Reclaim: decolonize yoga

Section 377-2

By Yashna Maya Padamsee


During the Raj in India, in 1860, British Lord Macaulay criminalized homosexuality (specifically sexual expression) under Section 377. Lord Macaulay is also attributed with replacing Sanskrit and Arabic with English in the Indian school system. These two acts outrage me. How is it possible that our mother tongues and our heart’s desires can be both replaced and criminalized by an outside force, an oppressive colonized rule? How deep does colonization go? How can we challenge the occupation of our beliefs, tongues and bodies?

There was a lot of opposition around the over turning of Section 377. One string of opposition that particularly ruffled my queer feathers was from Yoga Swami Ramdev, who made some yoga practices and espcially his belief systems popular through mass marketing on television. Ramdev believed that the overturning of Section 377 would «ruin society’s moral fabric». As a queer desi grown up and living in the United States, I am used to, though still shaken by, the extreme Christian Right-Wing homophobia. As a yogi I was surprised to find such opposition supposedly coming from a place where I find great refuge- the teachings of yoga.

Karl Marx referred to Lord Macaulay as a ‘systematic falsifier of history.’ I would like to follow in Marxs’ words and say that Ramdev is a falsifier of yoga philosophy. Of course, Macaulay is not the only colonizer, and Ramdev is not the only one to misuse sacred teachings.

As a desi yogi teaching and practicing yoga in the United States I witness yoga and India used and misused, appreciated and appropriated, adopted, adapted, packaged and sold. Sisters, it is time to reclaim our yoga and our bodies. It is time to clear out the occupiers and the falsfiers.

Yoga is for us, for all of us. There is history and philosphy of yoga that uplifts gender fluidity, gender transendance, sexual expression and expansion. Yoga is a practice that cultivates self awareness and compassion. Practicing yoga is not about shutting out the world but getting in touch with it! I asked earlier – ”How can we challenge the occupation of our beliefs, tongues and bodies?” I belive the practice of yoga can be one answer to that question.

As same-sex loving, gender non-conforming, lesbian, bi or however you may identify, queer people, we often go through a process of feeling wrong. Wrong in our bodies, wrong in our hearts, wrong in our actions. We internalize this oppressive homophobia- it colonizes our bodies, our spirits. Yoga is a practice in which we can go deeper and unlock those chains. We create sit-ins through dhyana (meditation), and fuel our reserves with pranayama (breath), and march for mukti (freedom) with asanas (postures) and create a revolution from within through Yoga (union).

Yoga is for us, for all of us. I hope with this series of articles called Sampurna or Whole, we get to explore and reclaim our yoga practice and in turn reclaim our bodies, spirits, our wholeness.

Abhyasa- practice

In this section of Sampurna titled, Abhyasa, or practice, we will focus on various techniques that you can try at home. Yoga consists of many practices. The commonly know asanas, or physical postures, are just one segment of a larger practice. We will focus this Abhyasa on Pranayama. Pranayama literally means breath control, at a deeper level it refers to channeling our life-energy. Pranyama typically brings calm and quiet to the mind and body.

Dirga Pranayam / 3 part breath

1- Lie down in a comfortable position on your back
2- Close your eyes
3- Place both hands on your belly
4- Inhale- Breathe in through the nostrils. Breathe deeply into your belly (diaphram) and feel your hands lift and part slightly
5- Exhale- Breathe out through nostrils or with a sigh through your mouth. Breathe out and feel your hands come back down and slowly back towards each other.
6- Repeat 3-5x
7- Place hands on ribcage (slightly higher then belly)
8- repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 with hands on ribcage, while still breathing into belly
9- Place hands on upper chest, below the clavicals, near the heart.
10- Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 with hands on chest, while still breathing into belly and ribcage
11- Release hands, breathe for another 3-5 breaths with eyes closed. Notice the new awarness of breath in your body.
12- Open eyes slowly, let out another exhale as a gentle audible sigh

1- Keep your focus on the breath
2- If other thoughts arise, let them come and let them go
3- Repeat to yourself gently «inhale/exhale» as you are breathing

1- This is a practice of centering, relaxing and releasing.
2- You are tuning into the fullness of the breath in your body as well as the fullness of the present moment.

First published:
Jiah Magazine (First Online Queer Women’s Magazine in India)
January 2010

2 thoughts on “Reclaim: decolonize yoga

  1. Pingback: Today’s Fight for Our Morale, Tomorrow for Our Future. | B is for Blog

  2. Pingback: Yoga and Colonization: Let’s talk about it | Hey Miyuki!

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