Nineteen Voices: What are the Stakes?
Hi! New to Nineteen Voices? Go here (https://www.shaktiyogaathens.com/blog/nineteen-voices-1) and read.
See you back here soon. - Em
Nineteen Voices: What are the stakes?
“It’s just yoga.” I hear that a lot. I say that a lot, at least within the yoga classroom. “Don’t worry if you fall out of a pose - It’s just yoga.” Thing is, for most people, yoga isn’t “just” anything. Yoga saved them. Saved me. Yoga has ethical meaning. Yoga is deeply rooted within the society we live in. Yoga informs our moral compass, our community, our beliefs, our structures. Shakti talks about these topics. How as yoga teachers, there are a lot of stakes involved.
I’m going to broaden my scope here to any yoga teachers reading this post: Being ethical yoga teachers and/or running an ethical yoga business forces us (the leaders, teachers, and owners of yoga studios) to think about the choices we are making. It brings up questions for me:
Is it ethical to charge money for yoga?
Is it responsible/moral to be complacent/apathetic about a predominantly white studio space?
What does it mean to be a feminist if I don’t strive to actively support POC?
What do sayings like, “Sending you light and love!” and “You can manifest anything!” say about my privilege?
How are yoga teachers ableist? (e.g. Assuming someone has the ability to stand, the ability to hold oneself upright) How does traditional yoga discriminate against those with disabilities?
How is yoga in America a white woman’s privilege?
How do we create a safe space for women who might otherwise feel unsafe practicing yoga in a space with men? For LGBTQ+ folks? For POC?
Does centering myself in a body positivity blog post series inherently leave less space for people who the body positive movement is for? Aka. Marginalized bodies? How and where can I step aside?
There are stakes involved. Because I won’t get it right. Ruby won’t get it right. Maggie won’t get it right. Shakti’s teachers won’t get it right. Our students won’t get it right. Which runs the risk of discomfort.
We’ve made a commitment at Shakti: Sink into the uncomfortable. I talked to Lee*, Maritza, & Ruby about what it means to be an ally, yogi, and all around good person.
*Lee is the name I will be using for an interviewee that wished to remain anonymous. Thank you for understanding her desire for privacy!
“I feel a little bit glad that you can finally see the hate, because it's been unmasked. But also, I've been living in this false narrative. I feel unsafe because I don't know where to go or who to trust.” -- Lee*
Before heading to Lee’s apartment for the interview, I had known her as one of my brightest, loveliest, students. A woman who always put a smile on my face. I was curious to hear what she had to say (as I was with all the women I talked to), but I didn’t expect to be in her home, crying on her couch, for two hours. Lee shared a lot with me. About her family, her mental health, her yoga practice. And even though you can’t put a real name or face to Lee’s story, I imagine you will relate to her, nonetheless.
Lee says, “There's a difference between the need to control and feeling like you have power. I've been grappling with that, because I do like control. So if something doesn't go my way, I feel helpless and sometimes it makes me feel powerless. Yoga has been great for me, especially realizing that you have the power all along. You can control your emotions, and your response, and harness that power.” I responded to Lee’s comments, talked about how in moments where I lost power (assaults, traumas, losses, etc.), I sought control. Most of the time through food, mainly because it was so easy to manipulate.
Lee agrees. “Food has been a way for me to cope when I'm stressed. It's a way to reward myself when I'm happy. I noticed that I'm able to show all of my emotions through the way that I interact with food. So when I moved away from Georgia to be on my own and I was doing this long distance relationship, I gained a lot of weight and I tried to figure out why. I thought food was helping me cope with all of these different emotions. Like loneliness. It was also a way for me to get myself out of the apartment. ‘If you get up and work in a coffee shop, you will have that delicious danish that you love so much. So go get it.’ And that was a way to motivate myself to engage and not fall into a depressive routine.”
I shared with Lee how our culture tends to demonize emotional eating, like it’s some awful, immoral act that should not happen. But mainstream culture doesn’t offer a different solution for dealing with our emotions. No other template. And we have a lot of pain to deal with!
