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Anjali Rao 08:30:45
Hello, and welcome to the love of yoga podcast presented by the accessible yoga Association. I'm your host, Anjali Rao. The love of yoga podcast connects to the expansiveness of the teachings of yoga, through provocative conversations with yoga scholars changemakers and thought leaders. Our intention is to provide avenues of access for yoga practitioners who are seeking to embody these teachings for personal and social transformation. I'm Anjali Rao, your host for this episode, and I'm truly excited to have with us here our guest for this conversation. Then Maurice on the Rajan, Dalit American Act artist, community organizer, co founder and executive director of equality labs, the largest delegates civil rights organization working to empower cast oppressed people in the US. Her work has been recognized by many global and national organizations, including the US Congress, Smithsonian, and she's written a brilliant book, with a foreword by Tirana Burke, and an afterword by Dr. Cornel West, who has described her and rightfully so as a love warrior. Welcome to the podcast and Marie it is such a such an honor to have you here.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:32:13
Oh, I'm so glad to be here and jpm and J Savithri. Everyone.
Anjali Rao 08:32:18
Absolutely. Your book, Thenmozhi, is you know, the trauma of cast is one of the most compelling, poignant and powerful books I've read. Your voice is clear and courageous and maiming, harm and violence, while simultaneously being loving and inviting us to tackle the wounds of oppression together. It is challenging to read at times because you share with such a bold vulnerability about your trauma, and generational wounds, inflicted by those in power. And this book integrates masterfully if I may add historical narratives, personal accounts, with broad Mastro master strokes that tie together laboratory movements, a bigger vision that you paint for future for all of humanity. It's a must read for not just South Asians or the diaspora but for anyone who wants to be a part of change, collective healing and transformation. So much respect and gratitude for you. And, again, we're very warm welcome to this podcast. Could you share your behind the scenes of conceptualizing and manifesting this book? Because this book is going to be I think, one of the classics?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:33:39
Oh, well, you know, I think I wrote the book that I wanted, when I was a young person growing up, to help me understand the complexity and confusion of what it is when you grow up South Asian and you encounter cast, you know, both for the cast privilege, and for the cast depressed, it is this very, very difficult taboo. And when we speak about it, tremendous violence occurs, you know, and, and I watched my my family be very traumatized by their experiences of cast. And you know, the the robbing of language and the robbing of validation that such tremendous harm is occurring. It's, it's like the punishment that no one should have to endure. And so I felt that if I could write a book that was holistic enough, and written in a language of healing, that could allow people to slow down enough to understand the tremendous violence that we have endured in the name of caste. I thought that we might be able to work together as a community that is beloved, and wanting a different future than one of genocide and atrocity, that we might be able to Pivot. Pivot from our cycles of intergenerational trauma and harm and find it New pathway forward of integration. So this book for me was about my own healing and coming into embodiment for myself around my experience about cast and through that process, really also opening a pathway for others to self examine how they connect to past and past apartheid, and to open up doorways of opening and integration that are not possible when there is such bigotry and denial, and fragility, that comes from the cast privilege preventing this conversation. So the audience of this book is certainly South Asians cast privilege and the cast oppressed, but also anyone that is concerned with revolution and liberation, who is a practitioner of a dharmic tradition, you know, and who is concerned about, you know, a system of exclusion that impacts over 1.9 billion people in the world. I mean, that means one in four people in the world, live in a culture in a society shaped by cast. So this is something that is in the world. And it's impacting many institutions, that many people don't even know about. Because our net, our framework around race really keeps us to a North American definition of systems of exclusion. But my hope was, this book could basically present the cast soul wound, and lift it up for us to not only know that it exists, but to begin to attend to it. And from it.
