Leaning into Reconnection


Now that we have learned ways that Western Yoga has separated itself from yoga’s roots, Susanna Barkataki leads us into the path of reconnection in Chapter V, Part 1 of Embrace Yoga’s Roots.

“Cultural appreciation seeks to connect with cultures different from one’s own from the inside out. It respects the codes, values and practices of the culture. Cultural appreciation can happen when one enjoys or respects the culture of origin. Instead of harming or taking, one learns with humility, gives back and uplifts the source culture.”

Embrace Yoga’s Roots – pg 144

How do we acknowledge our privilege of yoga practice and utilize it to not only examine and enact our own Self-transformation, but also that of the community and society around us? This is a balance that I think needs some reflection and attention. So far, in short discussions around this book, the topic of how to connect to and uplift those that have been systemically oppressed or colonized is the “next step” question. And, the unfortunate part is that each community is unique in its needs and support systems, so there is not ONE perfect answer.

To look at it in layers is, in my opinion, the easiest way to take this reconnection and put it into action. I think chapter V highlights some of these layers – from our approach to our own individual yoga practice to looking outside the confines of the mat toward the greater community we live in. In our yoga practice and in our impetus to help and support our community, we have to be willing to lean into discomfort and look outside the box.

If we are practicing the Iyengar Yoga tradition in its totality of emphasis on the foundational system of The Yoga Sutras and also appreciating the numerous and unending approaches to physical posture to enable every body to practice, I would argue that we do have an appreciation and not appropriation for the subject of yoga. However, even then, as Western practitioners, what are we truly taking in as the “foundation” or “tradition”? What have we comfortably left out because of misunderstanding, not having interest, or just finding it too daunting or too foreign? Participation in Prashant Iyengar’s most recent Saturday “chit chats” has given me a new understanding of what “context and history” really mean. “Awe, respect, reverence, and humility” (pg 148) have all grown in me since listening to these Saturday gatherings, and though I may never completely understand every concept or word, just the contemplation of the subject matter has deepened my practice considerably.

But past our individual approaches, I do wonder how we might take Yoga to its promised UNIVERSAL and HEALING status here in the West. Even the sutras absolutely require yoga as a practice for ALL – beyond class, time, and place. But how do we get there from here? Indian culture grew around the concepts of yoga despite its social caste system. Brahmins held knowledge, but the knowledge was widespread and “known” to certain degrees all over the continent no matter your standing. As white middle and upper class colonizing societies took over the practice, it has been held largely as a privilege and put into the capitalistic structure of money-making. This inevitably leaves out a large swath of underprivileged and underserved communities. Is it possible to untangle? Can we sit in discomfort with teaching this subject under the current circumstances AND ALSO move toward a more equitable approach? Does discomfort immediately make us turn away from a situation? Has discomfort in your own practice made you quit? These are all questions we might really consider.

“Yoga, at its heart, is a radical and civically engaged practice…The physical practice was developed to break the attachment and connection to the physical body, not to deepen it.”

Embrace Yoga’s Roots – pg 151

We live in LaCrosse, WI. It has its own unique populations and issues. Susanna Barkataki may not be speaking directly to what we face in front of us with her own examples, but we know we fall into the same social issues as every other town in America. What can we do to look at our individual community needs and make strides “off the mat” to engage? I will never forget the experience my teacher, Laurie Blakeney, has given us over the years, teaching classes in the homeless shelter next door to her studio and also at the school for neuro-divergent kids in Ann Arbor, MI. She mentored us toward volunteerism wherever possible, through whatever method drew us in – from the yoga community and beyond.

Yoga is not about hiding in your own comfort and ignoring the rest. From individual posture to place in the world, “Its aims were nothing short of total personal and social transformation.” (pg 152)

“We don’t need to save the whole world, if that is not our calling. Our yogic tools give us a path toward engaging exactly where we are, with whom is in front of us.”

Embrace Yoga’s Roots – pg 152

This Week’s Reading : Chapter V, Part 2 – Reconnection Practices

Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.