Hi friends. My name is Sarah and you’re listening to beginner’s mind, a podcast about all things yoga ish. So I’ve been holding onto this episode for awhile and I’m excited to finally share it with you guys. Back when I was talking to all the yoga works teachers here in New York City about unionization, I decided I wanted to talk to someone from Indian background who would talk to me a little bit about what they thought of this whole movement and that is how this conversation started and you’ll see that it quickly led into a much bigger conversation about the relationship between the Western world and yoga and the importance of centering Indian voices in the conversation of yoga. I was lucky enough to connect with Luvena Rangel. She’s the founder of the Curvy Yogi and she’s a yoga instructor who has a background in medicine, holistic health and ayurvedic, lifestyle and education.
She lives in, works in India, and also works here in the United States and her classes and workshops and seminars are steeped in her extensive knowledge of anatomy. Her skilled observation and intuition as well as her philosophy that yoga and wellness is beyond the exclusivity of race, color, creed, body shape, etc. Today Luvena is one of Bangalore’s leading yoga, anatomy, physiology and wellness educators, and she’s trained over a hundred yoga teachers. She is an incredible individual. And this conversation was so amazing and I hope you guys learn and gain as much as I did from this conversation. So without further ado, let’s dive in and let’s get curious.
Alright, so I am here with Luvena Rangel and we’re going to be talking about a little bit about a different perspective in regards to this whole unionization conversation. But before we get there Luvena, do you want to take a moment to sort of introduce who you are and what it is you do in the yoga world?
Hi. Hi Sarah. And hello everyone. I am Luvena. I am speaking with Sarah all the way from India. And what I do in the yoga world. Well, I remember a couple of months ago someone just questioned me on Facebook, you know, saying, what do you mean by yoga world? So I’ll be a little, uh, correct on that. And I won’t actually say anything about the yoga world, but I do teach yoga teacher trainings here in Bangalore. I largely teach anatomy as well as philosophy and teaching methodology. My focus largely is on ethical training, so our teachers are well prepared. And in the wider yoga community, I do speak lot on culture. I speak a lot on valuing our roots and honoring our roots and keeping the yoga relevant, but at the same time, not at the expense of, um, Indian voices and South Asian voices. As an Indian yoga teacher based in India, I do come with a lot of perspective from India and there’s a lot of things that I do. There’s some social justice and activism and it’s there. So I think I just respond to the situation and see how best I can actually at something.
Yeah, perfect. Yeah. And so the conversation that you and I were sort of starting to have offline that I, that I wanted to dive into today is, you know, in context with this whole unionization conversation that I’m having with a lot of teachers, something that keeps coming up is this idea that… one of the goals is that the teachers will have a place and a platform where they can come together to sort of evaluate how yoga is developing and particularly in the West and currently with the unionization movements that are happening in the United States. And kind of reshape the kind of path of yoga moving forward. And I want to talk a little bit about what that means and why it’s important to have different voices in that conversation. Maybe some that are not even based in the United States and looking at that a little bit more in depth.
Yeah. I know we spoke about this offline a few days ago and it’s, you know, I have been thinking about it a little bit and you’re right because for teachers in the US it does make sense to have a body, to have an organization which is going to help them with, with what needs to be done and what does it need to be, you know, something needs to be, something that needs to be changed. But what I do also feel very strongly about is that in this entire process of unionizing the practice or unionizing the process for the teachers, what we tend to overlook is that Indian teachers or South Asian teachers are usually missing from the conversations or that in India itself, we usually don’t have such unionized movements around yoga. And that itself, you know, holds it as a stock comparison to what’s happening and how the US or the Western lens is viewing the practice or even the teaching practice, you know, where is this coming from? It, it’s a very different conversation to what’s actually happening here.
You know, unfortunately if you just look at it on the outside the “Hatha practice” an asana based, a postural practice is something that you would very commonly see in India as well as in the West. And that’s because that has been a practice that has been made most available to the community where what you see that the cross reality of it, the body, the stool up out of everything is the one that’s most visible. So the practice, yes. You know, when you think of it in the West, there is a large body-based yoga practice, whereas in India now when we’re looking at it from the lens of oppression or from the lens of where we come from and how yoga has been avoided or how it has been systematically removed from our mainstream practice, the practice in itself that’s available to, uh, in India now is something that we have, I call it repackaged and imported again. You know, so, yes, and that’s one of the most painful things we see because you’ll find many studios in India which cater to the Western trend of postural yoga. That’s not saying that we do not have our most traditional practices because there are various lineages and many of them that are still kept very secret, you know, or where they’re practicing teachers who practices them. And there is a sense of intimacy around those lineages so we don’t discount them. But what we largely see is something that is still catering to the capitalistic view of what the Western yoga community is looking for.
And I’m wondering, you know, with that change, with seeing more and more of sort of how the yoga is developing in the West influence, how it’s developing in India, what is problematic about that? You know, you hear a lot of arguments, I hear a lot of arguments in the, you know, white yoga community of, Oh, but we’re just sharing and learning from each other like, you know, so, so what about, that is a problem. Why is, why is that not as simple as just, Oh well we change it and then you change it and then we change it.
The thing is that, you know, the first thing that I really want to add in here is that when I speak, I do speak from my own perspective and that’s something that is very, very important for most, uh, uh, white people or the white yoga community to actually understand that there is no one view. If someone says that, you know, I’m feeling offended about how yoga is perceived in the States or in the, in the Western world right now, it isn’t necessarily the view of every Indian practitioner, every South Indian practitioner. So while some of us may be liberal to understand that, okay, you know, what, if you’re experiencing yoga in this particular way, you’ve practiced it in this way, and yes, okay, you, you may enjoy it. But for some of us, it may not be that easy to accept because we may be coming from a place of a stronger or a closer bond with the lineage, with the practice, with the connection and the relationship we have with our teachers and the line of teachers before us, all our ancestors around it. And for many of us, our families as well. So when the Western argument is that, you know, it’s there for everyone’s consumption and it makes us feel good. It’s something that, you know, it should be evolving or, I was reading this, I think earlier today, it is said, it makes us feel good, so it should be okay. And, you know, it’s not something about making you feel good. So that is a very whitewashed, uh, explanation or an argument which overlooks the pain or it overlooks oppression. And it also overlooks an entire culture where it comes from. So, uh, these are the people who would also say that, but then culture is always evolving. And, but then, hello, a culture is evolving, but the evolve yoga culture doesn’t need to be defined by a white person who has not been a part of this culture from the time it originated. It is problematic when the argument to, or the defense to keep all of these newer foams or these evolved forms of postural yoga alive. You know, when the, when the narrative comes from, from a white person who doesn’t understand the nuances to the sentiments of the Indian New York community, then that is problematic because then you’re just trying to bulldoze your way over people who are finally getting their voices heard, even though the voices are very diverse and as diverse as the country is.