Lee’s immigrant background is closely tied to food and emotional eating. “That emotion of feeling like an outsider [combined with] feeling like I could eat away my problems. Those two go hand in hand.” When Lee gained weight, her relatives got verbally upset. Lee felt frustrated around that, because they would often tell her to finish whatever she was eating, but then tell her to fit into old clothes that no longer fit. There was a dissonance between those expectations. “It really stuck with me. When I was younger, I felt like I could make myself belong by looking a certain way. American culture puts a lot of external validation on the way you look, what size you are. And so, I mean when I was in high school I basically stopped eating.”
For Lee, she feels like the comments her relatives made were meant with good intentions. “If she doesn't gain a lot of weight then she could be ‘normal in society.’ It would be easier for her down the line. So a lot of that messaging when I was really young.”
Ultimately, though, Lee felt like controlling her body was a way to cope with a lot of uncertainty surrounding her life. And she still grapples with this idea that she could return to that lower weight, even though she knows it’s not what she needs or wants. “Some days I’m like, I wish I could go back. If I look that way, so many other doors will open up for me. That's the irrational part. If you look a certain way, you will be more successful. If you look a certain way, you'll fit in, you'll have more friends, you'll be more attractive to whoever you're trying to be more attractive for. It's popular messaging, and then sometimes you actually live it.”
Not to mention, body size is a whole nother factor. Lee’s thoughts on thin privilege: “I think it helps if a woman can fit into, let's say, a size four suit.” Correct: Here’s a link to the realities of weight stigma and thin privilege. “People will take me more seriously. People will respect me more in a professional setting. It's so frustrating. It's frustrating and it's disheartening. A really dangerous avenue to go down.”
It makes so much sense, sadly. In American culture, women are trained to alienate each other and trained to compare. To compare themselves to other women, or compare themselves to an idea of what they should be like but can never reasonably achieve but are expected to achieve. It's a frustrating mess.
“It makes me feel hopeless and also a little jaded with society,” Lee writes. When Trump was elected, especially, that escalated for her. “I like to say that November of that year was a defining moment in my life. I fell into a really dark depression that I'm only now starting to get out of. The depression really had to do with being an immigrant and having immigrant parents, being a woman. Checking off all the boxes that people hate. And then also the idea of belonging. It came back in a big way for me in 2016. Because I finally make myself feel like I'm American, or that I belong to this society. Because hey, I don't have an accent. I have all of the same social and pop culture references. I have the same childhood that an American child would have, but because I was born somewhere else now 43% of Americans think I don't belong. That I'm an outsider. I feel unsafe. I feel a little bit glad that you can finally see the hate, because it's been unmasked. But also, I've been living in this false narrative. I feel unsafe because I don't know where to go or who to trust.”
I’ve read and re-read that paragraph, re-listened to this interview so many times. And still, I can’t put into words how ashamed I feel of our country. How sorry I feel. I tried to empathize with Lee, I think I did well enough, but there’s a level of ignorance I have about how she feels. Sure, as a woman, I feel unsafe living in Trump’s America. That there’s a new precedent set for how men can treat women. But like Lee says, to have all the boxes checked… I can’t imagine.
During that depressive period, Lee feels like she shut out a lot of people. “I stopped going to social things, started having more of those very surface level conversations and not really feeling like I could trust people enough to be able to have the type of conversation that we're having. And feeling like even if someone would want to have a conversation, it wouldn't be with me, because the value that I put on myself diminished as a result of those external triggers, which is crazy to think about. Yoga has helped, just being with yourself and only yourself has really helped in realizing that only the present moment counts and also that you're only able to control your experience and your body as opposed to anything that's outside of this realm.”
For Lee, yoga played a tangible role in her depression. And it didn’t fix everything. “Yoga was the one thing getting me out of the house every day. Yoga didn't really lift my depression. It was sort of a bandaid. Because I wasn't really engaging with my surroundings or even with yoga. For example, I would walk into the yoga studio, and there would be a bunch of students already on their mats. I would be like, ‘Please let me not run into someone that I know.’ I was trying to avoid eye contact. All these social anxieties bubbled up.”
