Jivana Heyman 0:00
Hi everyone, its Jivana. I just want to come on for a moment and thank our sponsor offering tree. They're an all in one easy to use community back business that saves you time, energy and money as a yoga teacher. Offering tree allows you to create a website in less than 30 minutes. Plus you get a discount for accessible yoga. Just go to offering tree.com backslash accessible yoga to get your discount today. Okay, here's our episode.
Anjali Rao 0:31
Welcome to the love of yoga podcast. I'm your host Anjali Rao. This podcast explores the connections between the teachings of yoga for self and collective transformation. We dive into how spirituality and philosophy can ignite social change. I share conversations with folks who are on the frontlines of justice and laboratory movements, thought leaders and changemakers, disruptors and healers. Love is an act of wealth, both an intention and an action set Bell Hooks when it comes to building spaces of care, or movements for social change with challenging many norms of the dominant culture. As of today, there are over 426 Anti LGBTQ builds in the United States. And as one of my guests, Justin today states ally ship is a verb. Solidarity across all identities is integral. It is a sacred intention and an ongoing practice. How do we move beyond the perfunctory? How do we disrupt the performative pneus that is so common in yoga, wellness, and social media. Joining me today are two of my beloved friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators. rudraksh chand and Tristan Katz. Rudraksh is an organizer, anti carceral, practitioner of abolishing lifelong student of yoga, and an artist at large. Tristan Katz is a trans equity inclusion facilitator, consultant, teacher, space holder and creator of courses on conscious marketing. They are also on the board of Accessible Yoga and are working on their first book. I am so stoked and honored to have this conversation with you both together. And let's dive right in.And Justin, welcome to the love of yoga podcast.
rüdrāksh chand 3:08
Thank you for having us AKR
Anjali Rao 3:11
How did you find your way to yoga? Let's let's start with that thrash be wild Ville intense question right away, right away?
rüdrāksh chand 3:20
Yes. Well, I started. First of all, it's an ancestral practice. So I grew up with a lot of the teachings. And then I started the formal practice of it just three or four years ago when my mom died. And so the grief of that was too much for me to bear alone. Because as a trans person, like not everyone shares the same story. But as a trans person, like I was not allowed to mourn with my family. I was not welcomed back to the home. So I had to find other ways. And you know, at that point, drugs, alcohol and other activities, they weren't hidden. They weren't cutting it. So I needed something that was really going to help me move through this grief and hold the homie down, you know? And that's when I turned to yoga and I want to give a shout out to my first teacher artists Smith, who's in the West Coast right now. So thank you so much teacher for that first intro class because it changed my life forever.
Anjali Rao 4:37
Thank you for sharing. Tristan, what about you?
Tristan Katz 4:43
I had a very different introduction to yoga. As a white person, I have the more standard white person introduction. But I guys first found yoga twenty years ago, in the form of Bikram yoga, I was Yep. But I was all in on that on that hot. Um, and really enjoyed the physical practice had never been much of a physical person in my life and found that Asana was a really beautiful way for me to explore being in my body and in a way that I had never experienced. And it took me. I mean, I did it. All right, I did all the hot yoga stuff. I did the vinyasa stuff. I did the hottest stuff. Like I went to all all the classes for years. But I think it took like 10 years before anybody said anything about philosophy, like I don't think anybody mentioned the Sutras or the Gita, like I think it was, like 10 solid years of being an Asana classes, before anybody said anything about some other aspects of yoga. And I just knew that something was weird, though, because I was like, why are we all white people chanting or like, what, like, what is going on here? Like I was very confused by it, I was really resistant to like drinking the Kool Aid, as it were, even though I was also drinking it, you know, I was drinking it. But I was like, but I'm not going to do that part. And so it took me a long time to figure out what was happening and, and a long time to to discover the full breadth of the teachings and the practice. And since then, I, yeah, I've been, I've been a student I've been, I was a teacher. At one point, I don't really consider myself a yoga teacher anymore. But it's a it's a big part of my life. And it's really been a big part of my own healing. In a band my own coming to know myself too. I've been thinking a lot about this, how I don't think I would know my self as a trans person if I hadn't. I hadn't had the teachings and practices of yoga, as particularly Austin, I think that my asana practice helped me learn how to hear my, my body. And it was my body that told me. No, I'm not that, right.
