Cultivating Inclusiveness in Yoga
By Stephanie Rehor
Anyone who is a yogi probably knows the difference between being in a yoga community and being a part of the “yoga scene.” For me, I was forced to learn the hard way. After 6 years of practicing yoga, I found myself attending more mainstream yoga events, purchasing overpriced yoga equipment, exclusively participating in vigorous classes and doing all I could to shove myself into the role of a western yogi. The ego took over as I became obsessed with the physicality of the poses. I pushed my body to the extreme and no matter what I did my skill level was still not up to par with any of the images the media fed me. While my physical practice wasn’t quite up to standards, my emotional practice never came close. When I expressed any sort of emotion to the world, any sort of intensity, it was met with resistance because “I thought you did yoga?” and “chill out, go do yoga” and “I’m surprised you would react that way because you do yoga”. These statements are not only emotionally manipulative but it becomes draining and invalidating to be constantly shoved into a box. All of these experiences led me to the realization that yoga stereotypes create exclusivity that harms this community.
The way things are now, we can be yogis as long as we are not overweight, have no mental illness, not disabled, not queer, trans, poor, black, or anything else that deviates from the “norm”. Western yoga stereotypes keep this community from being diverse and steers people away from something that could be life-changing for them. The danger of the yoga brand is that it creates an idea that being a yogi has less to do with how someone is experiencing life and more to do with how they look, what they are wearing or their level of flexibility. Yoga is a birthright. Every person who is alive should be able to experience yoga. Whether someone is doing a physical practice or not is irrelevant to the fact that they are worthy of peace.
Peacefulness is a wonderful effect that the poses have on the body but it doesn’t end there. Yoga is more than just asana. Yoga is reflective self-care. This type of self-care not only offers relaxation but a deeper look into one’s patterns and inner experiences. It works to rewire our thoughts and actions so that we may live in a more positive, honest, and fulfilling way. People who are oppressed and have trauma are in desperate need of reflective self-care. However, we are fed images that lead us to believe that yoga is only for white, able-bodied, privileged individuals. As yogis we need to be mindful about who is absent from the space. We need to look around to see who is missing and start creating a space that is inclusive. How do we do this? Awareness is the first step, but after that we start with ourselves. Begin inviting a little more ease into the practice and drop the idea that we have to look, act, or be a certain way to feel included. If we want to experience growth we must reject the falsehood and pressure of societal expectations and live in truth. Through self-love, understanding, and presence we can create a community that not only welcomes diversity – but also celebrates it.
Sacred Space for Your Home Practice
by Stephanie Rehor
In the yoga community I often hear quoted “we create our own reality.” Meaning whatever we plant inside will surface and bloom on the outside. While this notion is lovely, I can’t deny I often find myself challenging it. Universal law states that everything is constantly connected and the outer and inner worlds are permanently linked. So, in that, can we cultivate what’s on the outside to create a better experience on the inside?
Asking this made me to realize that I don’t only have to travel to a yoga studio to be immersed in the divine energy of a sacred space. I could use my outer experience to enhance my inner experience by building one in my own home.
So how do we do this? While a sacred space can include a whole room it does not necessarily have to be that. My altar is in the corner of my room and it works just fine. Wherever this place may be, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. This involves lighting, energy enhancers, energy clearers, symbols, and journals.
First and arguably most important is lighting. Lighting creates the mood, as different wavelengths of light will affect different functions of the brain. Usually the physical practice of yoga requires a soft brighter light. As we get more into meditation the lighting should be minimal but not total darkness. I have two forms of lighting in my space, a brighter small lamp and a rock salt lamp. For yoga, I put on both lamps and during meditation only the dim rock salt lamp. It is important to note that natural lighting is best and if a natural light source is available it should be utilized.