We talked about body image and how food played a role in these anxieties. How Lee has a complex relationship with wanting to find routine and health and feel good through food, while also trying to push back thoughts of smaller body = better body. She says, “I put physical appearance and weight in the center of all of the things that can be solved with a magic button. If that magic button was pressed, then suddenly my relationship will be a lot sexier. I will be more desired by my partner. Or people in grad school will take me seriously because they'll know that I have a healthy relationship with food. I like the idea of people thinking I am confident. Confidence means she has her shit together. She's not the type of person to go to a therapist. She's not the type of person to be struggling with food issues. And if people can think of me that way, then that might be an alternate solution to the magic button.”
I relate to this hard. My partner had a hard time understanding/believing that I had this repressed history (and very real present) pain surrounding my body, because I was “confident.” Or at least, I was confident enough in the other aspects of my life that it drowned out the screaming discomfort around my own skin. Which is crazy to me! The person I’m closest with had no idea how bad I was really struggling. It made me think, does he really know me, then?
Not to mention, do I even know myself? Lee and I talked about how hard it can be to feel a sense of personality, a sense of knowing who we are. Especially in the depths of depression. “There is no hope. I think that was a big thing, you’re permanently in this devastating muck. This is how I'm going to be from now on: being alone and not wanting to be alone, but not wanting anyone to be near me. I was also like the first in my family to go to college, get a degree. So I felt like I had this responsibility for my family to be something. Meanwhile, my parents are out there, still struggling.”
For Lee, the stakes are high. Not only for herself, but for her family. For me, reading this, the stakes are high for me to do better as an ally. To make her, and other marginalized folks, feel safe in a way that’s tangible. An open hand, an extended invitation. More on how below.
“You have a right to say things that ultimately dehumanize me.”
-- Maritza Duran
Maritza and I run into each other frequently on campus. Whenever we see each other outside of the studio space, it’s this big, happy surprise for the both of us. Personally, I tend to compartmentalize. Like, I know this person from yoga, so I will only ever see them at yoga. But for Maritza, a PhD candidate and yoga teacher, her worlds frequently intersect. You’ll learn a bit more about what she studies in this blog post.
A bit about Maritza: She’s from Cali, went to UCI for undergrad, and is a first generation college student. And she judges her body. “I grew up in a predominantly Mexican area, and I think growing up, I didn't necessarily care about what I ate. But there were certain clothes I wouldn't wear. My extended family and my cousins are really bougie. They like to dress up, do their makeup. Sometimes it looks like they're about to step out on the red carpet. Which is great for them, but for me it was like a lot of comparison. My priorities are very different than my family.” For Maritza, she continued to say that her mother is very accepting of the choices she’s made, but she feels that rift between herself and her family.
“My mom is a breast cancer survivor, so she's also in this place of like, life is like fleeting. ‘We don't know how long I’ll be here, so you have to have children so I can be a grandma.’” But again, her mother is proud of the work she’s doing. In the same hand, she hasn’t been to Georgia and seen what Maritza’s life is like here. “I come from a single parent household. So she wasn't allowed to go to college. She wasn't allowed to go to school in general after age 12. You're a woman, you're just going to get married and have kids. So there's no point. I think they saw it as like lack of an investment. It has been very critical for me to come this far. And her also letting me. Because there are times where my family was like, ‘You're letting her move out of the house without being married?’”
Maritza’s family is close knit. She described how everyone lives close by, the close ties her family has to the land. Maritza shared a bit of her family history with me.
“My grandma worked in the field when Cesar Chavez was organizing in California, so she worked pre labor laws in California and then after.” Tell me more about what happened during that time. “In the sixties, around the time the civil rights movement was happening here, in California there were other movements happening. So at the time we were also segregated: Mexican children and people of color were not allowed to attend white schools. At the time, foreign workers in California had no breaks, no food. People would go to the bathroom essentially where they worked. They had no rights as workers, they didn't get fair wages. Most of them were Mexican and Filipino, so they organized and did a grape strike across the country. You can see remnants of it in civil rights museums here, of folks supporting them from across the country. People weren't buying grapes. Chavez was kind of the face of it, but there were also a lot of Filipino folks organizing it, and they organized together. My grandma talks about working with her parents [pre-labor laws]. How my great grandpa had high blood pressure, so she would have to look out while he took a break so that he could eat. It's interesting for me now to be so far along in my journey, but also so far removed. My family has worked [the land] where I'm from and settled there since the sixties, and they would come back and forth from Mexico to here. And even now, in December, my whole family leaves all of December to visit Mexico. Our relationship to the land and how connected they've always been to the land... my dissertation is on the resiliency of farmworkers.”