Anjali Rao 7:14
Oh, thank you, thank you for sharing. And I think all of us can identify that we all have different ways of coming into the practices of yoga. So I appreciate the Asana part, because that's what the majority here, especially in the United States, get into the practices of yoga. I always share this, that the yoga spaces are often you know, reflection or microcosm of the dominant culture. And people always feel that oh, do yoga spaces are something which which are devoid of politics or, but it's very much a part of and reflection of what's going on in the outside world. And I will first ask this to rudraksh then maybe Tristan can share, how do you see the dominant culture showing up? In terms of maybe the gender binary or caste or whatever else you want to share about? How do you see the dominant culture manifesting in yoga spaces.
rüdrāksh chand 8:18
You just do a quick search online, and you see what shows up visually, since that reflects our real lives. I think, everyone, I'm trying to be like, polite with my words, because I know everyone's gonna hear this, and it's gonna be on forever. But honestly, it's really just some skinny white people, able bodied people in these places. And it's violent, it's aggressive, it's disrespectful, it needs to be stopped. I don't see any, like actual outreach from this community of folks to actually include other folks that are not like them, that, you know, while they're like appropriating, and weirdly teaching, this ancient practice this death practice this healing practice, like, it's just like, so much disrespect, and then forget about seeing trans bodies. Like, I don't even I don't even want to we don't even need to talk about that. So I'm just what was that? There was a second part of your question. Right? Well, maybe I could pause here. Yeah, that's fine. Thank you. No, absolutely. The Google search is very visual reminder of how the yoga spaces are shaped are seen in in media and just to how do you what do you think?
Anjali Rao 9:43
How do you see the dominant culture showing up in yoga spaces?
Tristan Katz 9:46
This is like the really interesting thing is that as a as a white, small bodied person who I consider myself on the disability spectrum, but for all intents and purposes, I'm able bodied and I have financial privilege, like, given all of these points of my, my privileged identities. On some level, you'd think that yoga in the West is made for me. But I never felt that it was actually, yes, I had access, right, I had access to going to the asana classes, I had financial access to pay for the friggin let's not even get started on like the nature of Dropins and studio membership. And like, who has access to that, right? That's one way we can start to see that, oh, look, look at how culture is playing out in the yoga space, like, certain people have financial access to these spaces, first of all, but apart from that, I was going in to a lot of studio classes, feeling othered. And so again, I want to go back to like, yes, for from from a superficial perspective, these, this, these spaces are designed for me, given that I hold these points of privilege, and at the same time, I never felt accepted in them. And I couldn't figure out why because I thought I was a girl. But when I realized I wasn't a girl or a woman, it's and also when I started to own my sexuality as a queer person as a gay person. Like it all started to fit together that yes, superficially, these spaces were designed for someone with my points of privilege. But then when I dug deeper, I felt othered I felt unseen. I felt, I mean, I can't tell you how many times I would go to a studio regularly, and people wouldn't bother to learn my name or acknowledge my existence. And I think part of that is because I don't have a, my body doesn't fit beauty norms. And so there is this constant dance of like, we want you here, you're welcome here, all are welcome here is the story is the story, I was being fed in a lot of spaces, but also feeling like completely unseen and othered. And then like, the deeper things of, you know, I started considering what it might be like for someone who is who is in another body to come into these spaces, right, like somebody in a black body, and then in an indigenous body. But also in a at the time, I didn't realize I was trans. And when I started to think about trans folks coming into these spaces, I started to feel really defensive and protective. And I thought I was just being a good ally, I'm putting that in quotes like this is the pathway for so many trans folks is like we start with Ally ship. And then we realize that we're caring about ally ship, because it's actually quite personal. And when I realized that I was trans, then I started to put all the pieces together, that I there is a norm that's upheld in yoga justice, there is a norm upheld and dominant culture. And that norm is to Rudraksh and the point that they made that norm is white, skinny, able bodied. And I would argue cisgender and heterosexual and you know, middle class, if not upper middle class. And when I started to realize that I didn't fit into those norms, I didn't know where to fit them in yoga culture in this in this culture. And that's a big part of why I've stopped going to studios. I mean, yes, COVID was a big part of that too. But even since things have reopened, whatever that means, I don't feel comfortable in studio spaces anymore. It's a big part of that is because there's a lot of people who aren't there. And like, why aren't they there? Right? Nobody wants to talk about it.