Anjali Rao 08:36:54
I would love for you to delve into cost appetite for folks who are this term is very new. And though I talk about it in my yoga spaces, I know it's very new for a lot of north north american specifically yoga practitioners. They're only now beginning to do a podcast. So would you mind just giving us like a brief thumbnail version of yours? Yeah.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:37:22
So cast is a system of exclusion that has its roots in Scripture, in South Asia around 2000 BCE. And in in this system, it's analogous to race but not the same as race. But one of the ways that it's similar to race is that it's set up on a social friction fiction, you know, where, you know, people at the top, who in this case, were Brahmins wrote scriptures that basically placed them as the most pure and their professions being the most pure, and then divided up society into descending classes and professions, with less purity and less access. So in this caste pyramid, you have Brahmins who are at the top, you have shut through those who are the rulers, you have vivacious, who are the merchants and then peasants who are the sugars. And outside of this whole system, were people who were seen as so polluting, and so disgusting for what they did for crimes in the past life, that they were sentenced to be untouchable in this life. And touchable because to touch them was to risk spiritual pollution. And so that prohibition basically meant that those communities were shunned to the worst jobs to the worst side of town. And so a caste apartheid exists, you know, where people have, you know, your cast determines the whole of your life, who you marry, what job you'll have, what access to power and resources, and it's an it's a literal geographic line in many communities, where, you know, cast depressing cross privilege, people go to different churches, different places of worship, work different jobs and, and ultimately have different outcomes related to structural violence and impunity. And my community is from those formerly untouchable communities, and we call ourselves Dalit or caste oppressed. And I think that grappling with that experience has been like my life journey. Because, again, being here in the United States, there's no reason that cash should exist, right? We are not in the South Asian subcontinent, dominant caste people are not in power. And yet as someone who grew up in East LA, and grew up in many different South Asian contexts here, I saw cast replicated everywhere. I was discriminated against I faced slurs and death threats. I had like even plates changed on me because someone didn't want me to eat on their sleeve and use their silverware and plates. And when you see that, it's it's a form of repetition that comes from structural trauma. You People are mindlessly recreating the things that they know back at home. Even if it's unjust, even if it's unnecessary, it's because it's what's familiar. Yeah. And I think when I saw that, it was really critical for me to not only break the silence about Cass, but also push conversations around caste to not just include the political and economic dimensions of caste exploitation, which are many, but also for us to look at the ways that we carry intergenerational trauma as a result of caste, and, and really, you know, commit to having our community address this grave system of discrimination, and, and tend to the pain that results to it, and heal, so that we don't pass it on to the next generation.
Anjali Rao 08:41:05
Thank you, thank you for sharing that. And in that you also mentioned in your book that, you know, your parents wants to move to the United States, they thought that they've left cast behind, and only to find it, like you said, being with a desperate optimism, that that there will be no more cast here in the United States, only to find that it was there. And you in 2015, did a cast survey, you know, and you talk about that in the book, and you face a lot of hurdles and resistance. has that shifted since then, to now?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:41:41
Well, I think especially for listeners that are based in North America, one people one thing that people have to realize is that despite cast being so prevalent in South Asia, and there being significant groups of cast depress people here in North America, there was an absolute structural attempt to gaslight and intimidate, cast, depress people from speaking out about past. Yeah, and this was my experience growing up, I was constantly told and belittled for raising this issue. Even though there was tons of headlines happening every day in South Asia, dominant caste networks wanted to shut this conversation down. And they work to try to erase even the word Dulat. Stop the teaching of caste from occurring in American textbooks. That's how deeply they didn't want cast to be known. However, I think that, you know, we were, you know, relentless in the pursuit of our freedom. And I think one of the things that, you know, the myself and different leaders in equality labs did was, we knew that, given the scope and the scale of the problem that we needed to begin to create the first dataset to talk about how big cast was. And so myself and my colleague, Dr. Maurice maitri, we conducted the first survey to document cast in North America. And, and even conducting the survey led to cast harm, you know, people threw slurs at us, they would, when we would table, they would insult us and say that we were separating the community, even one organization