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What Do the Yoga Sutras Say About Segregated Yoga Classes?

Whenever I see an article on Blacks Only, gay only, curvy only yoga classes, there is always some comment about  how yoga is about being comfortable and safe so wanting a separate class is in line with Yoga.

What we are asking for. . . no, not asking for. What we are creating, is safe space where we don’t have to experience that discomfort for just 1 hour out of our week. Where we can rest a bit deeper, breathe a bit easier, since after all, that is what yoga is about. – See more at: http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/why-we-need-safe-spaces-in-yoga/#sthash.H1XvBb6B.dpuf

I study the Yoga Sutras of Patajali because it is the basis for yoga philosophy.  I don’t know what type of yoga they are referring to because the Yoga Sutras does not back up the above statement. I am not a Yoga Sutra expert so if there is a verse that supports separate classes that I overlooked, put it in the comments below, but so far, I have not found it. I will, however, tell you what I did find.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the foremost text on Yoga, Yoga is defined as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. These fluctuations are called vrittis. Patanjali goes on to say that vritts can either bring us pain or not. Yoga is more concerned with the ones that cause the pain. Patanjali warns us that if we don’t abide in our own essence, we will conform to our vrittis. (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  Book 1: vs 3-4). When you start up a class based on sex, color, race, sexual orientation, you are conforming to our vrittis…big time.

Two of the vrittis are vikapla/verbal delusion or building a story based on imagination and memory. Memory and imagination are not bad unto themselves. They become klishta/ pain causing when we take negative things we have experienced and attach those experience to our current moment using our imagination and begin to build a story.

To walk into a yoga class and feel uncomfortable simply because someone is White, Black, skinny, overweight, straight, gay etc, is verbal delusion.To go and build a class based on this, is not the advice that the yogis gave.

This Is What the Yogi’s Advised

Svadyaya/Study- Study scriptures and texts that help you to see through the stories. Books like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle give tools and techniques to help us question our thoughts and stories.

Friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard for the wicked- Yoga Sutras of Patjanjali Book 1 vs 33- Patanjali tells us that these traits bring lucidity to the mind. When you run into people, at your yoga studio, this is how you treat them. If someone is throwing shade, you remain equanimous and ignore them.

Give it up to a higher power-  Give it up to God, Isvara, Allah, the Universe or whatever term you use for the animating force behind all of existence.

Stay present-Get out of your story and be open to what is going on in front of you.

Fix the mind on a single object-remember what you came to class for and focus on that

Right knowledge-We have to make sure that we choose teachers who have direct experience with yoga and who will provide us with information that is aklishtic or information that helps us get rid of future pain and wakes us up to our true self. Such a teacher will create a studio or class that is all inclusive.

Replace negative thoughts with positive ones (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Book 2 vs.33)- If you can’t get rid of the negative story, try to replace it with a positive one. “This yoga studio if full of loving people. They look different from me but we are all equals. I am entering a community of love, compassion and acceptance. Everyone is here for the betterment of themselves, our community and the Earth. Yoga is a rediscovery of love.”

Don’t give in to dvesha/repulsion to things that make you uncomfortable (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Book 2 vs. 8)-running away when memories and stories in the mind make you feel uncomfortable is one of the kleshas. According to Yoga, the kleshas cause further suffering. Running away and not dealing with the thoughts that cause you to feel uncomfortable ensures that you will continue to have those experiences. They only way  to end the cycle of suffering is to let the story go and be present.

Raga or only looking for pleasurable experiences, is a trap ( Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Book 2 vs 7)-this is another klesha or action that causes suffering. Finding a class for people of color, lesbians, Whites, overweight people allows you to put your skeletons in the closet in exchange for a pleasurable experience. The pleasure is temporary. There will be other situations in your life where you are the only gay, Black person, overweight person in the room. Running away over and over to pleasurable experiences or other yoga studios, other churches, other jobs so that you don’t have to be the only one is a trap because you never deal with the discomfort and you will always be running.

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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