rüdrāksh chand 13:43
Well, I just want to, I really appreciate you bringing up the word others. I think that's a word that really lands for a lot of trans folks. And I don't, I don't think a lot of people are actually teaching yoga. So I've been to I've been a devoted student for the past two or three years, I don't remember my memory is not a thing anymore. And I've like learned from so many teachers, and they are not teaching yoga. They are not teaching yoga, this ytt machine is churning out these like AP big one of the practitioners and it's just not hitting. So then they go to the studios. So there's like these, you know, and it's not only white folks with the ytt it'd be our own people that like give white white folks the permission to then continue that because they're like, oh, this brown person is doing it. So we could share too. So yoga is actually not being taught. And this needs to be examined what is yoga? And also it's it was not meant to be taught when you're going through your time but these studios are going to the studios. It was never also been meant to be taught to like 50 People 40 People in a heated room. What is that? Stop doing that shit, stop doing hot yoga Bikram cancel. And so but you know yoga is, so you're gonna get, we have to teach it to small groups. And I hate to break it to the yoga capitalists out there, but you're not going to make money in yoga. It is against the teachings and the practice to commodify the teachings, and then mass solid people. If you are making money in yoga, you're doing it wrong. This is a hard pill to swallow. It is a very hard path to be a yoga teacher. Yeah, I'm saying you could have a side of us. So we're in capitalism, everybody needs to make money. Get a side hustle. Every you can't yoga can't be the main hustle. And finally, I want to say that yoga, this is all notes from you, from your thing, trusting the gender stuff that really got to me because it is not supposed to be even taught in any sort of a gender sort of a way where one is conscious of one's gender during the class, it has to be taught in a very gendered like neutral in a very, you can't be doing the same things like uterus or ovaries. You know, like, Please relax the SIS women, yoga teachers out here with the gender essentialism, like it really has got to start like what is a female bodied woman? And I come to that class because girl me and you and we might have a lot in common? Or what about my my, my sister, the trans sister can she come? Who can come to your class, just say you want to have a class for Sis, sis women just say that don't say female, but to say this classes we're swimming in show you.
Tristan Katz 16:36
We're gonna be so appreciate you.
rüdrāksh chand 16:39
I took notes Tristan, on you're taking notes.
Tristan Katz 16:42
And I appreciate you. I mean, I bet the thing that I immediately think, though, is that one of the questions I get in my work is, okay, so. So we've established that, that gender isn't what we were taught. And we've established that we need everybody to be in the fight. And so how do I do it as this is the question coming from like, generally speaking, a white sis woman yoga teacher who wants to know how she can create a more inclusive yoga space? And how can she can she can make her yoga class safer for trans and non binary folks. And I always think I appreciate that people want to make their classes safer and more inclusive. But that's not even necessarily what I'm asking for. Now, it's this complex moment, right? Where I'm like, I don't want to be othered in yoga spaces. And I don't want you to try to make your classes more inclusive, so you can get more trans people in them. Like, that's not the point. Right? The point is for us to shift the culture together, outside of yoga, but also reflected within yoga spaces. Right?
Anjali Rao 17:51
I think I think I appreciate what you're saying. They're interesting, because that actually lends to othering. You know, I want to be inclusive, I'm going to put a check mark about how I'm making the space quote unquote, inclusive for you know, trans folks or people of color or you know, so it's like more like a performative sort of nature to that and I wanted to ask both of you, if you have any thoughts and if you could please share, what is your what are your thoughts on these performative, you know, observances on certain things like the Trans Day of visibility, for example, which is coming up any thoughts on that?
rüdrāksh chand 18:33
So, it's, I kind of want to call it Trans Day of performativity rebrand, because this is really want to talk about yoga off of the mat. But what does that look like? We currently have a trans person. My heart is beating who is a political prisoner right now she's incarcerated, her name is Jaime. And she was just at a concert and the state kidnapped her. And I remember, maybe not eight months ago, what was eight months ago, we were aggressively funded. The yoga community was aggressively fundraising for Ash and Jamie to attend the retreat. So a good opportunity to do yoga off the mat would be to share Charlotte uprisings fundraiser the the image that will link as they know your follow them, right. We We fundraised for the same people. So that is is a humble request.