even called us desperate, because they, they were they wanted to existential crisis about conducting this survey, and they said, if we do this survey, we can actually, we're dividing our community. So we can do this. And, and so they asked us to speak to their board as a way to calm their fears. And we said, look, you know, your community, the communities already divided, the survey is not a tool of division. It's just revealing what has always been there. And if you want to make your organization more inclusive, you have to do these measures, because it's the only way that we set a bar for how significant these problems are. So you know, through some mean away by hook or by crook, we got this survey done. And it established a very stark set of data for how bad caste is in the United States. You know, one in four people face some form of physical or verbal assault, one in three, discrimination in educational settings, and two out of three experienced workplace discrimination. And this was really borne out by several high profile cases where the state of California has sued Cisco Corporation for caste discrimination in its workplace. And currently, right now there's five religious temples under the baps sect that is being sued by its workers who were trafficked for you know, being by you know, alleged by those workers for over being paid $1 an hour. Ridiculous. Yeah. And called worm. their passports were held. You know, it's just it's it's just criminal conditions. You know, yeah, but I think this is a big reason why cast depress people have been very clear about saying that cast is a workers rights. It's a human rights and human rights. And also it's a women's and survivors rights issue. And and we've set you know, really flanked and have been flanked by other civil rights movements because some of the most egregious worker violations and racial inequities we're seeing happen to South Asian workers who are from CAST depress backgrounds. So it's our hope that we can really use this pain and turn it into power, but also lead in a different way about what it takes to de escalate from the point of violence and bigotry. Because you know, the bigots who are South Asian who have been continuous and blocking past equity, they've had centuries to train their nervous system into feeling that equity is a survival level threat for their systems. So there's a lot of de escalation and mindfulness practice that these people really need to engage in, so that they we don't let their bigotry stop the flow of civil rights.
Anjali Rao 08:46:33
Love that. I want to just address that that word and the way you have used and emphasized embodiment practices throughout the book, you're structured the book around the Four Noble, Noble Truths. Is that how you wanted to kind of practice de escalation? Can you share why you structured this book the way you did? Was that a part of the de escalation?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:46:59
I mean, for me, I feel like one part of the way caste works is that it's animating ideology Brahmanism. It's, it's one of its control logics is that of the removal, removal of consent? No, because there's so much carceral judgment around the right way to do things, the wrong way to do things, you know, this is who you can love, this is who you can marry, this is what you do. And if you break that line, you're not just breaking society, you're breaking the cosmic order, you know, and, and I think that to, to really begin to heal ourselves from CAST, we have to return consent in all domains. So I think for us, you, it's just a very powerful thing for us to say. You know, I never want to be prescriptive about what my path is. So I chose to be Buddhists, but I'm not saying everyone that's anti caste should be a Buddhist. But for me with this, it made a lot of sense. Because, one, you know, I say, in my book, I have a whole section on lineage, I say that I'm a good this, like Alice Walker, and Tina Turner, you know, where, for me, my Buddhism was so driven by my survivorship. Yeah, and, and I found humaneness in the ways that they used Buddhism and Buddhist tactics, to basically attenuate the signal of violence, and have self awareness inside your nervous system to de escalate it from a point of survival. And also the beauty in the way that they approach loving kindness as part of a revolutionary practice. Those were the things that made me feel comfortable and being. But this, and and then I think the other thing that really moved me as to be Buddhist was that, you know, Buddhism started as, as a movement in resistance to Brahmanism. And the first socially engaged with this, we're actually cast depress with this. So that lineage is actually my birthright. And these historical cast oppressed but this whether it was God thus from Tamil Nadu are Dr. Ambedkar, from Maharashtra. These are beautiful, beautiful, but this thinkers that opened up different pathways for my people. And so I felt really at home in practicing a secular form of Buddhism that was really just linked to my own integration of my mind and my body and my spirit. And so to me, the four noble truths as a structure in this book, were very much applied to that early understanding in Buddhism, that, you know, suffering exists and the suffering that they were speaking about wasn't just magical in theory on existential, it was about the blood and tears and flesh that was warped and controlled, under Brahmanism right So it's that structure that really kind of helped, I think, open up the possibility there, you know?