I remember learning about Chavez in school, in a vague, lumped together with the (too short) discussion about the civil rights movement. Hearing about it through the lens of Maritza’s family, the context of her home… Another example of how storytelling is such an integral part of connection.
I had interviewed Maritza around the same time I interviewed Lee, and looking back, on all of these interviews, really, I noticed a theme in my questions. How does it feel being a woman of color in Trump's America? “I've experienced racism. People are very entitled to ask me where I'm from, and I'm always like, ‘Well, what do you want to know? What question are you really asking?’ And it depends on the person. You can feel their energy. Sometimes I'm like, ‘I'm from California!’ and that's that. And sometimes you can tell they want more. ‘Where are your parents from?’” Like they are entitled to her heritage to sate their curiosity.
“I teach the diversity and helping skills class in the College of Education, and I have diverse students from diverse places. I value everyone's political beliefs. That's diversity. Folks need to learn how to have cordial conversations. It’s challenging what I come up against in the classroom. Like not even letting me get through a lecture. It’s been really bad. As an instructor at UGA, I have had white male students challenge my authority during class in ways that made it seem like they didn't respect my knowledge or credentials.”
Harking back to what Lee said about safety, there’s an issue here of feeling safe. That un-marginalized students feel safe enough to disrespect a teacher, but marginalized groups don’t feel safe existing in America.
“Folks are always curious about like legal status,” Maritza says. “When I first moved to Georgia, for two months I carried my passport, because there's talks of citizens getting detained by ICE. I was very cognizant. I went to trader Joe's a week after I had moved here and I was talking to a friend [in Spanish], and a man was like, ‘Speak English.’” Maritza shared another experience about how people make comments about her accent, asking her where she’s from, etc. I told Maritza that the tone and situational factors of the question make a lot of difference. Like, there are different assumptions made for white people versus people of color. Assumptions made on legality, citizenship, education… assumptions that benefit white privilege. Maritza says, “Sometimes people think I'm white, so that's another dynamic. I'm ‘passing.’ It was a big reason why I liked yoga because I didn't have to talk to anyone. And I got to like listen to my body, I got to be with myself and I didn't have to deal. I would like go like four or five times a week.”
So for Maritza, Shakti felt like a safe space. I asked her, though, yoga tends to be very white-people dominated. Her response: “At Shakti, it feels better. It feels like people from different body sizes feel really comfortable going to Shakti. For example, I was in Michigan, one of the yoga teachers would talk to everyone else, but wouldn't talk to me. She knew other people and she was invested in other people but not in me.” Do you feel like that happens at Shakti, that people of color are minimized or not seen? “No, I don't think so. I think what I have noticed is that there are not a lot of black folks that come to Shakti.” (That's a big, big issue we're trying to address.)
An issue that Ruby will actually talk about later in the blog post. Which ties back into allllll of the questions I ask myself about the intersectionality of my various identities, and the lack of experience I have in managing and working towards building an inclusive community space. It left me thinking this: When the majority of our staff members are white (or white-passing) living in smaller, able bodies… if I was a marginalized person looking at the staff page, what would I think? Probably that no one looks like me, and that’s uncomfortable. Especially within the context of the world we live in.
So I asked Maritza, how can Shakti do better? (I also acknowledged in our conversation that I need to do the work myself. That she doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to teach me how to be a good white person. But, alas. I wanted her opinion.)
“So in a video I showed in my class, Athens women talk about being co-conspirators. They talk about how it's important when you're being an ally that you're not just addressing yourself as an ally, but you are putting things on the line. You can lose something. Move from being allies and from the feeling of being safe to being co-conspirators. Put more on the line.”