Yeah. It’s almost like we’re, so in our culture, we’re so aware now, you know, that colonization was a bad thing. So we’re trying to call it evolution now so we can get away with it, you know?
Yes, in fact, see I’m, I won’t lie because it took me a very long time to understand how I was impacted by colonization. It took me a while to even realize that the word existed. I didn’t know. I really didn’t know because in our own schools, in our curriculum, we aren’t taught about colonization. We aren’t taught about it. And, uh, the Indian society largely doesn’t know, you know, that they were operating from a place of, uh, you know, generational trauma or generational abuse or something that we just carrying forward from our ancestors. And we don’t know that. So when I see, usually if it’s on social media and there’s a conversation happening and you’ll find one Indian voice or one or two South Asian voices trying to make their point and then you have 10 of 15 people trying to, um, you know, some of them being very patronizing, some of them being very sympathetic and some of them just bulldozing them and blindly, um, you know, lashing out, calling them radical. There are radical voices, but not all of them are. So it’s very difficult to, to really center these voices when we are, I think I digressed a bit and I, I lost the, you know, the question, you know, where you..
That actually brings back to an important point, this idea of whose voices are at the center because one of the big, you know, keep like in again, in the context of the unionization in the United States, one of the big parts of that is, um, is the idea of having a place where everyone’s voice can be heard. Because the way it would work is it would be a place where there would be meetings and anyone who’s a part of the community could bring up whatever issues are happening and open that up for dialogue. And so it, I think that brings us to an important point of why we need that so much in the yoga community, not necessarily through unionization. That’s one way of approaching it, but just the importance of bringing to the surface nonwhite and particularly Indian voices about these conversations about yoga. Even if it is yoga in the West where most of the yoga teachers, I think I read a statistic the other day that it was like 72% of the yoga teachers are white. Well, that may be as part of the problem. You know why, why it is so important to have these other voices in the conversation.
Yeah. So you see, when I look at it as to, when I look at as, one as, why the unionized approach and how that helps? And on the other side. Why the South Asian voices or why the Indian voices? One of them is that the, the unionized approach is, is something that is the need of the art in, I think you told me that it’s, it’s happening in New York, right?
Yeah. In New York City.
Yeah. So the unionize approach is a very systematic approach. Okay. You need to break things down. You need to have it. It’s given a very, it’s given yoga, the practice, the teaching, a very corporate feel, a very organized, systematic feel. Yoga traditionally is a system, but the Indian system has got a lot of nuance and a lot of facets to it. So it involves a society and it was a number of things. Now when we look at that, when you say that 72% of yoga teachers are white, then largely the system or the criteria behind the unionized approach would center those white yoga teachers voices. Now, having said that, if you’ve got no South Asian voice represented there, if you’ve got no Indian voice, then you aren’t centering the practice or from the origin. You’re not centering you, you’re not getting it that whole foundation of where it comes from, that’s one thing. But then more importantly, if you look at the power dynamics with 72%, if we just, if that is just one uh, statistic that we’re looking at, if we had that much of a majority as a white dominant par, then the economy of it, the sustainability of the practice is already skewed. You’ve already ruled in favor of yoga being something as driven into existence or the narrative being set by the white yoga teachers.
And to shift that, to even begin work around that, you need to center Asian voices, you need to center the Indian voices because unless you first acknowledge that there is that gap, you won’t be able to make a change. You won’t be able to, you just be creating a union, which would be just another Alliance which is still going to send to an uplift the white voices or the white narrative. The perspective of, uh, a teacher coming from a place where he or she feels accepted into a school or a studio, which is run on the principles of this unionized, uh, outfit will just defeat the purpose.
Yeah. So then how do when they’re, when people are creating this union, um, you know, how do I think a lot of the conversations that I’ve been having around it are based on sort of the mundane needs of teachers. You know, the, okay, well we need to be making a living salary, we need to be, we need to have job security, we need to know that we can take a vacation without going broke. Like, you know, just these sort of like daily life needs that it, you know, America is part of your job. You know, it’s part of your career is that you pick what you’re gonna do and then it supports you. And so the idea is creating a culture in which the standards of employment in yoga are such that people can actually make it a full time career and be yoga teachers full time. So I’m wondering how the teachers who are pushing for that and pushing for their rights as employees can balance those needs and those rights without losing the needs of, you know, the practice and the roots of the practice and the Indian connection and the voices of South Asian teachers. You know, how do those things, can they work together or are they just different?
Sarah, when you asked me something like that, I’m just shaking my head sitting here. I’m just shaking my head thinking that sometimes feels like, it feels like oil and water. If you’re going to ask about making a living and fulltime, uh, employment and teaching yoga because the Indian approach, we do have teachers who teach because we do have a living expenses. We do have those demands. We do have all of that, but you’ll just find a handful of people you know, who would make a living and thrive with having yoga as a full-time employment or a full-time teaching opportunity or whatever it is that they want to do with yoga. Most people would have yoga alongside some other practice that they do because, well, I don’t want to speak for all the Indian teachers or all South Asian teachers, but most of us teach yoga, not from a place of, uh, you know, having a big fat bank balance from teaching yoga. So at times it feels a bit offensive when I hear of someone saying, okay, I want to take up yoga teacher training and so I can be a yoga teacher and I can make that as my full time employed, uh, a means of earning. And, uh, and I feel that, uh, offensive because it puts yoga on one of those two month or one month programs where you learn something and you don’t learn it in its entirety. And this is another thing when people usually say, but I, I enjoy the practice. I don’t have to borrow and learn of the entire culture, but if it’s just a body practice, then why yoga? You know, you could do something else. So I do understand though, that there are teachers who would, uh, make quite a difference in teaching Asana. So, uh, so perhaps an Asana, uh, practice oriented method of how you unionize things on and how rights are and on parity in terms of equity in terms of earning or even parity in terms of learning, how much does a studio class in your neighborhood cost?