Anjali Rao 08:50:18
Could you please define what Brahmanism is for our listeners? What is that ideology that, you know, sort of infuses this whole hierarchical system, this false hierarchy?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:50:31
So Brahmanism is the animating ideology, that is what founded the caste system, you know, and again, as I mentioned earlier, it was Brahmin priests who wrote the scriptures that ultimately set up the logics of caste. So when we say Brahmanism, it's akin to us understanding that we would never talk about anti blackness without talking about white supremacy, right. So again, we're you know, so if we don't talk about anti blackness without talking about white supremacy, so to when we talk about caste, we have to talk about Brahmanism. And you would use this term rabbinical to speak about when things are seeped in that ideology. So for example, when we're talking about gender based violence, we're talking about the root systems or we don't say patriarchy, we say brahminical patriarchy, because we're booting back to that intersectional understanding, well, what gave rise to patriarchy, well cast it, so therefore, it's brahminical patriarchy.
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Anjali Rao 08:52:43
Yes, thank you. And that is a perfect sort of transition point into yoga because yoga originated from indigenous belief systems and somatic practices, but then they were codified and systemized by and taught by Brahmins. So what we study and practice today come from many sources, and most are from brahminical lineages. How would you suggest we and is it even a possibility for us to practice yoga as allies of cast abolishing movement? Can we? Is there a way for us to do this in solidarity with integrity?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:53:23
I think that one thing that is so important here is that, you know, we already and North American practicing yoga, incorporate many secular practices that ground us and connect us to the communities that we're in relationship with. So I know in many yoga communities, people open with the land acknowledgement, you know, naming the indigenous unseeded indigenous lands that they are operating from, they also may make an acknowledgement to the racial inequity in their context. Particularly after George Floyd, I saw many yoga teachers referring to the violence of the police and the requests of Black community members that were part of their yoga studios or in the context that they were in. And I think similarly, this is the Ask from CAST depress people. You know, I don't think there's an expectation that people have to throw out the baby with the bathwater and and all connection with dharmic traditions. I think what we're asking for is for people to be self reflective. You know, these tools are based in lineages that were fostered and passed on who were humans. And those humans had egos that were, you know, that had very particular filters, and oftentimes were discriminatory or bias towards women and caste suppressed bodies and communities. So to say that is simply to say, you know, even something as simple as you know, I am a practitioner of this lineage, and you know, I've received many benefits from it. And I also acknowledge that this lineage has created harm For cast, depress pupils, and and I will consider that harm as I work to commit to the freedom of all cast, depress pupils, and make sure that my own practice does not replicate or further such harm. Something as simple as that can be tremendous. Because then we're not hiding. Yeah, we're not part of the problem. And we're not complicit to this violence, because as you've mentioned, in your previous word, Anjali yoga is often weaponized as a tool of ethno nationalism. And, to say, this is actually to just kind of see everything for what it is, you know, we are complex people, and we can have complex points of view. And again, no one is asking for you to give up your yoga practice. We just want you to make adjustments. And we always make adjustments in yoga, how many yoga positions and Asana is have we offered as teachers, you know, we have to for some, you know, for some positions, like the eagle position, the eagle position is not one really designed for women who have breasts. You know, and you know, and so we make adjustments in that capacity, we make adjustments for hip openers, or for people that have to do yoga from within a chair, you know, we are so nimble when it comes to the structural execution of a saunas, but not when addressing the structural harm. Love that of this tradition. And that's what I want to really open up possibility for the different people listening here is that it is okay for us to let our lineages evolve, especially as they integrate voices that have been traditionally shunned or harmed from the traditions that you might practice to really be interconnected and integrated with other humans, we are going to hear unsavory things about things that are valuable to us. And as opposed to us thinking that that's an exception, we should just understand, okay, that's the norm. And that's okay. We can learn, we can heal, we can we can, you know, understand ruptures and then make repair, all of those things are really important to try to engage and build new new relationships around.
