HATHA HOLISTIC INTEGRATIVE WELLNESS :
What is it about mainstream yoga in America that prompted you to create SAAPYA?
ROOPA SINGH: There was this one class I went to, at the McBurney YMCA near Union Square in Manhattan, and the teacher was so out of pocket. She was like, I am authorized to give everyone a Sanskrit name, and that was just the beginning. I was so darn triggered, that I spoke to her after class, but more effectively, I turned the whole experience into a comedy piece, called Dear White Yoga Lady, a letter that I read at an Asian American Writers Workshop event. It’s hilarious, and healing.
I am not alone when I say that what was/is missing in North American yoga are opportunities to illuminate the all too common experiences of racism, classism, ableism and on, that seem to be fostered and protected in the yoga industrial complex. If you think about the way yoga happens in the West, it is generally a class. You show up, you trust your self to the experience, you are guided by an instructor, and then you leave. Where in that equation is there support to say, hey wait a minute yoga teacher, it actually was harmful when you made a joke about how dirty India was when you went there on a spiritual tourism tip. Or, more broadly, how is it that the rising voices around the need for increased mindfulness and justice in yoga, get a seat at the table alongside those who are shaping yoga? What is also missing in yoga in the west is a degree of transparency around yoga governing bodies, or yoga certification bodies. Who gets appointed to organizations and corporations that control yoga in the west, what accountability standards do these bodies have to the larger public? These are not easy questions to ask or answer. As a lawyer and yoga teacher and artist, I am compelled to these challenging questions. Like the poet Rilke advised, I am learning to love the questions, in part by not letting them go.
HHIW: Why do you practice/teach yoga?
RS: I practice and teach yoga because I believe in liberation. Yoga is a core warrior art in my life. A necessary tool, especially because I identify as a survivor of sexual violence, and the self-diagnosis around the way PTSD lives in my body is an ongoing journey. Literally every breath I take can use more support from me in order to be more full, calm, free. The monumental task of my own liberation, of freeing myself from the endless cycles of life and death, well, that is just the kind of thing I need my ancestors for. I am the first one in thousands of years of lineage to be born outside of India. I’m a yoga head because it is prayer, it does represent sangha, no matter how industrial and power trippy the phenomenon of it gets, the reality is that yoga has been with us from jump and it will never leave us. One sister remarked on the panel that being a South Asian yoga teacher in the west feels like a rebellious act. And that’s a real draw too. There is so much to learn on this warrior path, and that alone intrigues me to no end, keeps me focused. Yoga literally has most of my attention, and deserves it. 🙂
For people of color that feel isolated from yoga and may think it to be elitist and want to try yoga for the first time, how do you recommend they approach starting a yoga practice?
Really great question. I so wish there was a sure fire answer. It makes me shudder to think of how many POC have been turned off of yoga because of an unfortunate impression or experience. Here are some basics that help me:
1. In Class: Your yoga instructor may (or may not) be an expert, but you are the best expert on your body. If you aren’t able to breathe through a post, if it hurts, if it makes you stressed, don’t do it. Even if the instructor, say in a Bikram class, yells at you in front of 50 people to stay in the pose, you can calmly say, I know I need to make this adjustment for my body, and keep it moving.
2. At Home: Don’t worry if it takes a while to unwrap that new yoga mat, or use that yoga dvd. Yoga at home, on your own, is deep. So deep, that it takes monumental effort to build a consistent practice. Imagine facing all of your truest selves in the mirror, at once. It is like that. It is the practice you could do towards increasing states of mental, spiritual, and physical fitness in cages, in prisons, even in solitary confinement. That’s how useful it is, that’s how deep it is.
3. Breathing: All of every asana is geared towards making it more possible to be in meditation. If you are breathing, you are doing great. Keep it up! If you are not breathing free, try not to judge yourself, and come back to your practice, time and time again.
HHIW : How can yoga enthusiasts keep abreast of what SAAPYA has going on?
RS: So, we have this Indiegogo campaign going on now:
SAAPYA is South Asian Art and Perspectives on Yoga and America. SAAPYA isn’t only one of the first platforms for South Asian diasporic voices in yoga, but it is also an emerging voice in arts and politics. The Indiegogo campaign is SAAPYA’s way of sharing an initial call for seed money, the kind that can get us much needed support towards opening a yoga studio space. Currently, I’m doing a lot of this work solo, even though the impact is wide. So, the goal is to raise around $20k, and there a few ways I know we are definitely going to meet that goal. The Indiegogo campaign is a great way for people who believe in the vision of this project to contribute. Also, I am actively in grant writing mode to support SAAPYA’s artistic vision. We really are so new, just around 6 months in from our initial launch, a really impactful panel, co-hosted by TREE (Third Root Education Exchange). At this seeding stage, we are raising funds to continue to be grow, to root, to be able to be a stronger catalyst for alternative voices and perspectives in yoga. In the works now are a book, an anthology of essays, and also a photography and oral history project involving desi yoga teachers, and allied yoga teachers who support an increasingly diverse yoga future.
1. Indiegogo: http://igg.me/at/yogaequality/x/3916827
2. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saapya
3. Twitter: @saapya
4. HuffPo interview: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-schware/restoring-yoga-to-its-sou_b_4005329.html