Yeah, so the studio I go to, it’s, I think it’s $20 for a drop in class.
Okay. So if it’s $20, in India, right. And these are for paid classes from really good teachers who’ve put in years of practice for a studio class, a drop in class, you’d end up paying something like a dollar.
Okay. And that in itself, even though we say that, okay, you know, you’ve got teachers in India who are teaching for, uh, because of the wisdom that they want to transmit and all of that. But you see the, the gap, there’s a $20 class just around your corner. And here we charging just about a dollar. Anything beyond that would be very, very high end. And these teachers would never get an opportunity to come over to the States and teach. And if they have to, because I do know of many South Asian, many Indian teachers who are in the, in the States right now, who are often being paid much less than their white counterparts. And if the unionized, uh, approach is going to give some sense of parity, then that will only come when you center the experiences of these Indian teachers or the South Asian teachers. And that will only begin the process of, or that will only begin when these teachers or the leaders of this union would be aware that we need to see who’s missing from the room, who’s not here right now and whose voice isn’t being heard.
Yeah. And so I think that’s an interesting element of it too, because you know, there’s kind of two things simultaneously happening with this, uh, movement. And you know, on the one hand you have what’s actually physically happening is that teachers from one studio and because, because they haven’t gone public yet, I can’t say too much about like which studios or what’s happening. But teachers with a specific studio in New York City are coming together to create a union solely for that yoga studio. So they’re saying as employees of this yoga studio, we want these kinds of rights, however they’re, there’s definitely conversation about, like the rights of yoga teachers overall and how unionization could be just a general movement for yoga teachers in the United States. And I think what’s interesting is that the more I talk about this and the more I talk about really any of the topics we’ve been covering on this podcast so far, what keeps coming up is just the inherent problematic nature of the way yoga has already developed in the United States. And so there are things like unionization that makes sense for Western yoga teachers, but they make sense because there has been created a culture around yoga in the United States that is not true necessarily to the roots of the practice or the way the practice was designed to work in a culture in a society.
Yes, I agree. While he was speaking, I was thinking of it because, uh, I can see how it would work in just one studio like you call it, because then that’s more or less creating the standards for the, for the teachers within their school. But if they want to apply that large scale, then it just becomes something like another yoga alliance of sorts. And then you’ve got to have people buy into it and then you’ll have people countering it and all of that. And my concern still is that it will be, once again, another set of rules that would suit the dominant voice or the dominant culture, and unless right at the beginning the effort is made to center the standards or whatever you’re looking for on the basis of something that is more, uh, not just unifying, but, something that is more true to the origin.
Yes it is. But then, you know, then that may make a completely different picture altogether. But as I say this, I know many people who would be on social media. I know there would be many of the people who’d be listening to this podcast as well because they’re the mutual friends or, and I know that they would be questioning why? They would question why we need to center, uh, you know, what’s the purpose? And you know, why do we need to bring a cultural appropriation or honoring the roots or anything? Why can’t we just do it? Because, you know, the way we, we want to do it,
But then it’s almost like, um, question like, hurting someone and then questioning them when they cry, you know? Uh, and I usually find myself at a loss of words at that point in time because I don’t always have an answer because, uh, you know, when people say something like that, it is quite an effort and I can feel the emotion within me right now as I see it as well, because it can be quite painful for people who have already been marginalized, who have already been a minority in the country, who have seen their culture, who’ve seen their practices being used and misused. And then being questioned, uh, about, you know, why not, why you being so touchy about it?
It’s, it’s almost like a, this recent or these usual trends that come up, uh, you know, with the beer yoga, the goat yoga and I’m with people saying, um, you know, well why are you so touchy about it? It’s something that’s making all of us happy doing it. It’s, we’re touchy about it because you have torn our culture into shreds and you’re trying to make sense of it or you’re forcing me to make sense of something that you just brutally destroyed in front of me. It’s like a family heirloom being just torn in front of you and you being asked to chin up and just take it in because yoga has evolved.
Yeah. Well, in the end it makes me think of like, you know, the sort of metaphor I guess that popped into my mind is like if you have an abusive relationship and one, you know, partner or parent or friend or whatever, and the relationship is the abuser and is the one with the kind of dominance in the relationship. And they have a history of doing kind of more violent, abusive behaviors. And then one day they do something that’s maybe like, not as violent, you know, they take their friend’s thing without asking or they uh, whatever, something like that. And their friend is upset about it and they’re just like, well why this isn’t such a big deal. And it’s like, well maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if we had a history of equality, but we don’t, we have a history of abuse. And so this is not coming from a place of sharing. This is coming from a place of you have dominance and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Yes, yes. And also the reaction to something like that, it may be that you know, you do it once, you do it twice, you do it 10,000 times, you finally numbed a bit to it. But then finally the 10001st time that you do it, it’s like the last straw on the camel’s back and you’ve, you have an outburst, even if it’s one, you know, a tiny bar. So it looks like an overreaction or an over sensitivity, but it isn’t actually, it’s just an outburst or something that has been accumulating for so long. And, um, you know, at this point is I do want to bring in, I do recall at the beginning of the call I did mention that we could different voices in India. And um, you see India is such a huge country and, uh, just, uh, as huge as it is, we do have a political structure and the views of the people in India are all over the place. I mean, we’ve got people who are hard core right-wing, uh, operators. And then you’ve got very liberal leftists as well. And then you’ve got people who are right in the center saying, okay, well what’s happening? And just, we just, you know, it’s okay. We don’t really care. It doesn’t affect us immediately. So you, you’ll hear people from, that speaking about yoga or for yoga from all these different quarters. Now, it may be that all of them feel things the same way, but the ideology, the mindset, and um, the temperament of how they speak and where they speak does set the tone of what their individual perspective is. Now, when we have a lot of NRIs or Indian origin Indian-Americans who voice their feelings and their sentiments around yoga, around the appropriation, around the oppression and all of that. And you’ll find that many people have different ways of expressing how they feel about yoga in the West. And some of them may take on a very strong, a radical and very extremist view as well. And some others may take a more moderate or more approachable understanding. Now, the difficult part in this is when a white person is, um, finds affinity in one of these voices and assumes that that is the voice of everyone in India, then that becomes problematic as well. Because then you generalized your entire understanding of appropriation, of nuance, of pain, of oppression based on that one Indian American voice. But that one Indian American voice is not the voice of India. It is not representative of the entire culture and how we feel because within India there are so many different agreements and disagreements and then there are casteist, hierarchies and all of these things happening. So it would be a bit misplaced for someone in the West to just find the one, they see teacher who’s points they agree with. Uh, we’ll find some in your audience who say, uh, you know, Levina is an Indian teacher and everything she says is something that I truly believe in. She is the voice of India and this is exactly what I would believe in. And then she would take offense from another Indian origin teacher, who are a yoga practitioner who voices but with a very strong, uh, you know, right-wing or even radical approach. And while he or she might still be true in their experience, you’ll find a certain section of the white audience who would resonate with her and say, that is what we will take. Levina’s views are very liberal and very soft and there’s no one truth to it. The need of this or why we need to send a diverse voices is that the audience also understand the diversity and brings in that element to understand how multifaceted the yoga culture is. Culture evolves, but it evolves because our people are very different.