Wow. So, not just creating an overall safe space, but be willing to go in and get messy. Do the work. Always. To infinity. I shared with Maritza how white saviorism, especially when I was in Auburn living within missionary culture, permeated my feed. And I shared how I worry with this blog, being a white woman in a smaller body: For me, coming from a privileged place, I didn’t want it to feel like this white savior coming in and being like, ‘Look! This is me helping these people like their bodies!’ It’s a conversation I have with myself every time I sit down to write.
Maritza responded to that. “A critical part is, what are you putting on the line and what are you losing? It's so critical for white folks to have something to lose. I don't want to say safety, but putting your safety on the line, that looks different.” What do you think I have to lose, writing this blog series? “Maybe within the Shakti community, folks seeing you differently, or even folks not wanting to come to a specific class because you believe x, y, and z. That's going to become very clear.” What do you have to lose by sharing with me? “Well, now you know my political beliefs, my experience. I don't know if that changes your perception or my perception as a yoga teacher.” Caveat: “You can’t lose something all the time because it's exhausting. It’s a balance of picking and choosing what battles you're gonna fight, because you can't pour from an empty cup.”
Maritza and I finished our conversation talking about the free counseling services she offers Latinx folks, how eating disorders affect Latinx communities, and appropriation of indigenous foods. All topics I wish I had more space to write about. But I have a feeling we will hear a lot more from Maritza. And I encourage you to reach out to her. Listen to her story.
“Community is bigger than the studio space. Show up. Trust. Do this work. Once we’re all evolving in that way… We’re all evolving.” -- Ruby Chandler
Ruby. It feels fitting to end this series with the interview I did with Shakti’s owner. I don’t have to tell you how fabulous she is as a business owner, leader, communicator, teacher, and friend, right? Because I feel like we’ve all been touched by a bit of Ruby’s life, whether you know her personally or not. Her reach is big, her passion is inspiring, and her hugs are the best ever. I’m blessed to have her in my life, leading me, being real with me, and loving me. This woman!
Ruby says about body image conversations, “Coming from this body dialogue first, which is something that I have experienced, has been a huge segue into empathizing with and learning, and wanting to learn, about other ways people are marginalized and shamed. And recognizing that what I understand through body stuff is not even the tip of the iceberg. And being able to acknowledge that. But a body is something everyone has, and it’s a true segue into these underlying structures that oppress people.” Wow.
So, don’t make fun of us, but Ruby and I have gone down the deep rabbit hole of astrology. And this entire semester, Ruby’s horoscopes have been surrounded by building meaningful relationships and creating community. Guess what she’s been doing? Figuring out how to make Shakti a more inclusive place for everyone. Staying in the work all the damn time.
She told me a bit about equity and how that transcends conversations and her choices. “Basically [in this video], they're doing a sprint race across the field. The teacher says, ‘Before we start, you, you, and you: Start from the 10 yard line. You, you, and you: Start from the 50 yard line.’ Even if you're the fastest kid in school, you're not going to win. That's what really blows my mind about all of this. I want to be open and available for whatever conversation needs to happen. But sometimes I feel paralyzed by how insignificant I am in that regard.” I get that. Like, I want to do what I can, and our country has systems in place that give people different starting yard lines. Where do you even start? “I have to get over not wanting to say the wrong thing, because at some point I'm going to have to apologize... and then I'm gonna have to apologize... and apologize. It's not something that I can understand. It’s tough. It's like grief. I know that there's nothing that I can say going to make it go away or feel better, AND what are the ways that I can show that I support you and that I’m here for you.”
I actually met with Ruby soon after my talk with Maritza. I shared with Ruby about how being an ally means having something to lose. I asked Ruby what she thought. “That's part of being a good teacher. And I feel that way in general. Sharing who I am in my context at work is where I most struggle, because I tend to be an undersharer. But it makes me think of too, like with retreats, or when we do our trainings, we don't ask students to do anything that we're not also doing with them and have done over and over. I don't want to go somewhere and be taught to do work and the person leading it not showing any proof that they do it too and that they're willing to be in it with me.” So for Ruby, having something to lose, being an ally, means staying in the work and being there right alongside someone who needs it most.