Anjali Rao 19:44
Thank you, thank you for sharing that.
rüdrāksh chand 19:46
And that is again a practice of ongoing solidarity beyond a certain day or beyond a certain month. And I think you know, one holds with, with the tension that these are days or months So, you know, Black History Month, then south a South Asian awareness History Month and all these months are important as, as reminders that hey, people in the dominant culture which we are all a part of, to some extent or the other, listen, read center, and then not move on from it. Continue it, it's a practice. No, it's just that it's a daily practice, like how Austin has integrated for a lot of people into their day writing is mutual aid is also like in a lot of the sutras talk about mutual aid. But yeah, it's, it's ongoing, and daily, a lot of queer and trans people's survival is based on mutual aid, rent money. So my request is for the larger yoga community to not only do it for the shiny things, or the things that are directly linked to the word yoga, because yoga is so much larger than that in.
Anjali Rao 20:59
Yeah, so I just want to like, reiterate what you're saying, retraction make sure we also are going to share the link to Jamie's usually that you're referring to, from the Charlotte uprising, organization, or whatever the collective. So we will be we will be sharing that.
Jivana Heyman 21:22
Hi, everyone, I just want to pop in here really quick, and remind you about our sponsor, offering training. As yoga teachers, we are on business managers, website designers and producers. It's a lot. And offering tree offers an all in one platform that makes it easy to succeed while we're doing all the things. And I just like to say that through this partnership with the love of yoga podcast offering tree has shown that it's committed to supporting accessibility and equity in the yoga world. Offering tree is a public benefit corporation. And they're driven by a mission of wellness accessibility, which we share with them and accessible yoga. As an offering tree user, you'll get to join a supportive educational community. And you'll also get free webinars with top experts on wellness and entrepreneurship. And of course, you get a discount. So go to offering tree.com backslash accessible yoga to learn more, and to get your discount. Okay, let's go back to the episode.
Anjali Rao 22:22
Any other thoughts on how social you know I also use how Tristan used ally ship in quotes I use nowadays I use social justice in quotes because this word has been commodified. Like everything. So any thoughts on how the and it's something that I've been really looking into leaning into? Like, how are we not just using this as a hashtag? Or how are we actually leaning into the movements for justice?
Tristan Katz 22:50
I mean, I think part of what's coming up for me, and this whole conversation is unfortunately, like, okay, so we need we need Trans Day of visibility, but to rudrakshas point, it's become trans Dave performativity. I love that rebrand, by the way. And unfortunately, you know, same with Black History Month, right? Like, we need Black History Month, we don't need just a month, first of all, and second of all, it's become co opted as like as a capitalism as a form of capitalism, right? And so all these people tick these boxes during Black History Month and send out the newsletter with the reading list or whatever they do. But what are they doing apart from those performative outward actions? And to me, the same can be said about the question, which is an important one, I'm like, I really want us to hold the the nuances and the both ends we need these days and these months, and we need to be looking at these these invitations for solidarity, beyond just fundraising for a yoga retreat or sharing memes on social media on one day of the year. Or, you know, and I think the question of, well, how do I make my class safer, more inclusive for trans folks? It's like, yes, we do need you to do that. And we also need you to the point that I feel like we're saying here to show up for all these other forms of action, and quote, Ally ship and solidarity. And if we're just focusing on showing up in solidarity in one way, but not the full breadth, the full width, the full expansiveness of what it means to be in the practices of justice of yoga, then we're, we're falling prey to the commodification of ally ship of solidarity of yoga of justice, and the words lose the meaning, right? It's like capitalism has taken over social justice. To some extent, capitalism has also taken over yoga and to me, yoga invites us into ally ship. The ally ship itself is also now like, performative and void of meaning in a lot of ways. So it's like, we keep looking for more words to describe what it means to be in the practices to the point that Rudraksha make made earlier to, like, every single day. Right? And, and to fundraise, not just because there's a queer and trans yoga retreat, and we want to get trans folks there. But where are the fundraising initiatives? When that retreat isn't on people's minds, and somebody is being incarcerated, right? Like this is what I hear a saying is like, can we not turn our eyes away from certain calls to action, or certain moments that are happening? Because they fill in the blank make us uncomfortable? Because we're, we have like collective trauma fatigue, like there's so many reasons why we aren't engaged all the time. And some of those reasons are understandable and real and valid, because care is needed, like radical care. And I really do wonder what it looks like for us to hold both the fact that Trans Day of visibility is needed, and it's performative. And to hold to the ally ship that happens around certain moments is also needed. And we need more than just ally ship in certain moments, right. And it's so amazing to me how many people aren't talking about the numbers of anti trans bills that are sweeping the country, and the anti drag queen laws and the anti bathroom and the anti like kids care? Like, how are we not all in a collective uproar about this?