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Transition Music 00:32:36
Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s interesting too because you know, I think about, you know, on the other side, on my own perspective of listening to lots of different voices and you know, I’ve definitely been, I’ve never, I’ve never kind of had that issue of, Oh, this must be the one and only voice of, you know, people of color or Indian-Americans or Indians or whoever, whatever population we’re talking about at the time. But definitely I think the other thing that can happen and something I’ve definitely done in the past and I’m working hard to undo is like you said, finding the person that resonates with you, but not necessarily thinking it’s the only voice. But equating it to sort of arguments in your own culture. So what I’ve definitely done is, you know, I have really strong opinions about the way things are, the way things should be, and I’ll argue them. And then I’ll hear one voice, you know, that I agree with, and maybe five I don’t agree with about a similar argument or, or a different argument in regards to something about cultural appropriation or something about the way someone else’s practices are developing. And then feel like, because I’ve read multiple voices and because I have a strong opinion, it is my place to insert into that and be like, well no, no, no, but here’s the way it should be. When that’s part of the problem is that it’s again me saying… I get to control this narrative. I get to decide how this should be. And so as I’m saying that, I’m also wondering, because something I struggle with that is at the same time we are humans who should have a right to dialogue and a right to conversation. So how do we walk that balance of, I, you know, yoga teachers are 73%, 72% white in America and so, or in the United States. And so how do I share my perspectives and have these dialogues without, you know, being a voice for perspectives that are not my own.
And that’s a big question that, you know…
It is. No, no, no, it is, it is a big question and I don’t have a big solution or I don’t have this big aha solution for it, but what I do have is that you see, there are, there is a lot of conversation around many of these, you know, when you have these discussions you’ll find a group of people who say that, um, we have already been oppressed and this entire conversation of emotional labor where they do not want us to put in or invest any more of our emotional labor, we’ve already so much and it’s up to the white people to go and get their questions answered and all of that. I agree to that to some extent. But I think I, I personally, and this is a very, very personal view for conversation to happen. You need to have two people. You need to have the people who are asking the questions and you need to have people who have an experience to share, not an answer. I don’t have an answer to how I fix everyone’s a way of doing things, but I am open to share my experience and what I feel the way I see. You know, in terms of appropriation or in terms of culture, it’s always just my experience. And I think one of the ways in which we can get that is to allow people to ask but also not have privileged dictate and entitlement to be answered. And this happens anywhere in any kind of a dominant structure. It happens in India, it happens all over the world. It happens in the United States. It’s just a very common thing. So there are people who would just come up and say that, okay, I’m trying to do this work. And then yes, inserting it from, you know, inserting an opinion. Now, opinions usually do not stand very well when it comes to understanding oppression and pain because that’s a very academic view. That’s a very logical way of looking at things. And most people who get into debates and arguments are academics. They are the ones who think logically and they remove the element of emotion. They remove the element of pain, trauma, love, sensitivity, insensitivity. And then they make it so clinical that it’s almost as if you’re gaslighting someone. It’s almost as if you’re discounting the pain, discounting the emotion of, or the memory of oppression. Now most of us today, the people who are, say about, you know, 30, 40, we haven’t lived through the time of the, times of the British Raj, we weren’t living then, but our grandparents were. And the way they perpetuated that experience or sent it down through our parents and to us, it defines the way we react to certain situations or a social identities. So it’s true what we feel and you can’t have logic and opinion change that. So, uh, one of the ways in which, so, I read a lot. I read a lot, I write a lot and I express a lot of things as and when they happen every day for me. So I do believe that a lot of what we want to understand in terms of perspective comes from reading and listening to each other. But for any person in that conversation, reading and read literature is not going, shouldn’t actually shift an opinion, uh, or shouldn’t shift as a perspective, it shouldn’t be included as a perspective on how things are done. I think, you know, with most people are still equating yoga with the very mindful oriented practice and heart-centered practice. That is an attitude that isn’t necessarily in a lot of yoga traditions. The concept of having everything as a heart centered practice
And everything is about love, and, and…
Yeah. I mean I usually call it the love and light, practice, like the moment, you know…
Love and light…
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m a yoga teacher, so love and light everyone and namaste everyone. And that sounds so fake. And it is… You don’t do that, you know it’s, it’s just that you, you do a one month teacher training program and then you, you graduate, you get your certificate and the next thing you know, your email signature says, “Namaste, love and light.” It doesn’t work that way. Yoga is not, that is not the purpose of yoga. Yes. It teaches you to have more love and light in your life, but it doesn’t ask you to change your email signature. So we read and you know, we buy into all these different things that make us feel good, but making us feel good is not the purpose. We actually should start feeling a bit uncomfortable. We need to have those uncomfortable conversations, which the ones that bother us the most, the ones that, the questions that instigate our defense mechanism to come up and say I don’t do that or not all of us are that way. Those are the ones that you need to really address. And that is going to really start restructuring how the yoga voice, you know, would form a new kind of a foundation,
Something, you know, you were just saying about the love and light versus you know, sitting in that discomfort. And it brought up a thought in my mind that I’ve never really thought this before, so I got to try to formulate it in a way that makes sense. So that I don’t confuse everybody. But what I’m thinking is, you know, when you look at the scriptures around yoga and the classical texts and the things that talk about like what yoga is and what it’s for, a lot of our conversation is about sort of that, you know, working to look at the true nature of the emotions you’re experiencing in the mundane experiences and finding, you know, liberation in the union with like oneness or whatever. And when you look at the way it’s been translated into being about peace and love and love and light and you know, not necessarily examining those experiences but rather just letting them go and living in this peaceful, loving place. It almost to me brings up a lot of Christian ideology of love thy neighbor and you know, peace be with you. And it makes me think of like even just the way we understand yoga in the Western world is so influenced by the predominant religion of the Western world. And I don’t know, I just think that’s really interesting.