Anjali Rao 08:57:36
Thank you. And you know, even within yoga history, that I hold a whole lot of practitioners who decried rabbinical patriarchy and started the Bhakti movement. And so there is within the yoga lineages itself, a lot of badassery that has happened. So, you know, I appreciate what you are saying about being discerning as practitioners always and making it making our unlearning an iterative process. And I liked what you said about you know, how cast operates like ghosts. And because we are unconscious of it, you say we inflict our wounds everywhere. And cast is invisible, it's invisible. And that's why it's so powerful because it is invisible. How would we go about unlearning something that is so present and are so inculcated in, in almost all the domains of our lives spiritual, political, religious, social, and now the technological world. How would we go about unlearning that and I love what you have shared in terms of, you know, learning sheets at the end, too. Could you add something else to that?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 08:58:51
Absolutely. So I think one thing to know is that unlearning any system of exclusion is something that actually happens in multiple domains. There's an intellectual component, there is a mind body component to it, and there's a hard component to it. And that's really important to understand, you know, how we went about and as you mentioned earlier, in the podcast, I am the executive director of an organization called the quality labs. And in our work around fighting for caste equity, what we saw was, is that many people needed support to basically unlearn caste this attitudes. And so we built this workshop called unlearning caste supremacy, where we brought together both the intellectual history with the mind body component, the somatic component, and I think that that has been a really amazing thing to see 1000s of people around the country take this workshop and be transformed and part of it is because and I really kind of credit the work of Black somatic abolitionists and indigenous you know, thinkers around this who really He had created this whole body of work in Cymatics, that's looking at the fact that, you know, in any system of exclusion, there is a way that our nervous systems have been trained both as the privilege and as the oppressed. And wrestler monogame really put that very succinctly in his book where he talked about, you know, if we could get rid of white supremacy through workshops, and books and trainings, we would have already done it because there's so much Black brilliance, you know, doing and shedding light to that work. But what he saw in his own practice was that there was not, there was a disconnect between the nervous systems of the oppressed, who were terrified legitimately, of real acts of violence, and the nervous systems of the privilege to work who went to survival level activation of their nervous system with for just a small amount of harm. And that tells me and that would unlock fragility, bigotry, you name it. And so I think that there's a lot of work that we do in the workshops around caste harm and caste fragility, um, that we, we couple that intellectual training, with people really taking time to slow down in intercaste community to reset their nervous systems to learn how to be in right alignment with each other. And it's a lifetime process, you know, because, you know, even when you think you've unearthed something, you find that there's another terrain to uncover, because that's how trauma works, right? It's like a slippery fish, you know, swimming underneath your conscious mind. And you have to be slow enough to catch it, to really witness it, so that it can feel like it becomes integrated with the rest of yourself, you know. So I feel like you know, even in the process of this book, I would say, when I started this book, I was definitely an expert in terms of cast. But I became an expert in my body after writing this book. Wow. And, and that's because it was terrifying to be embodied, around the violence that I faced, you know, I face even today, I faced tremendous violence of doing this work. And it's very easily to become disassociated to come out of your body. But to be slow enough to know that these are terrible things happening within you, to you, and your body is terrified and is working at a different pace than your intellect. In integrating those threats. I had to have tools to de escalate my own nervous system. And so in uncovering those tools, using them practicing in community with people, I really found opening in a way that was really quite magical. And, and that's part of why I'm really such a big believer of a somatic engagement as well as an intellectual and political one. Because this is really the missing piece, I think, around us constantly being in cycles of violence.