What about body image? Where is Ruby still doing the work? When did it start?
“[Growing up], dieting was normal. My mom is very health conscious and much healthier in thought than my grandmother, but those patterns are very engrained in her. When my aunt was eight, my grandmother took her to weight watchers. All of these women who are in my life in some way are dieting or exercising in order to look a certain way. My grandmother has kind of stopped [commenting], because we all told her it was not okay, finally. But anytime we visit her, the first question is, ‘Have you lost weight?’ Like... conversation starters. I’m like, ‘I don't weigh myself, so I don't know. But I feel good!’ I don't think about the body stuff with her anymore, but it was definitely influential.”
I grew up similarly, women in my household going on diets or putting emphasis on weight/size/shape. But for Ruby, it was part of how her grandmother interacted and ‘cared’ for her granddaughters. “My grandmother would say, ‘Ruby, how do ladies speak?’ and the response that was supposed to happen was, ‘Very softly.’” (My eyes went huge. No, I hadn’t experienced something like that.) “I feel very outspoken in speaking what I feel to be true and I always have, yet I think that those kinds of comments served to make me fearful of what people were going to think if I express my opinion. It's a root of social anxiety. I became hyperconscious of what dresses look good or bad on me, or what is an ‘okay’ thing to wear. I still think about that kind of stuff!”
Thoughts about her body and thoughts about weight followed Ruby to college. “I was very intentional that I did not want to gain weight. So I was in a weight training class and made sure I was exercising, running, and very conscious of what I was eating. And... I gained twenty pounds. I was like, this doesn't feel right. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I went to the doctor and I kept a food journal for awhile. I took a cortisol test, and my levels were really high. It was just stress, but there was never this conversation like, ‘Hey, Ruby, it's not that big of a deal. You just started college and your dad died a year ago and you’re trying to figure stuff out. It's a huge transition, your body is trying to take care of you.’ That wasn't a conversation. That was a really big struggle, because I felt like something was really wrong or that there was something that I could fix. There was no formula to fix it.”
I wonder if anything would’ve changed for Ruby if someone had been around to say those words. That it wasn’t her fault, that she didn’t need fixing. It’s another example of how essential communication and connection is.
We talk a lot about essential language at Shakti, and I asked Ruby, Do you feel like the language you've used with your body and with people has improved? “Oh, yeah. I don't talk about my body, usually. Or I do, and it's not negative. Part of it though, was growing up in a Baptist church. The element of what's good/bad or right/wrong and abstinence was drilled in. So all of a sudden touch is bad, or your body is bad. My first boyfriend, any handsy thing we did, I felt dirty. So much shame for no reason. That's all interconnected. You shouldn't touch or express your body, but at the same time you need to make your body look as good as possible. It doesn't make any sense. Don't be sensual or sexual, but also make your body as sexy as possible.” Lee talked about this a bit with me, too. How in her work place, she felt like she had to be this ‘ideal woman’ who constantly walked the tightrope between prude and sexy, high strung and lazy, the list goes on.
For me, growing up in a devout Catholic family (I went to CCD [bible school] until I was 17), virginity was a biiiiiig topic. No sex = the only type of sex I would EVER BE HAVING = me being ashamed for having any sort of intimacy. It’s something I’ve had to shake off. It’s no longer part of my value system. Those thoughts linger, though. It took me years to figure out that I could enjoy sex and not be ashamed about it. (Sorry Mom + Dad, relatives, if you’re reading this. You’ll be okay. Your eyes won’t shrivel up and fall out of your face, I promise.)
Ruby felt similarly: “What I noticed is a deep rooted shame and an element of hiding.” One of Ruby’s first boyfriends was pushy about when/where intimacy would happen and what it would look like, and Ruby felt those feelings come up in later relationships. “I noticed later, in the early part of my relationship with Jake, those old feelings coming up. Really triggering that shame. It was very confusing, because I didn't feel ashamed of my body as much anymore. It wasn't gone, but I had gotten over the part about like, ‘It's bad for me to hook up with a guy.’ But the interaction triggered how I felt before, which was really tough. Which I imagine is how women who have been sexually assaulted feel. And I can't imagine how much more intense that must be.” True, yes. “It felt like something was wrong with me. Because this was something I wanted, but I don’t know why I feel this way.”