Yes. Yes it is. Because one of the first things that you said was when you thought about the classical text and the scriptures and the keyword there is that they’re translated, they’re translated. And when you translate a text from a language that is based on nuance that is based on very crisp, selected words and have a context, right, you cannot translate them into English. English is a very two dimensional language. It is. You cannot translate the classic texts in English and that’s why you have so many different translations because everyone is translating it from their own lens. Now at the same time a very common mistake that people have and when they say, Oh, you know, yoga means different things to different people. Yoga does not mean different things to different people. It is not, right. And it means different things to different people if they’ve been reading different translations that arise from different contexts. Now if you’re going to read and study just one scripture within that scripture in different verses, the same word might make a reference to a different context and that’s why these scriptures need a Sanskrit study and I’ve heard lots of very strong arguments saying that, Oh, but why do we need to study it? It’s not a requirement to study Sanskrit if it’s not a requirement to study Sanskrit, don’t study it, but then don’t go arguing that it means something, you’ve read something there, it doesn’t, right. It means exactly what it does in that particular scripture. So if you’re not well versed in that scripture and if you’ve not studied it the way it’s meant to be studied, then I think they should rest your case and not argue.
Now when it comes to the peace, when it comes to examining our emotions and all of that, it’s not there. Okay. I have yet to find any of my yoga teachers to tell me that yoga means sitting and examining the emotions that come up. No, they don’t. The only teachers who have pushed that idea are teachers who have a Western concept are now of examining attitude. Now we do have teachers, we do have yoga teachers who have an attitudinal understanding of yoga. And that comes from the sutras where your sutras, especially your yamas and niyamas, help to define the way you build your attitude with yourself and with others so that your repeats are eventually settled and you can attend yoga, right? So there is a context right within… We still stuck to one scripture. So one scripture is setting the context for the entire idea. I’m not picking one from here and one from a, um, I don’t know some other, you know, well…
That is the way we see it, right? People read a section of the yoga Sutra, they read maybe a section of the Hatha yoga, Pradipika or the, you know, Bhagavad Gita. And then they say, okay, I read these three sentences. That’s what yoga is.
It’s so is not. And that in itself is bothersome. And these are some of those things which are problematic for Indians for whom these scriptures are key to their lives when they are misrepresented and then used as a tool against people who are saying, Hey, you’re, you’re just ruining my entire scripture. So they’re not coming from a place of trying to uphold, well they are trying to uphold, but they’re not trying to justify it on the basis of a whim because not everyone knows how to verbalize. Not everyone knows how to vocalize it. And we have to also remember that not every school in India has been given the liberty to teach this, these ancient practices. It was stripped, it was stripped from our curriculum. We weren’t allowed to learn it. So people who study it now are people who have chosen to study. They’re not, you know, we don’t have our children just coming as part of our culture to go and study these. These are children who are studying them or adults who are studying them out of a choice that they make for themselves or their parents make for them. Otherwise it’s a last, it’s a last topic.
Yeah, and I think it’s interesting too, you know something I definitely have seen in my own yoga practice, that is something I’m actually a lot of why this podcast came to be and something I’m working on changing. But it’s hard. It’s hard to learn. I mean it’s really hard to learn Sanskrit. It’s hard to really study these texts and understand them outside of your own cultural experience and outside of your own, you know, community and really, really dive in and try to understand what yoga is and read all of these things and study all of the history. And it is not something I wanted to do for a very long time. I want like yoga made me feel good. I am someone who, you know, like many humans craves a sort of a, a spiritual, bigger like purpose, but was not attracted to the more, you know, Christian community, I was growing up in and didn’t want that. And so I was like, well, here’s something that’s, you know, speaks to me in a way that I like and makes me feel good and I want to do that. But just like a lot of, you know, Christians don’t want to read the whole Bible. I didn’t want to read all the texts. So I was like, no, I don’t want to. And I’m now recognizing as I’ve gotten older why that was problematic and why it was different than a Christian reading the Bible and I’ve been working through that. But I think a lot of us want to enjoy what we like from yoga without accepting that to actually practice it in a conscious way is hard. It’s hard and it has to be hard because it has to be hard. We are trying to, you know, explore something that’s not from our own cultural context. And to educate ourselves to the level that would allow us to do so in a respectful way is not going to be easy.
