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Dynamics of Race & Culture through the Lens of Yoga

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

The last few days and weeks have sadly and tragically brought to the surface the extreme risk to life of brutal, unrelenting and systemic racism.

The killings of Black people in the USA and the disproportionate death rates from Coronavirus among Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK have underscored the nature of an insidious and structural bias in which white (and eurocentric) cultural, political and economic 'supremacy' (whiteness as the norm, as the dominant power source) disadvantages people of color.

Our hearts are broken by these senseless murders and preventable deaths. We are deep in grief and the anger burns fiercely within us at the injustice and at our own futility. We feel the raw and taunting sense of powerlessness to stop the invidious cycle of destruction and devastation caused by ignorant and ignominious racism - whether on the streets of Minneapolis or social media feeds of politicians.

But. But our spirits must stay strong. We must take heart. We must rise to stand between state sanctioned violence and our Black brothers and sisters for they are showing greater courage than those of us who move more safely and freely through the world can ever envisage. We must overcome our fears. We must stand alongside. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain - already the worst has happened - people of color are killed or die everyday because of structural inequality and injustice. The violence visited upon Black bodies has created generations of trauma. The looting of people as slaves and indentured servants has devalued the lives of Black people. Yet history shows us time after time that the human spirit is indomitable - even as we bear the scars of slavery, colonialism and facism.

We must rise - we must offer the hand of friendship to lift up those who are tired. We must do the work - protest, march, agitate, fund, write letters, sign petitions, vote for progressive on race politicians, give up our privileges (whether white, white passing, white aligning or white adjacent) to elevate and platform Black voices - for our Black brothers and sisters are being arrested, teargassed, pepper sprayed, water cannoned and shot. Racism is not about Black or Brown people. It's never been about people of color. It is about white people.

We must "plan, organise, strategise and mobilise" in the words of Michael Santiago Render aka Killer Mike, Atlanta MC and rapper. We must use the power and privilege we each hold (however small and insignificant it may feel) to bring about equity and justice. At the moment, power and privilege benefits few, causes harm to most and costs us all.

Enough is enough. No more Black lives lost at the hands of white men with invincible power. No more Black women shamed by white women for how they look and move. No more Black and Brown people living in poverty as they are locked out of education and career opportunities or progression. We must make inroads to that power base. Through education and political movements - from all sides. A sustained attack from all fronts - Black, Brown and white - united in a common mission - to dismantle racism as anti-racists.

We must work together to shift the balance of power - each of us in our own way by recognising and dismantling our own internalised anti blackness.

My understanding of systemic racism is crystallised through the lens of cultural appropriation and colonisation in yoga.

Centring of white voices and bodies, the othering of "non white" people, gaslighting and spiritual bypassing of the racial and ancestral traumas experienced by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). This microcosm of the macrocosm out there.

So for me it's through yoga.

For you, it could be talking to your family. Raising your children to be colour aware rather than colour blind so that they develop empathy with others - others who are different but no less than them, others who are not exotic or foreign but simply have other personal stories that we are yet to hear or acknowledge as worthy as our own.

The first and easiest thing that we can all do and must do is educate ourselves - challenge our ignorance, 'avidya', by engaging with critical thinking and examining the societal structures within which we are raised and socialised. To employ 'viveka' so we can discern intellectually between what is unconscious or implicit bias and prejudice in how we interpret and bear witness.

Karma yoga is about taking action through developing awareness of 'kleshas' - the roots of pain and suffering and seeking 'moksa' or liberation for all. 'Seva' is not limited, as narrowly defined, to the humble way in which yogis sweep the floor of ashrams in exchange for spiritual enlightenment. 'Seva' is a truly selfless act in the service of others - in which we can work together in community or 'sangha' to uproot the destructive seed of racism. I urge people with privilege and power to do the work it needs - direct your effort, 'tapas', to understanding your role in sustaining and perpetuating a harmful system through study and contemplation, 'svadhyaya', followed by right minded action.

To this end, I am sharing a list of useful resources by change makers - articles, books, podcasts, videos and infographics. Work by others who have far more insight than I, even perhaps than you...

Start lives depend on it.

With protection, healing and peace to all in our community.

Here's what's on my book shelf to get you started on a lifelong journey of anti racism

I am offering 10 hour Dynamics of Race, Cultural Appropriation & Integrity in Yoga online course. If you would like information about the next round of courses, please send an email to

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