A Response to Jen Caron (Day 4)

To be honest, I didn’t get what the big deal was about Jen Caron’s article, “It Happened to Me: There are no Black People in my Yoga Class and Suddenly I’m Feeling Uncomfortable With It.” I was reading angry commentary on it (summary: there was a black girl in Jen Caron’s yoga class one time) until I read it for myself.

It made me sad for a few reasons. My normal self would list all of her arguments and implications and tear each one apart, but that’s what my ego wants: yoga teaches us to respond, not react. So I’ll try to productively respond instead.

I work with mostly african american little kindergarten baby students. They constantly make little drawings of me and themselves, but they recently learned how to mix colors. I overheard one of them talking to another when I saw one little boy was staring at me intently.

“What color is Mrs. Lynch?

Another little boy looked at me and cocked his head to the side.

“Try mixing pink and yellow.”

His final work was beautiful – little brown him holding hands with huge pink-and-yellow me.

couldn’t resist – she’s too cute.

Yesterday in yoga class, I had a thought – that if that boy had tried to draw my class, he’d wear out those pink and yellow crayons down to dust. There are too many yellow-pink bodies in yoga and not enough brown ones, and we should stop ignoring that.

I also recently had a conversation with a black colleague where she discouraged me from offering free yoga classes to our student’s parents and families because it would appear that I was trying to impose my own whiteness on them. In the end, I was afraid I was and I would. Sometimes I feel so out of touch.

That last part is why I can understand what I deeply hope is Jen Caron’s underlying dilemma: In trying to do and say the right thing, we can do and say so very wrong.

No, I don’t understand why she chose to preface the entire article with a “January-is-when-all-the-non-yogis-come-to-class” paragraph,

“January is always a funny month in yoga studios: they are inevitably flooded with last year’s repentant exercise sinners who have sworn to turn over a new leaf, a new year, and a new workout regime. A lot of January patrons are atypical to the studio’s regular crowd and, for the most part, stop attending classes before February rolls around.”

or why she decided to see the student’s frustration with the class as hostility towards her own body,

“Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.”

or why she was so upset by the fact that there was a black woman in her class that she cried at home afterwards.

“I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying. Yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect.”

Pure as her intentions may be, Caron seems to have fallen for a classic reason for unhappiness: she appears to see herself as a victim. A victim to a new student’s judgment, a victim to an hypocrisy in an activity she enjoys, and a victim to a racially-tense world she didn’t create. But seeing oneself as a victim necessitates laziness: to see yourself as oppressed is to rob yourself of all responsibility. Something happens to you, not around you. It’s right there in the title: “It Happened to Me.”

The kindest thing to do is reflect inward: It’s a group class, but an individual practice – as the author of another blog suggested, “Keep your eyes on your own f*#&ing mat.”

A solid piece of advice for everybody.

Have this conversation with me, please: why do white people feel bad about not having enough people of color in yoga? Are we just trying to impose our own archetypes of happiness on others, or is there a barrier there?

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5 thoughts on “A Response to Jen Caron (Day 4)

  1. The sad truth is that I don’t think that I have ever thought about having people of different races in our yoga class. My frustration is that I waited until I was 49 to begin. I know it is never too late and I know that it will come, but considering I have no memory of ever being able to touch my toes (even when I was 100lb teenager) I have frustrations. I don’t think I want to add to my frustration by thinking about who is around me or what color they are.

    If I understand the principle concept of yoga, (or at least what it means to me) this time is for me and my own body and my own struggles. everyone else there should be in the same frame of mind. I admit it is very hard to see others who can do so much more than me and I get embarrassed because I feel that I fail miserably, but that doesn’t make me feel any animosity toward those who can. but I digress…

    My thought about others in my class are that I am happy to see anyone there. I suppose it sounds cliché’ but I try my very best to not see color when it comes to people. I fail sometimes and I am victorious sometimes.

    My response to your statement is simply this, should the color of your class be your goal? or should the number in your class be your goal? I have denied myself yoga for years. I only recently decided to try it and even though I get frustrated with myself, I am glad I go with the hope that I might improve someday. BUT, others who have not come to the realization that yoga will benefit them have a right to think that way, no matter what color they are.

    I know we live very different lives but I would invite anyone and everyone to my yoga class because it benefits humanity. (or at least it benefits me) If you let this be your true motivation, then people may see through their own prejudices and understand that it is not about imposing our own views and see that it is sharing a part of ourselves with each other. Then, language or misunderstandings are not cause for anger and animosity and turn to understanding and forgiveness.

    If they don’t then it is really their issue and not mine.

    Just what I feel.
    Dad.

  2. I have to agree with Joe’s question…”Should the color of your class be your goal?” My answer was the same as his…I have never thought about it and never paid attention to what color the yogis are that walk through the door. I don’t think I ever will. I do not want to see color or race or gender – I just want to peace, understanding, love, and yoga.

    And like Joe, I wish I began yoga earlier in my life as well. But, the past is the past. I cannot let it hold me back by holding on to my regret, and believe me, it took me awhile to let it go. That regret will keep me from the vision and focus I need in my practice to reach my goals if I let it. I have no room for it.

    I tell my 14 yo. daughter (who loves playing soccer) that if she TRULY love soccer, she will encourage anyone to play and have fun and help younger kids achieve their dribbling goals; that she will help spread a love for the game not only in the way she plays, but also the way she practices and wherever soccer is really.

    I feel the same about yoga. If I truly love yoga I will encourage anyone to attend class and try to pick up the practice no matter what level, color, age, race, etc. Yoga has no ceiling – it is for everyone. I know how hard it is to go into class and not be able to do those asanas I dream of doing, or that I see others doing. I actually use it as inspiration for myself, but I am truly happy for the strength that person beside me has because I know they have worked for that strength, too.

    I cant imagine having the weight of color interfering with my practice, or teaching. It would be a weight to me because it is not something I believe in. We are all part of this universe. We are all connected. I would just be thrilled they were looking to yoga to make a change in their lives – everyone doesn’t always understand yoga or what it is about – they hold a preconceived idea, but I will always be there for them to practice and receive encouragement even if their life only allows them one practice a year.

    Yoga allows me to let go of judgment, competition, and expectation. I want people to come to class and practice with me and retain the ability to let go of self-doubt and replace it with self-empowerment and peace. I mean if you think about it, that could be harder than any yoga pose or asana we ever do in life.

    I guess what I am trying to say is if you REALLY love yoga, then it does not matter what the color of their skin is – love knows no bounds. You are a reflection of your yoga, your path.

    By the way, your dad ROCKS in yoga! I am so, so proud of him. He is truly an inspiration!!! Oh and the next time I’m in Nashville, I will try to come to your class. 😉

    Jenny Puckett Kays

    1. Yoga is for everyone – you’re right.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. And I would love to see you at my class! I’m still trying to work out a way I can get to Lawrenceburg on a Tuesday night for yours…maybe someday!

    1. That sounds really great! It’s really nice of you to offer that. I’m not trained to teach Ashtanga (love practicing it, though!) but I can certainly lead a solid a power flow or a restorative!

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