ableism,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Diversity,  Privilege,  Social Media,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

My Answer To Kino: Would You Still Love Me If I Don’t Handstand Anymore?

Photo By Wanda Koch

Kino posted an article today, “Would You Still Love Me If I Don’t Handstand Anymore?” My answer is “yes” because I do not choose teachers based on the poses they can do. Even though the yoga world at large has not followed suit, I outgrew that years ago.

If someone believes that achievement in physical asana constitutes dedication to practice or greater knowledge of yoga, they either don’t really practice that much or they change studios, styles of yoga or teachers too often. It only takes a few years of hanging around in the same yoga rooms with the same students and the same teachers to see that this is untrue.

I have seen people do handstands and floating on their first day of practice while others try for 15 years and never get it. It is an outright lie that with enough work, you can do any pose. Stay in one yoga studio with one teacher long enough and you will see people working on poses for years that they are no closer to getting then on the first day they tried. This is a lie told by able-bodied privileged people who are so blind to what is really going on in the world that they don’t realize what a freak of nature they truly are.

Don’t get me wrong. I go through my pose chasing phases and I do some crazy asanas. However, this is something that we are supposed to grow out of. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali call this Saucha/Cleanliness. People like to skip over the verse on Saucha where Patanjali talks about the yogi developing a dislike for the body (2:40). Yes, “dislike” is a strong word. The yogi is using purification to drive home the fact that the body can never be pure. You will constantly be cleaning it your whole entire life. However, the soul is pure. The yogi’s goal is to get to what is pure.

I am grateful to Kino for writing this article because it is time for people to stop selling ableism as the pinnacle of yoga. When It is coming from someone who is seen by many as the pinnacle of yogic success, maybe people will listen. Because this is nothing new. Not in my world.

I live in this body and I bump up against the yoga world’s glass ceiling every day. I don’t have the body or the grace and ease in my movements that results in viral social media posts. I have had teachers assume that I don’t work hard on poses that I cannot do because, in their ableist mind, if I had worked on them for as long as I say I have, I would be able to do them. I have also experienced shock when others have assumed that, because of my body type, I cannot do certain poses. I have witnessed able-bodied pretty people, get endorsement deals, publishing contracts, workshop shop opportunities, while people with 10 times the knowledge, who are not as pretty and able-bodied, get nothing.

Something else that happens to non-able-bodied yoga teachers is the “you are so brave and the world needs what you are putting down” conversation that results in absolutely no action from the person saying said statement. Bravery doesn’t pay any bills. “But, Shanna, you are not supposed to teach yoga for the money.” How can you teach yoga if you cannot pay your bills? I know so many gifted teachers who had to quit teaching and go back to their 9-5 because they don’t have the time and energy to do both and they needed to feed their family. The only reason I still write this blog and teach is because my husband pays my bills. Let’s get real. Yogi’s cannot go door to door begging for food as they did back in the day. Lay that story to rest, go to class and pay your $15 to that deserving “brave” teacher, please.

People love to say, “These people don’t have the success because they are not putting themselves out there. They are not doing the right marketing or putting out the right content.” Bullshit. It is because YOU are not putting these people out there.

You might be saying, “Shanna, you are just bitching and moaning” or, ” Am I supposed to feel bad because of my success as a blonde, skinny, surfer handstand dude?” You can feel how you want but I will just say this. People love the story that you can work really hard at something and get it. In the United States, this is called, “The American Dream”. The Internet is full of articles and memes of highly successful people who, against all odds, rose to the top of their field. Inspiring huh? The reason these stories are so remarkable is because they are rare. If they happened all the time, they wouldn’t be remarkable or inspirational. They would be normal. Guess what? The normal people are the ones who are out here fighting to dismantle privilege and ableism because they are the ones bumping up against the glass ceiling that this lie perpetuates.

They are the ones who are seen as the hopeless cases in yoga when they are actually quite normal. “I don’t know what is wrong with Martha. She has been practicing Marichi D for 6 years and still cannot bind.” Nothing is wrong with Martha. She is just fine. The Martha’s are the ones who get ignored because it is much easier to drink yeast laden tea (kombucha), wear sweatshop leggings and drop $200 at the handstand workshop with the cool kids then it is to actually take a look at how Martha and the other half lives.

It is even harder to be the one who has had great success from this privilege and ableism and to not only acknowledge it but to reach down and help those who have not. If you are doing that, I applaud you.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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