Yeah. So I like what you said, that it’s gotta be hard because, and I also want to add that it’s not just hard for someone like you. It’s equally hard for someone like me. Yes. It’s hard. Yes. Yes. It’s, it’s equally hard for someone like me as well. And my own teacher, my, um, some philosophy teacher, and he, he would keep saying that, uh, you know, so he obviously has memorized the sutras, but then he says that after so many years, you know, while I’m studying the sutras today, uh, there will be a revelation like, Oh, okay, I know this today. I really know this. And then he’ll go and revisit the same sutras tomorrow and he’s learned something completely different and, you know, something else has revealed to them because from moment to moment, we have evolved. So scriptures reveal themselves to us. And, uh, the scriptures as such are they are gifts. They are gifts that we just carry with us for our entire lifetime. Uh, you know, if we were to say that, uh, I have studied these 20 scriptures and I’m a scholar and that’s it. My life purpose is done, then that is the biggest rubbish you know, story that I’ve ever heard of because you can’t finish a scripture and say that I’m done with my life now. You know, because you still have so much more to go. So it’s constant work. It’s constant evolution and all of that happens with this acknowledgement that we really have something more to evolve into with every passing day. Now I’m Catholic by birth, I’m Catholic by birth and I’ve read the Bible. I’ve, uh, you know, I’ve had received the sacraments, I’ve done all of that. But when I started studying the Gita, the Bhagavad Gita, my faith started making sense. So I’ve eventually come to, come to a place where, uh, I don’t, uh, you know, don’t find the need to go to church anymore because I feel a sense of connection with something deeper than just going to church. I do enjoy going there once in a while, but there is no obligation. There is no compulsion. And at the same time, I feel that I understand, you know, something about it. I don’t have all the answers, but it makes sense. So for me, there’s a big connection. Everything, everything about what I’ve learned as part of my faith when I was growing up made sense after the Gita.
And uh, and sometimes those aha moments or just something that you feel on the inside. I can’t explain them. There’re, there are no words. I can’t journal about them. I can’t tell it to someone. It’s just that I get it. Yeah. And, and that’s what, you know, this constant availability, making yourself available to, uh, or open to knowing, open to discovering yourself. That is what just peels off the layers to help you get closer and closer to yourself. And there is no fine print on our yoga certificates, which say that by the time you’ve completed 20,000 hours this lifetime, you will have evolved.
No. But then at the same time, there is no fine print, fine print disclaimer, which says that, and I’ll see you in the next life either.
It isn’t there. You really don’t know. You don’t know if you’re coming back. You don’t know if this is the end of it. You know, you really don’t know. So it has to examine your emotions. It helps to make sure that you’re not, you know, creating bad karma because those are all conscious choices. So you can bring the best of all worlds and all the different learnings and the tools and the holistic or the healing practices, the other indigenous practices, all of these things help us to be better humans while we are doing our yoga in real life. But we don’t know what’s in store for us tomorrow. So an attitude shift is important, but that is not what yoga is. That’s not the yoga which I thought it was. So, yeah.
Yeah. And I think, um, this sort of, you know, recognition of, of yoga as, I mean, it sounds silly to even say it, but as a spiritual practice, because so much of the way we treat it now is not that way. And so, you know, I think if we look at other spiritual or religious traditions, if we look at, you know, a priest or a rabbi, they are not expectedto know, they are not God. They are not expected to be like, okay, we have all, everything, you know, figured out. They are, you know, vocally also still figuring it out. They are, they’re more, you know, further along. So they’re helping guide their followers. But it’s not like, okay, well now that you’re a priest, you know everything there is to know about the Christian faith and the way the world works and like, truth of the universe. And yet we actually, yoga teachers do. We act like, Oh, I did a 200 hour certification and I’ve got enlightened.
And I know everything. I know. I know. Oh,that is, you know, just, um, a few weeks ago I had this, this training, and this is not just a, this is universal. It’s, it’s always the case. And even in India, uh, so in India we have this culture of really, uh, there is always respect towards the teacher. Okay. Now earlier on that respect was almost like a power structure and people used to be scared of their teachers. Very few teachers would elicit that respect. Okay. So there was this fear along with respect and we see that with a lot of all this dominant culture mess that happens with yoga gurus and all of that stuff. But come today you do have teachers who are contemporary teachers of the 21st century but still in India, the moment you tell someone that you’re a yoga teacher, they look at you like, as if you have, you know, you possess all the answers and all the secrets of the universe and whatever you tell them will be, you know, the final or the great big truth of everything. So I go for this training and one of the students was asking me about some Asana related change and modification and I really didn’t know the answer. I didn’t, I had no clue what to tell him. And he says, well I teach these classes at so-and-so time and this is what I do. And I said, you know what, you are the one who’d give me the answer because you teach those classes. That is your lived experience. Now, just because I’m a teacher heading this workshop, it would be hypocritical of me to assume and just fake an answer, which I have never practiced. How can I teach you something that I have not experienced? So it took him a while to understand that I was telling him, you know, I, so I really needed to take my time and tell him that I have learned it from you because you teach it. I don’t. So you have that answer. I can only give you a very educated academic answer. A logical anatomically correct. Okay, this might be happening and that might be happening, but you know it. And the problem is that exactly like how you said, a $200 certification makes people think that they know it all, but they don’t. They don’t because they have not invested more than just those. And the, the earlier version of the $200 didn’t even have 200 exclusive hours with your teachers. And which teachers are we talking about? Who taught them? Who, who taught them? You know…
Yeah, like just because two people graduated from the same university doesn’t mean they got the same education. Like how did you study? How did you learn? Like how did, what was your perspective in it all? You know.
Yes. That’s the difference between education and learning. You know, and wisdom comes much later. But yes.
Yeah. And also just looking at like, it’s meant to be like any, again to bring it in context of any other spiritual or religious practice. It’s meant to be something you never stop learning. You never stop practicing and exploring. And I think in the United States it’s almost been used in a way that it’s like we’re trying to apply what is supposed to be a spiritual practice to handle non-spiritual issues, you know, to handle our stress from work, to handle our, you know, neck problems from work to, like, it’s like, okay, we’ll take this thing that’s actually meant to be like, you know, bigger than the mundane world that we live in, but we’re going to use that to handle our mundane issues instead.