Anjali Rao 09:03:27
Yeah, because cycles of violence are perpetuated through dysregulation and being in community. That's another thing that comes through in your book a lot where you talk about CO regulation and with you know, having that community is like integral in disrupting such an old prevalent system of oppression like caste. I just want to go back to some of the things that you mentioned earlier in our conversation, then worry about beam Robin Baker, Dr. B beam, Robin Baker, you have shared some profiles of some amazing cast abolishing ancestors. And Dr. Ambedkar you know, obviously stands out as a pioneer of caste abolishing work much beloved figure, and also in sharp contrast to Gandhi. You know, and you write a little bit about that conflict. I was wondering if you could shed some light, I always talk about Ambedkar whenever i Whenever anybody brings about Gandhi, because not enough is talked about the Ambedkar and his one of his essays, you know, the no PR no water is one of my one of the most moving accounts of his life. So could you please shed some light on his work for our listeners and the conflict with Gandhi?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:04:53
So I think for Yogi's who are listening, who are looking for people to put up on their wall, to lift up as teachers or people that inform their practice. I've often seen in some yoga studios when people don't have their lineage teacher, and then they'll have like a picture You're of Gandhi. And and I think that what Anjali is speaking to here is that actually, there's a lot of disinfo that actually went into setting up Gandhi as a figure to be venerated when it comes to civil and human rights, because, in fact, that was PR that was constructed, because his actual role in terms of the rights of the oppressed in India are actually far more murky. And in fact, he was a very much a centrist when it came to caste abolition. He felt that while things were bad that were happening to untouchables, you know, quote, unquote, in his term, he actually felt that there was a role and a purpose to cast. And she wanted to reform the caste system, not remove it. Right. And that was untenable to people that were cast depressed. They're like, why, you know, just because you have a reformed slavery system does not mean that we are not slaves get out of here, you know. So his direct opposition figure was this incredible, cast oppressed leader named Dr. Ambedkar, who was our Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and so many things like rolled into one. And you know, he was a lawyer, he was an economist, he was, you know, a spiritual philosopher, and, and he was the architect of the Indian constitution. So his battles were with Gandhi were about keeping him accountable to the outside that he was perpetuating abroad. So for example, one of the things that Gandhi would do is that he would write in his native Gujarat, the extremely Casitas things, and then write the opposite for English texts. I know Anjali, it was pretty wild, you know what? Yes, yes. So I think for people who are looking for a figure to lift up and your yoga studios lift up Dr. Ambedkar, because he actually, you know, unlike the mythology around Gandhi, he actually led desegregation marches for caste. And, you know, he tried to desegregate roads and temples and water tanks, and spent many, many, many years of his life fighting for the liberation of all people. He was also Dr. Ambedkar, is also strident feminist, and fought for the rights of all women, you know, trying to construct alternative legal theories to the existing codes that existed within Hindu scriptures. And, you know, his work eventually led to the many feminist laws that we now have, because of his, you know, trailblazing fight. So, you know, and in the end, you know, he ultimately led one of the largest conversions to put this because he said, even though I was born a Hindu, I do not want to die one. And he, you know, his choice is a model of how you build consent after being a survivor of religious abuse. So, to honor Dr. Ambedkar, is actually a really profound way to bring an acknowledgement of past harm to your yoga studios, and your Sangha has, you know, and it doesn't have to be a big thing, just even a small photograph and a little message saying that this Studio supports caste equity, adding caste to your non discrimination policies, and having a little acknowledgement, you know, in your classes, those things are really beautiful ways to incorporate, you know, the experiences of cast depressed people who are fighting for their rights and their dignity right now. And, and it's a way that our yoga practice can be connected to the global lineages that it is formed from.
Anjali Rao 09:09:06
Thank you. Thank you for that. And I'm always moved by Dr. Ambedkar, his words and work and one more another one person and that this is my personal hero, if you will, is Savithri by poulet, of feminist icon. And can you please give us a thumbnail version of her to have you know, her contribution to emancipation of women's rights? And I think what what I think I'm trying to like, also share is how Dalit rights is very closely related to so many other movements. Both in India and, and globally. So one more, I just like to have these names out into the ether so that people learn more and dig into this, these stories more it goes a long way.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:09:52
Well, and that's actually one of the reasons why in my book, I have a whole section related to anti caste ancestors and a glossary, because a lot of times people are very afraid to enter the discourse around caste because they feel like they'll say the wrong thing, or offend somebody But actually, Anjali is right. The more that you engage with these leaders, the more you will be inspired to stand by and flank these people. And you know, so one of the folks that she just mentioned it was God by and submitted by Palais, and there are a couple, and who basically stood for cast, you know, the rights of the cast, depress, and significantly to educate women. And so we threw bipolar around one of the first schools to educate women in the subcontinent. And she struggled deeply in that journey, you know, when she would walk to school, she had to carry a second set of clothes, because the upper caste men would throw shit and dung, and urine, and spit on her all for the crime of teaching girls.