Anjali Rao 26:39
Thank you. Thank you, Tristan. rudraksh, do you have anything to add here?
rüdrāksh chand 26:43
I'm thinking about solidarity and trends, solidarity and social justice. Does you know how it's become a performance? And then what does that look like as someone who's like, a Suvarna? You know what I mean? Like, what does that look like? So
Anjali Rao 27:01
could you please tell the listeners share with the listeners what a sovereign is?
Yes. So so far another, has privileged folks.And this is directed towards Suvarna, folks, because I saw a lot of performance, this past month of holy and this and that, and, you know, and the teachers, so South Asian teachers that we're following that the masses are following, like, it's, it's, they know about Holika, they know about the story. And yet they want to play and engage in this like, festival that's inherently based on caste violence. And it's like, why? Like, you're so attached, aren't we practitioners? What is the attachment to these silly things like throwing colors at people, when it's based on this super violent act?
So what rudraksh is referring to, and I think it's an important one. So thank you for bringing that up. The trash is about so many of the festivals that we are, quote, unquote, celebrating or observing are contested. They are not one story, where it's good, you know, quote, unquote, the proverbial good versus evil. So who defines good who comes in that umbrella term of good who comes in the umbrella term of evil, and that there is a lot of CO optation of folks from class repressed identities, who are depicted, as the evil put people in many of these stories, and that sort of got co opted through centuries by brahminical. Patriarchy. And what rudraksh is referring to is important because we need to understand the nuances of caste in yoga spaces, as well as the capitalistic framework that says, Let's not look into nuance, because there is no time. Why is there no time because we are in a capitalistic framework, there is no time let's sell the course. Let's sell let's get more followers. You know, when the priority is to get the numbers in, then there is no time for pausing and learning the nuances of a story.
rüdrāksh chand 29:29
That I love that. And I'm just like, here in the so called United States. Like, it's like Thanksgiving, like we've left, none of none of my friends. We don't do that anymore. So it's the same, same as holy. I just wanted to add that little bit y'all need to let it go.
Anjali Rao 29:50
Thank you. Okay. So is there anything else which is, you know, something that you you both want to talk about? The stage is yours.
rüdrāksh chand 30:00
I'm just calling in deeper study y'all. I just calling in more study and I'm going to name some names right now. These are epic teachers that will add a lot of clarity to your yoga practice. Maryam Kaaba, we do this so we free us and then Aundrea Ricci and then what else Shane a small, I would like to call her into this space. I would like to call an Endura. And Anjali calm with Rao AKR are the teacher formerly known as Anjali with drought stressed and you got some burning things you want to say, oh, no, I just, you know, this is such a huge conversation and Julie's point light and rudrakshas point like we could we could do this all day like to have these conversations and, and like a podcast isn't even enough like the container of a podcast isn't even enough. So I guess I want to say like for folks listening?