Yes. You know, I’ll tell you something. So when we normally look at the world, the geography of it. So we’ve got the Western world and that’s the West. And then you’ve got everything from the orient in the East. And that’s Eastern side of things. And if you look at it, the Western side largely looks at things in a very academic, very broken down, very kama manas kind of a view, a very logical, let me process things than individual bits of the jigsaw view. Okay. And in the East we look at it in a very holistic way. You look at it very systemically, you look at it as an entire, whole. Now what happens is in the West, when you bring in these principles from the East and you want to bring them to the West, you have to break it down because the West will not be able to look at it holistically. You have to break it down. But that’s the nature of the West, right? So the understanding also comes from that philosophy of recognizing that the Western world will look at it through the Western lens. And the Westetern lens is to break it down and keep it broken so that it continues to make sense. If you had to tell the West to take all your jigsaw pieces and from today start behaving like the East, it wouldn’t be natural. It would be unnatural, right? So the East understands that the West looks at it as a distorted or a broken view, but that is the truth for the West and the West sees that individual broken and I don’t mean broken in a bad way, I mean it as how do I put it in a more individualized or in a more uh, you know, that kind of a perspective and that is the truth of the place.But you completely negate the Eastern view of something that is beyond the, uh, very individual perspective of the West would also be wrong because that would be harmful because then that, uh, so usually you have your Budhi and you have or you just have the, the, the Kama Manasic view which says that, you know, everything is individual and this is all about me and this is how I feel. Then what happens is that there is a disconnect in evolving in going higher. And so geography also plays a role in philosophy. These are some of the ways in which I teach. So, um, you know, I know that sometimes, uh, uh, it goes all over the place, but this is the way I teach. This is the way I teach Ayurveda or anatomy or any of these things. Because when you look at things with, uh, beyond just one filter and you bring in all the different filters that you have, then you can actually see the multifaceted evolved way of looking at something rather than just looking at it from very one primitive, logical view, you know. But people like to hold onto logic because it’s always better to make sense than to say, I don’t have scientific proof for it. Well, yeah, you don’t have scientific proof because science is very Kama-manasic, you don’t have it on a more manasic level, on a more higher evolved, a higher order thinking. So that does a, you know, I mean it helps us to build a little bit of empathy and a little bit of compassion to say, Oh, you know, sometimes they, Oh, well don’t worry. I mean you still have some time to evolve from there… It’s not to look down upon people, but it’s also to accept that, well maybe at this point that’s all they’d want to choose to look at.
Yeah. And I think, you know, I think I did, so I did my, my undergraduate thesis was all about the way different cultures develops so that in some communities I focus more on like small scale communities. But what I was looking at is the way that in a lot of communities in the West, they have developed and technology and culture has developed in such a way to prioritize the individual and the individual perspective and the individual opinion. In the East, it’s been much more community oriented and you know, things have developed in such a way to put the community at the center. And so I think when you try to look at these practices, it’s also a matter of… These are communities and cultures that are going to automatically look at things in a different way, like from a base level, what they’re thinking about and what they’re prioritizing when they consider how these things work and why they work and what they’re for is not the same. And, and so I think addressing like those differences before we try to communicate about how these things have developed is really important because otherwise we’re just speaking different languages at one another. You know?
Yes, yes, very true. It’s very, very important for us to actually recognize that our differences are what make us alike. And when we acknowledge that, uh, just seeing each other’s differences gives us that middle ground, then it takes away the aggression and the violence from it. And, uh, you know, aggressively countering a point of view doesn’t get us anywhere because it gets everyone on the defensive and there is no conversation. There is no dialogue. There’s only finger pointing and endless finger-pointing, which is what I see sometimes in certain groups of um, South Asian voices who tend to be very aggressive and very strong in their opinion. But that opinion is not the general opinion and it is not always the popular opinion as well. It’s just catering to a certain section of people who believe that. It’s not necessarily true or it’s not the entire truth. It’s just one perspective..
Yeah. So one thing I want to ask is um, we, we’ve been talking a lot right now about sort of, you know, we’ve been talking about yoga and sort of how important it is to understand where it comes from and the context of it before, you know, having these conversations in the United States about what to do moving forward. And one thing that comes to my mind is a lot of yogis and yoga teachers and yoga students and non, you know, non-yoga practitioners who are just decide that they should have an opinion too… will tell me and will say to me or I hear this a lot is well I’m not doing yoga for the spiritual side. I just like, I want to do it for the mindfulness, for the stress relief, for the, you know, way it helps my body. And so it’s okay for us to, you know, move forward in these ways or change in these ways because for us that’s not, you know, the point of yoga and I wonder about like that side of the conversation that’s happening of like, well, does yoga, you know the argument that like, yoga doesn’t have to be spiritual, so why do I have to do it that way?
Mm Hmm. If I’m in a good mood then when they say that to me, I’ll probably just smile and ignore and if I’m in a not so good mood, then I’ll tell them to just go and walk or swim or do something else. Why do you… do something else. Use your body, move your body, do something else. But that is, you know, mean if that’s what they want, or ballroom dancing or painting or whatever it is, you do something else. The thing is that you can’t take something and say, no, I’m just going to do the part… the bits of it that I like. It’s like we spoke about, it’s where you’re cherry picking and you’re just picking bits of it that you want and bits of it that… you’re taking the bits of it that align with the parts of you that don’t want to change.
Right. And the ones that make you uncomfortable, the ones that you really need to do, you’re not looking at. So, so that, that’s difficult. I don’t think… Yoga is a spiritual practice. That’s it. Yoga is a spiritual practice. Yoga is not, you know, something to make you have a loser, or more flexible muscles or leaner toned bodies. That is not the purpose of yoga. Okay. The purpose of asana is so that you will have a body that can contain the energy and give you the flexibility to be able to sit and meditate.