Anjali Rao 09:11:04
And she persisted to open many educational institutions.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:11:09
Yes, and also was a writer and poet in her own context, and ultimately died serving members of our community during the first pandemic, in the early 1900. So she lived and she died in service of our people, and the most vulnerable, you know, but what I love about her was her just commitment, fearless, relentless commitment to the liberation of all peoples. And the same thing with her husband, God by fully, he wrote some of the most beautiful texts related to anti caste thinking, including this one book called glulam. Getty, which was essentially a book about caste abolition. And it's why I use the term abolition around caste was because of his beautiful writing. And he, he writes about how inspired he was about the abolition of slavery, and was thinking about when could this comic for cast depress people, you know, beautiful thinkers, beautiful writers, and there's so many people who are in the constellation of cast depressed writers or thinkers, that it's just an incredible community to be connected with.
Anjali Rao 09:12:20
So one more question to Marie is how do you think caste has been operating in yoga spaces? In so many ways it has. So do you have any examples that you want to share?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:12:35
Sure, so I think there is this really, very intense dynamic, particularly, I think, in teachers that are not South Asian, about people being concerned around appropriation and yoga. And so what this means is, is that they not only become hyper aware about appropriation, where they might be Miss stepping, they then lean into very conservative models of South Asian culture as the way to do things, right, when in fact, they're actually lifting up very bigoted frameworks, and also frameworks that make no sense in terms of their application here. And so they actually cause double harm, as a result of wanting to not be appropriate, you know, be people who are appropriating, and that's why I always say that in order to decolonize yoga, you have to first de brahmanas, it actually many aspects of castes that you come across. And, you know, one very simple thing is a lot of yoga studios I've been to, they may start you off with like a mantra, like, you know, you know, whether it's the, you know, the removal of obstacles, Mantra, or, you know, there's all different kinds of do, right. And that was a place of deep conflict for me as a Dalit. Because of the way that Sanskrit was weaponized by the Brahmin class two, and that many early Hindu scriptures, we were not allowed to speak it, we weren't even allowed to listen to it. Otherwise, we'd have our tongues cut off and led poured in our ears. So it was very troubling to be in a class and have a teacher say to me, you can't really get the benefits of this practice if you don't do the mantra. And and you have to do it. And if I didn't, then I was going to be asked to leave the class. What? Yeah, this is like in the early 90s, it was like really kind of wild. You know, dogmatism going on there. And it was very, it was so hard for me because I was thinking about the fact that my ancestors couldn't say, these mantras and yet, how can I use it for my own freedom when it was something that enslaved them? Oh, gosh, yeah. So you know, to me, I feel like it. I think there's a lot of experimentation that could be done about either leaving those monitors out, especially because yoga classes in the United States are secular. And so either leaving them out or having a replacement or having something that's verbal. Because the whole point of why we're doing mantra is to integrate, you know, yeah. And you know, and I remember people saying these, like, absurd things like Sanskrit is such a deeply holy language, no other language has the level of spiritual vibration that it has. And it's these specific letters in Sanskrit that free your body and integrate your chakras. And in actuality, you know, it just so happens that those, you know, syllables, activate our vagus nerve, you know, and so we can achieve them without those syllables, just by knowing that logic and that way that our, you know, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system works together. Right, right. So all of that kind of weird, esoteric, you know, around this, people lean into, because they think that they're surrendering to the lineage or the power of that, when, in fact, these are things that have filters of the ego on them, and we have to still bring our critical thinking to it, you know, and that doesn't. So and there's even things about, I've always been struck about how gendered and misogynist some of the divisions of the body and energy are, as you know, written in certain yoga texts are where, you know, the idea of our senses being Shakti is feminine. And the discipline is Shiva or male. And I remember this one teacher gave me this example of being in Varanasi, and he saw this one Baba, you know, essentially hitting himself with the whip to control his senses. And he would say, You whore Shakti you core Shakti. And then he would talk about the incredible discipline of yoga, and you know, Shiva being yoga discipline, to be able to bring the energy up into the Kundalini. And you can actually do all of those things without having such a huge gendered language rapes.
