiveness in class and over, over focus on the body, right? Yeah.
Are we looking at Asana as a performance? Are we looking at Asana? Why are we practicing us now? What is our end goal of it? Or is it goal oriented? You know, because we are we have been conditioned to look at everything as a sort of needing an end goal. And having, you know, very definitive internalization of how a body should look like how a healthy body is, for example, what else is I mean, it's all colonized. It's all been colonized. So how does that translate into our yoga practice? And as I teach as teachers, as students, people who are teaching philosophy, black teaching history, what are their backgrounds, whose voices are being centered? You know,
also, they're going back to what we spoke of earlier around this concept of the, where social justice fits into the yoga tradition, I feel like
part of why it's not currently and taught as part of the yoga tradition is because of the colonized nature of the yoga practice that Yoga is seen as this completely internal practice, when it seems to me like what you were saying earlier, and what what I understand about yoga histories that Yoga has been integrated into society and into social structure. And it's not just a separate thing. I remember hearing lots of stories about, you know, these monks that would travel and beg for food, but that they would be taken care of, I mean, there was a tradition where spiritual practitioners were seen, respected and seen as an important part of life for the non for the for the people who weren't monks, you know what I mean? Like it was all connected, right. And it was seen as a service from the person who was giving those alms because it is a part of service to and the person who was receiving those alms was and by that I mean ALMS, not ARMS
were people who were learned and they would then probably either just by being in a village, add to the sanctity of the village just by being because of their spiritual nature and their spiritual, whatever practice. So yeah, there was this interconnection, there was a given take. And that was the whole that was the whole point of, of service. But it was a savior Stephen, I'm not saving anyone existing, that is an acknowledgement of the human humanity of the other person, you know,
what I was thinking, their respect for the monks internal practice, and identifying the importance of that role in society. And like you said, like that, by serving the monk you are in a way you are also practicing, you're also doing your your service, your karma yoga, like I remember stories of the, the monks actually going to the householders to learn, you know what I mean? Like they're, there they go, the household has to learn because in the householder path, you learn quickly, by having a partner and children and all that and you, you gain a special wisdom that way through through life. So it just feels my understanding of the tradition seems like it's all much more integrated in the way that it was practiced and taught, then the way we see it now, yoga yoga, either as exercise or yoga as internal spiritual practice divorced from society, which both both of those ideas feel very colonized to me.
Yeah, absolutely. I and that's the that's a learning that you know that I would like to share more and more in my in the yoga teacher trainings, like bringing in integrating all these different points of view of what are quote unquote, yoga practitioners. And I don't really use the word Yogi. Much because that that connotes like renunciate, and we are not. So I'm just sort of sharing that more and more and getting that out into the consciousness of a yoga student. I think that's, that hopefully we'll create more awareness.
That's wonderful. And you're writing about it, right? You're writing about this.
I'm researching that right now. Yes.
Okay. Does that mean you'll be writing eventually, though? I hope so. Okay, I hope so too. What else can you share with us anything else you wanted to share? What are you doing these days? How can people find you?
Oh, well, I'm on right now I have a website, I have a you know, I'm more active on Instagram than I've ever been probably because at the time. But it's been a wonderful. Of course, everything is with, hopefully with some discretion and Macharia with some sort of centering. But I think social media can be a good tool for connection and learning. And so yeah, you could connect me with that. on that. And right now, I'm just like, like I said, I'm researching this, knowing where I have to get more information, how do I share it, pondering that and speaking up more and more and with humility, taking up some space as a bipoc teacher, as a South Asian teacher of Indian origin of a certain age group, because, you know, the ageism, in ageism in yoga spaces. And so, so yeah, I'm just very grateful for the work and in a way, which I've never been before, I think this practice and work has helped me so much in the past two years with all the crap that we've been dealing with. So I'm grateful and hopeful in some ways, and also wanting to share that we are all at a place of, of needing of encouraging, motivating, inspiring one another to really show up with wanting to disrupt what has happened, because what has happened in terms of capitalism hasn't worked for many.
Yeah, well, I'm definitely inspired by you and supported by you. I appreciate it. I really appreciate you contributing to the book.
Oh, I am I'm so excited for the for you and the book and that the I think the book is going to be wonderful and inspiring and thought provoking. So I'm excited to get this out and eat it fully in a hardcopy format.
hardcopy Yeah, I know. It's hard to read a PDF, isn't it? All right. Well, thank you so much for your time and for your wisdom. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. Thank you for doing this work. Jivana.
All right, take care. Bye Bye.
Thanks so much for listening and joining the conversation. Yoga is truly a revolutionary practice. Thanks for being here. If you haven't already, I would love for you to read my book, yoga revolution, building a practice of courage and compassion. It's available wherever books are sold. Also, you can check out my website JivanaHeyman.com. There's some pre classes on there and a meditation, and you can find out more about my upcoming trainings and other programs. Hope to see you next time. Thanks. Bye.
Thanks so much for listening and joining the conversation. Yoga is truly a revolutionary practice. Thanks for being here. If you haven't already, I would love for you to read my book, the yoga revolution building a practice of courage and compassion. It's available wherever books are sold. Also, you can check out my website Jivana Heyman calm. There's some pre classes on there and a meditation and you can find out more about my upcoming trainings and other programs. Hope to see you next time. Thanks. Bye
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