As well as light, energy enhancers and clearers are also very important in building this space. Within our spiritual practice we tend to release a lot of energy, so we want to make sure this space is clear and calm and that it will assist us is getting to a meditative state. For me, I use crystals as energy enhancers. There’s an amethyst stone, which balances the crown chakra, aiding in emotional balance and the opening of our spiritual centers. I also keep a clear quartz crystal, which absorbs any negative energy. There are a lot of different crystals that serve different purposes so it’s important to do some research and find a crystal that resonates. I find that amethyst and clear quartz are good ones to start with. To balance energy, we also need energy clearers. In my space I use white sage. When in doubt, smudging is the way to go to clear energy. Burning sage will cleanse, purify, and protect the space. Again, it is necessary to do more research about sage and how to smudge properly. If the smell is unpleasant or if smoke is bothersome, try using essential oils in a diffuser. Some good ones for clearing are rose, frankincense, or lavender.
Additionally, using symbols can be a very powerful in a sacred space. I find symbols are the basis for making it personalized and unique. This can be anything that holds importance. A couple I have in mine are laughing Buddha to symbolize my intention to not take things too seriously, and the word “serenity” to symbolize my intention to uncover peace within. Again, the symbols in the space can be very personalized. For example, someone may put a feather on their altar as a to represent freedom and letting go. These are what we make them; just make sure that they represent the intention of the practice.
Finally, it is good to have a journal in the space to record anything that may come up during the practice. When we clear the mind we are more receptive to messages, some which we desperately need to hear. Resist the urge to resonate on it; this is why it’s good to write it down to look at it later.
So while it’s no secret that our inner experience affects our reality, we have choices about our surroundings. If we consciously make the choice to fill it with sacred energy then we see the space was within us all along.
Atlas of Yoga
By Laura Mills
Foiled again! Yesterday morning, like clockwork, as soon as I finished my fifth sun salutation my daughter woke up crying. No matter how early I get up and attempt to practice, she knows…. And if it’s not my daughter crying, it’s my cat—sitting on my mat, weaving through my arms and legs, meowing until my daughter wakes up. Or else it’s the laundry…or the messy kitchen…or the bills…. My quest for a workable home practice continues; regardless of my intention, I confess I usually put my home practice last. 8 years a yogi, 5 years a yoga teacher, and I still can’t get the home practice quite right.
Some days I feel lucky if I manage to squeeze in a handful of sun salutations. Most days, no matter how many I’ve squeezed in, I go to bed wishing I had squeezed in at least a few more. I feel heavy, like I’m carrying the weight of my yoga world. I shake my head and chastise myself for not being a more disciplined yogi.
That’s when something inside me whispers, “Put it down.” The weight of my yoga world is heavy, after all—the difference between the yoga I want to do and the yoga I do do seems astronomical. But I remind myself that this “burden” isn’t really a burden at all, but instead the trimmings of a life in which I’m doing the best I can to fill many roles. Time will pass, the roles will evolve…and so will my home practice. Maybe squeezing in a few sun salutations every day—or every few days—is perfect for me in this moment. One way or another, I will find my way and end up in the place that’s right for me. In the meantime I will keep going, finding little bits of success in the effort along the journey.
The Impermanence of Perfect
By Laura Mills
No fingerprints smear the mirrors; no lumps wrinkle the bed. No lint litters the carpet. The laundry, dishes, and toys are put away. I can even navigate my way through the garage without stepping on anything. This place is pretty near perfect—but I must admit, perfection unsettles me.
I had to impress if I hoped to sell my house. Prospective buyers want to see the counters, floors and other features clearly; they want to be able to picture their own belongings, not someone else’s dirty socks or half-dressed dolls, in the nooks and crannies. And I get that, completely. As a buyer myself, when I’ve looked at prospective homes I’ve wanted the same thing.
But near-perfect is more than just hard—it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard. Time and effort achieve an acute moment of it. But then maintaining it is another feat, one that requires constant vigilance. It’s so, so easy to slide from near-perfect toward non-perfect again. The minute the cat misses the litter box, or I forget to straighten the towel, or my daughter spills her cereal…. My attention to one incident allows other incidents to occur, and before long, I’m back to needing more time and effort to rise to near-perfect again.
Which is why, I think, I’ve realized I prefer non-perfect. It’s comfortable, even cozy. Most importantly it’s real. It’s my everyday, on the clock, up-and-down life. Near-perfect is okay for selling a home and buying a new one, but when it comes to present moments—even the messiest and most chaotic ones—non-perfect is perfectly beautiful.