So that you can attain that sense of spiritual evolution and oneness. And by oneness, I don’t mean the oneness of what you and I feel with each other, the oneness of yourself with your higher self. You know, that unity, that is the yoga and that is the purpose of asana. Now someone who says, I’m just doing this for the body is just getting themselves because their spirit is getting touched and their spirit is getting impacted or influenced, but they are not aware of it. They’re just not aware of it. They, when they say they feel good, yes, the science behind it could be, you know, you’ve released some tension and that’s a scientific explanation, but there is a spiritual explanation as well and they will only be open to it when they get beyond that hurdle of thinking that, uh, okay, I’m losing my thought. But that’s because this thought came in the middle.So the entire practice is spiritual. Everyone is looking for that spiritual sense of satisfaction. But then there is this fear sometimes, you know, there is a fear that, uh, to do or to attain that spiritual level of or next level of perfection that we have to go through a lot of trials or we have to do something very difficult, right? And sometimes it’s easier to work on your body, which you can feel and touch instead of working on the bits of you or the parts of you that you cannot see, cannot touch, but know they exist. And that’s when people feel that there is a lack of control and people, none of us like to experience a feeling of not being in control. So it’s easier to say that, you know what, I’m just in it for the body and I’m not in it for my spirit. But the truth is that even if you’re just sitting in or lying in Shavasana, there is a spiritual element that someone is experiencing in Shavasana. So whether they admit it or not, they are getting it. But whether they admit it or not is one thing, when they so strongly oppose the spiritual concept of it, then there is harm created, then there is harm because then you’re taking your personal choice not to see the deeper truth and possibly, um, you know, with the influence of teachers who have not been trained in the tradition or who don’t come with that foundational understanding of the philosophy of the scriptures. And there is harm because then you’re perpetuating a culture by breaking it down into the bear insignificant portions and calling that yoga.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking when you said like, Oh, you can’t cherry pick. I was thinking, well you can cherry pick but can’t cherry pick and then tell everybody else that the one chair you picked is yoga.
Yeah, and I think most people tend to choose that argument. And if you notice, just, just, if you look at any of these discussion boards, you will find people arguing that their cherry is the right cherry.
Yes. And then, they, they wouldn’t find it very pleasing when someone comes and says, listen, it’s my tree and it’s the entire tree. And not just that one cherry. And then they don’t like it because then that makes them come face to face with a choice that they’ve made that has caused harm. And we have to really be that strong to be able to look someone in the eye and acknowledge that we’ve caused harm. You know, it doesn’t happen. It’s not very easy. It’s, it’s very, very difficult for Indian teachers or South Asians to get into a studio and have very open conversations in all these years of the work that I do. I can name, you know, maybe just about 10 white teachers who I know personally who have approached me with that awareness that they might be causing harm. The rest of the people agree and they like, and they still go on with it and they, and you can still see that it is still hazy, right? And it’s okay, but because they at least they’re getting into the conversation, but the work is to really understand that harm is created when you do something and it is not just a simple thing. It’s not an overreaction. It is. It is deep.
Yeah. And you know, to bring it all around as we’re wrapping up here, I, I’m thinking to in connection with how this conversation started in connection with the whole unionization movement. The thing that jumps to my mind is it’s that same kind of metaphor of when it comes to, you know, your community, your individual studio that you work in. If you decide that like, you know, that’s going to protect you as an individual in your needs, like that’s great. Go for it. But, but it’s that same kind of cherry picking idea of like, don’t turn around then and say, this is it. This is the way yoga should be. You know, and, and recognize that your perspective is one cherry and that we need to look at the whole tree and we need to hear from the people who planted the tree in the first place.
Yes. You know, uh, since with everything that we’ve spoken now actually thinking that with, with this unionization move and the, the entire exercise, it would really help them to set the tone and set the foundation by recreating a narrative that does have a good influence of South Asian voices.
You know, by creating those the level of rights and parity and everything that they want for the yoga teachers to bring it with a good, with a good dose of Indian American or Indian origin or South Asian voices that help them create a new narrative.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean…
Well, that is something that would be really different instead of just making it something that suits the 72% of white yoga teachers.
Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. I think that, you know, because one of the things I think about a lot in these conversations is I guess sort of this nihilistic feeling of like, well, it’s such a big thing. How’s anything ever going to change? You know, like it’s so big these issues and, and I think that’s exactly it. That’s how it changes. It’s like, okay, if we’re, if somebody is already starting a movement that’s designed to, you know, restructure, rebuild, and recreate the culture around yoga, that’s their opportunity. That’s our opportunity to do it in a way that is mindful of all these big issues so that when we’re creating a new standard, when we’re creating a new norm, it’s not just about that side of the like, economics of it. It’s also are the needs of, you know, the white teacher, but it’s also about, you know, the cultural appropriation and the needs of yoga.
Yes. And I think it creates a whole new thing that can be replicated.
Something that can be replicated by someone else because it’s doable. It’s doable, it’s wholesome, it’s healing. And at the same time, hopefully it’s yogic too. Yeah.
Amazing. Well, I don’t know what I’m going to title this episode because we went all over the place. Thank you so much. This conversation was amazing.
Thank you Sarah. Thank you. I think, yes, it was. We, we went, we went all over the place. I came in thinking of one thing and then we spoke about so many other things, but thank you. You’ve given, you’ve actually given me a lot to think about as well. So thank you. Thank you.
And just to end it for anyone who is interested in, you know, more of these kinds of conversations or just more about you, how can they learn from you or follow you or know what you’re up to in the world?
Yes. So my company is the Curvy Yogi and you can find me on Instagram as well as on Facebook. You can connect with me. I’m Luvena Rangel. You can find me on Facebook and I’m on Instagram, uh, I think Sarah, you’d be able to put in my Instagram
Yeah, I’ll put all the links in the show notes below and of course I’ll also tag you in all of my social media so people will be able to find all of that below or on my accounts.
Great. Well thanks again and um, I guess I won’t end with like love and light.
Oh, love and light, love and light. Thank you Sarah. Thank you and see you. Bye bye.
A huge thank you again to Luvena for taking the time to talk to me. As I mentioned, I learned so much and I’m so grateful for this conversation and I hope you guys feel the same. I would love to hear what you thought of it. So please reach out to me. You can connect with me on Instagram at TBM podcast on Facebook at the beginner’s mind podcast, or directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and as always, all those links are in the show notes below. Next week on November 6th, I’ll be sharing another tea time talk. So it’s just one of those short, more casual conversations. And then we’ll be back with a full episode on Wednesday, November 13th. Also, I just realized this is our 10th episode, which is exciting. Um, yeah, that’s kind of cool. I don’t know, I feel like 10 is a big number and an exciting number, but officially into the double digits. So let’s keep it going. And, uh, I’ll talk to you guys soon until then, stay curious.