Anjali Rao 09:17:07
Absolutely. And I think the gender bias and the brahminical bias came in because of rabbinical patriarchy. And, you know, the coding of all these issues after Manu smithy came into came into vogue during the times, and then it was propagated through centuries. So 100%, there is absolutely no need for anyone to chant, if there is a, if there is a resistance for whatever reason. And if you don't feel good about it, that's always it should always be an option, everything should always be an option. I think in an yoga class, you know, you can come to a yoga class and take a nap. And if that's what you really want to do, that's what you really want to do. That's how it should be. And I think you know, the Shiva Shakti dichotomy of, or binary thinking of gender is itself an example of the bias that exists and who wrote these things, who taught these things? They were men, there were sis men, there was this Brahmin men who taught these things centuries ago, and then everybody thinks that that is the only truth. So thank you for bringing that up. And, and whoever said that in your LA studio is absolutely wrong. You know, huge, nobody should, should have to say or do anything. Consent is the most important thing. It is.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:18:34
And you know, what we're coming to yoga practice. And what we're hoping to get from the mat is integration. Yeah, no, we don't need to have the human filter that shapes it in the context of one gender being stronger than the other. The senses being pure, impure, you know, using gendered language. All of that are ways that we fail, the ultimate endless possibility that comes from integration. You know, when I think I had to again, I had to embody myself to recognize I had a right to these practices. And as a Dalit women think about how revolutionary it is to have a Dalit woman talk about somatic practice. In our tradition, when we are the ones who are experimented on, we are the ones that are rate, we are not the ones that create the possibility for divinity. That's exactly what I want us to be able to do because everything changes when we start to center consent and center, the oppressed.
Anjali Rao 09:19:33
100% Thank you so much for bringing that up. Thank you so much. And I think you are our modern day, you know, thinker and leader and I'm just so I'm still like, I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you because I've looked at your work with such admiration and respect. So, moving, I think we're coming to the end of our time together, how I just want to like, close this with a couple of questions. How can we create a space? You have shared this throughout? But are there any pointers for us to create a space that invites and nurtures folks from all backgrounds and specifically class to press backgrounds in our yoga spaces, anything else we can do, which we haven't discussed yet?
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:20:17
No, I think the checklist is pretty simple. It says a protected category to your elimination and employment policies to consider wherever you have the altar or wall dedicated to your lineages acknowledged Dr. Ambedkar. You know, I think that would be such a beautiful offering. And then three, you know, work to see if there's a script of past, you know, an acknowledgement of caste harm, that you might be able to incorporate for all the teachers that teach at your studio. So then, just like you do land acknowledgments and acknowledge anti Black racism, we can acknowledge the, you know, both the benefits that this lineage has provided for you and your students, but also that it came at a cost and consequence to cast depressed people, and that you are committed to supporting our attempts to, you know, achieve repair, and also justice in the present time, you know, so those things I think, are to do, and then also pick up the book.
Anjali Rao 09:21:23
Yes, pick up this book. This is a classic, the trauma of caste, Dalit feminist meditation on survivorship, healing and abolition. And is there anything else we can do to support your work? Well, I
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:21:38
you know, the thing with this book is that it's really designed to be read and community. So if you really love this book, I encourage you to host a book, a reading group with your your closest family member, or chosen family or friends, you know, buy the book for a young person that you can read it with, because there's so much healing in it not just for South Asian people, but for anyone interested in how we heal from polarization and bigotry. And you know, there will be calls to action because there are people who are making threats because this book was written. And this is the time to stand with cast depress, you know, people like myself, because it is a tremendous thing to break the silence. And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. Because this is how we achieve integration and love and empathetic witness with each other. So I appreciate you Anjali for creating space around this conversation. And I just know that we're going to grow loving kindness with this conversation. And I encourage everyone to join our beloved community.
Anjali Rao 09:22:42
Thank you so much, and 100% a reading group will be created and I will facilitate this book because I'm in love with the book, and the work and the words so anything that I can do to uplift your work, then Maria, I'm here and I just call on all the listeners to send you know, loving kindness, respect, shield of protection around you as you grow and speak your truth to power. Again, so much appreciation for you. Thank you all for listening
Thenmozhi Soundararajan 09:23:17
JBM and jsrv through everyone.
Anjali Rao 09:23:20
Bye bye. Thank you for being here for this conversation. Please support our work at accessible yoga Association by becoming an ambassador or checking out our studio at accessible yoga.org.
Garrett Jurss 09:23:54
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