We wrapped back to the conversation on what it means to walk that line between too little and too much. An impossible standard that few women naturally embody. “I've had boobs since I was 12. By the time I got to high school, I was already a solid D. And so, again, this make yourself look good but don't over sensualize. That really has been limiting in my life about how I express myself and how it could be perceived as ‘too much.’ Not doing things I like or want to do because I have big boobs. Something as simple as, I really like to dance, but I’ve been taught it’s a really sexual thing because I’ve got a lot of body to move around.” Relatable. I went through this phase of my life where I decreased my outward expression of sexuality because I was told by men in my life that I was too flirtatious. And so I only wore baggy clothes. Sure, that's kind of stuck around as part of my sense of style, but the intention was totally different.
“That's a whole nother element: desirability. I've struggled a lot with it. Like my closest intimate relationships. For a long time I needed a lot of validation around that.” Why did you think you needed validation? “Because I didn’t think my body was a good enough body.” What’s your one piece of advice for people struggling with body image? “Touch your body. That’s huge. Touch your body all over. Be willing to touch every part of your body. It’s all part of you. Figure out the parts that you're not giving attention to, like the back of your knees! It feels less charged.”
Maybe you’ve noticed at Shakti. Sometimes we start or end class with one hand on the heart, one hand on the skin of your belly. That’s important. And all part of the growing, learning, and connecting of yoga. “From conception of bringing Shakti here, I've had very clear intentions about what I wanted that to feel like. Welcoming, warm, safe, like community. That was the main thing: How can I foster community. Being present, listening, and being adamant that our teachers are a certain way when they're in the space. Hold space for students to feel that. Make sure that our business operates in a way that gives room for people to feel safe. That they belong. Being Gracious. Being the person that they send emails to. Being at the studio was my number one.”
She continues, “It's not something that I created, but it's something that I chose to show up for. I know that requires me to show up and be there for people. And ask them questions, and be willing to care about them. I think that people feel cared for at this studio. I think it makes us really special. All of you teachers know how much I talk about communication, and I want to be available for you all, and that was really important to me from the very beginning. And sometimes still does feel like a struggle, because it's not first nature for people. So I'm teaching people how to talk about things or how to come to me. But that's the piece that cultivates a strong community. Knowing how to communicate with one another, so giving my teachers tools that they have no idea is building a community, that has been great.” She’s right. We have a feedback mechanism at the studio for yoga classes: Keep, Stop, Start. I can see that clear language bleeding into how I talk with students (directly) and how I love people (more honestly). For me, essential language has been revolutionary.
Within the context of language, body image talk is important. “The way that I choose to present the business, too. It was never in the running that we promote or market anything about how you're going to look. I’m not going to do it. I'm not going to play that game. If my business fails because of that, so be it. I'm just not willing to.”
So, Ruby, where do you see us getting better?
“I think right now, it looks like me showing up beyond the studio in a way that cultivates authentic connection first, which serves as a segue into the studio. I think our biggest boundary is the door. I'm confident that whoever steps into our space will be welcomed and supported, that they will be seen and they will be loved while they're there. They will have an opportunity for connection. I'm confident in that. And it’s scary as hell to go somewhere new, especially if it's something you've never done, especially if you don't think that you belong there, or that don't look like the people who are there. There's no way I could expect people to be that courageous on their own. People are. But I can't expect you to do that. If I really care about bringing more people to our space to experience what we offer, then that looks different than staying in the four walls of the studio.”
Healing and Moving Forward
So, how do we do better? We put something on the line. We create connection. We realize how great our influence is. We accept that it’s not just yoga. We give people explicit invitations. We know that it’s not as simple as our own experience. We do something about it. We vote. We take care to be generous and open to being right sometimes, wrong other times. We know how to apologize.
That’s where I’m going to start, at the end of this series.
Nineteen women, myself included, shared their stories for friends, family, strangers.
And I’m hopeful.