Tristan Katz 31:10
I don't know, I think I want to, to echo the invitation that Rudraksha is offering which is like how are you deepening your practice? And I don't mean like, how are you practicing? Those arm balances are like how are you getting upside down today? Like how are we relating to the teachings beyond studio culture or beyond? Beyond the asana or like how are you infusing your life with these teachings and so many of us I think are sold this I don't know like vegetarianism model of the Ahimsa is one of the things I'm thinking of like the Ahimsa stops with like the food you put on your plate. And I think we've come to understand that like the teaching of Ahimsa invites us into understanding non harm, way beyond like what food we put on our plates. But I really wonder like at this point in time in 2023 as we continue to navigate the consequences of the pandemic which has impacted people in disproportionate ways, right based on identities and oppression and marginalization and these forms of violence. How are we understanding the teachings today? I think is and and not just in a narrow minded way in a isolated me, way self weigh. And so many people are saying well collective care, collective care, but like what does it actually mean to in collective? When when we think about collective care on a day like Trans Day of visibility? How do we then think about the things we might contemplate on the day like Trans Day of visibility, not just on that day, right? And I'm echoing like the thing I already said earlier, but I just like I want us to understand, like I hear rudrakshas saying, like read Maryam Kaaba. And then I immediately think like, how many yoga teachers are going to be like, What does Miriam Kaaba have to do with yoga, abolition yoga art like this, and I got it, I see that I read Miriam Kaba I get it, I see it, it makes sense to me. But I wonder how we can have a conversation that somehow reaches people who don't see the ties, right, so that we can all start to see the ties that like, all of this is is is is can be is connected. Coalition is connected to yoga, right? Dismantling systems of oppression is connected to yoga to me. And I just want to like sometimes I start getting on a tangent about like, what? Yoga and then I'm like, but I'm white. So like, I want to, I don't want to be like, I know what yoga is. And I know, like, I want to be very mindful that I'm not presenting myself as that white person who like has it all figured out about what about yoga? Because I don't but what I do understand about yoga is that it does invite us to question systems of power and how they're playing out subtly overtly in relationships in physical spaces.
rüdrāksh chand 34:21
And you've been not only question but we have the karma part to like actually do the damn thing. Yeah, because a lot of people get there a lot of folks just stay at the questioning, journaling contemplating part. But the karma part is what is being needed in 2023 with like this wave of anti trans like legislation, people kids, people can get arrested for being trans you parents can get arrested for every trans children. Like so. Yeah. Just calling in more action. Yeah. Forget about arsenal. Leave her alone. She needs a break. She's tired of it all. She's tired.
Unknown Speaker 35:04
Well, thank you. I know I so appreciate this connection between abolishing and yoga, I think it is absolutely central. And we need to keep repeating that, and unraveling it unpacking what that isn't to go back to your point, just and as you mentioned, as a wide bodied person, can I say what, you know, can I even talk about it? And I would, I would say yes, not not as a person who's giving you you know, quote, unquote, permission, I know nobody to say that. But I would say anyone who is actually looking at their practice and seeing how we can apply these teachings into our lives into the world, and disrupt Tom, show how connected we all really are, that is yoga. So if it doesn't take to me, it to me, doesn't matter if you are white body brown bodied at all, but it as long as we are in the right relationship in questioning, and then as rudraksh said, acting upon those answers that we are seeking. And we are all, you know, we all again, to go back to this thing of not doing it in an individual way. We are all not doing it in anything in an intuitive way. So that's why community is so integral. So I want to like thank you both. First of all, for being in community with me. And sharing with me with such courage, vulnerability, humor, and passion. I am indebted forever. And I hope to continue the conversations with you offline and online.
rüdrāksh chand 36:53
I know that was the closing hook, but I have something to say about you. I didn't say it at the beginning because of anxiety. But I am so grateful and honored to have you as my mentor, teacher and now friend, we are all so lucky, especially the trends. We know you have a soft spot for us you always show up for us you have our back. And we really fucks with you The Long Way KR like we really do you have you have showed up when no one's looking, no one's watching. And I'm just so grateful for Your guidance in my life. And thank you for making this an opportunity for me. I mean, a lot. There aren't a lot of teachers, you know, asking me to do things with them and I understand why so I'm so grateful for you actually making the space and you know, talking. Thank you. Bus bus. Oh yeah Mira bus.
Anjali Rao 37:51
Thank you. Thank you for sharing your heart rudraksh I so appreciate you and I will close this conversation with with just gratitude, which is gratitude for the magic of being you the sheer audacity of you. Thank you
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