Decolonizing & Healing Remedies for Colonial Mindset & White Supremacy in Yoga

Yoga is a complex, organized system of personal and social change. Its a tradition I've been steeped in for my entire life. It has changed me. But yoga too, has been changed.

As an immigrant child of a father and mother born while India was just emerging from British Colonial rule, I am only one generation out from colonization, and my family feels tremors and impacts. We know it may take many generations to heal. These impacts are real and present, in our cells and memory and bodies and breath, not just theoretical. Colonization and white supremacy harm us all, but not equally. We can unpack the inner and outer harm that colonization and white supremacy cause.

Yogic wisdom has been shared for thousands of years. Staring into the sacred fire, we are connected to the light of knowledge and wisdom that is passed down from teacher to student, through space and time.

Yoga has been around for about 5000 years or more, has a vast multiplicity of practitioners and diversity of perspectives and is a continued and living tradition. It only reached Western shores around 130 years ago, and in its encounters with the West, it has dovetailed and interacted with hierarchical and supremacist values that have infiltrated and watered down what yoga is and can be. Yoga culture has been changed.

Here we name 16 characteristics of Colonial Mindset /White supremacy culture, ways it shows up in yoga culture in the West, and suggestions for Decolonizing Mindset and Healing practices.

Naming is a step towards changing and shifting towards rematriation and remediation. Just as we remediate soil and land, we return with these indigenous practices and perspectives a tradition to its own wholeness, sat-chit-ananda, truth, being, love.

It is an essential part of Svadhyaya, self inquiry, especially as we expand our sense of “Self” to include others and all beings. To bring in the essence of what is real and unreal, spoken about in the Gayatri mantra and part of the heart of yoga practice. As part of our yoga we can explore tat - what is true, and sat - what is real. This is an ongoing exploration and therefore not a complete list. We invite you to notice how the Colonial Mindset shows up in your body, mind, heart and experience and to explore remedies.

As you read through these you’ll see the 16 Qualities named. Next, I'll share some examples of how this quality manifests. Then, you’ll find Decolonizing Remedies for Healing.

Notice where these 16 qualities show up in your yoga spaces and in yourself. Then, explore the Decolonizing Remedies for healing and practice, rest, change or add more of your own.

This work is cyclical, emergent and iterative so is always growing and changing - please add to this and cite my work as an Indian woman as you share.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 1: Privileging of the Individual

  • Personal practice emphasized.

  • Cut off from so many types community: familial, ancestral, chosen, collaborative, the earth

  • White supremacy separates ALL OF US us from one another and ourselves

  • Promotes jealousy, fear, insecurity.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 1: Privileging Co-Care & the Collective

  • Sangha (spiritual community)

  • “We belong together”

  • Collective connections.

  • Care for self and others inter-exists.

  • Social interdependence (like joint and flexible families).

  • Platform, center, reconnect and rebuild social economies and integrated cultural rhythms.

  • Decolonial communities, chosen family and friends.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 2: Culture of Anxiety and Fear

  • Yoga culture is filled with competition and specialization.

  • Never enough, not good enough.

  • Imposter syndrome, Jealousy, fear, insecurity.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 2: Culture of Calm and Care

  • Lila (Divine Play)

  • “How about we try…”

  • Explore with curiosity.

  • “What might it feel like to imagine. . .”

  • Practice patience, practice collaboration

  • I am calm.

  • Care, compassion, love.

  • Fill your cup and overflow so there’s an overabundance.

  • Give to and support yourself and others.

  • Play.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 3: Power hoarding

  • Weaponizing yogic values to maintain the status quo

  • “Aren't you a yogi, why are you mad about racism, aren’t you practicing ahimsa.”

  • Spiritual bypassing.

  • “We are all one.”

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 3: Power Sharing

  • Shakti (creative life force)

  • “The power I find here is…”

  • Turning towards the mess.

  • Acknowledging and celebrating differences.

  • Practicing intersectionality.

  • Understanding the heart of yogic ethics.

  • Interrupting horizontal hostility.

  • Turning back into practice within and with the community. Joint, indigenous, multiplicity perspectives, wisdom focused.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 4: Cultural Appropriation

  • Picking and choosing elements of culture for one's own benefit without regard to the culture the practices came from.

  • OM on merchandise, Namaste as a closing, sacred objects as sales.

  • Goat yoga, wine yoga, etc.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 4: Cultural Creativity & Repair

  • Jnana (learning and knowledge)

  • “What can I/We create here…”

  • The alternative to cultural appropriation is creativity.

  • Reparations.

  • Spiritual lineage acknowledgement.

  • Cultural care.

  • Connecting with indigenous culture from inside out.

  • Repairing harm by uplifting and centering indigenous practitioners, perspectives and epistemologies (ways of knowing.)

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 5: Perfectionism

  • Focus on physical practice.

  • Attention on the static (end over process) and also in Asana.

  • Focus on form: Fullest extension . . .

  • One day you’ll get to…

  • Qualifications and certifications emphasized over indigenous knowledge and experience.

  • Yoga culture prioritizes the physical and specialization.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 5: Growth Orientation

  • Svadhyaya and brahmacharya - self inquiry and energy management

  • “I am right on time”

  • Indigenous knowledge and praxis of process and emergence.

  • If you mess up, it’s all good, it's ok, understand the process not perfection.

  • Value of “Work in progress”

  • Value indigenous knowledge systems.

  • Attuning to chance, play, intuition, ancestors.

  • Ritual and rites of passage.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 6: Duality - Either or Binary

  • Right way to do a pose.

  • Teacher / Student.

  • Enforcing Gender binaries.

  • Right wrong.

  • Hierarchies.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 6: Multiplicity

  • Ishvara Pranidhana - multiple explorations of truth

  • “There’s so many ways to express this…”

  • Infinitely right ways to explore a yoga shape.

  • Embrace multiple truths and many ways of knowing.

  • Co-learning in community.

  • Storytelling - Hear the story through to the end.

  • Infinite Gender and experience spectrum.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 7: Control

  • Colonial mind that seeks to control, oppress and dominate.

  • Control of desire.

  • Expert status - a consolidation of knowledge and power.

  • Studios or teachers that can’t tolerate diversity of teaching and practice.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 7: Surrender

  • Aparigraha - letting go

  • “You are in the right place, right here, right now.”

  • Listen deeply and hold multiple truths without needing to privilege any of them.

  • Live in a space without having to try to make sense of it

  • Have an experience and process it later.

  • Sit in messiness / discomfort. Ok to hold space with no immediate resolution. Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender)

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 8: One truth, Imposed from Outside

  • One Truth lived and enforced.

  • Narrow Ideas of reality.

  • Belief that there’s one right way to do things.

  • Colonialist agenda in what’s defined as truth, scientific and real and what isn’t.

  • Scarcity of time and resources.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 8: Multiple Truths, Inner Traditions

  • Satya - deep listening, wise knowing.

  • “You are right on time, you are enough”

  • Oral traditions.

  • Many truths.

  • Look within the culture.

  • Regenerative is decolonizing.

  • Reclaiming our time and energy to nourish a more regenerative life is part of decolonizing our mind/thinking

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 9: Weaponizing Culture. Privileging Objective, Empirical Evidence / Written over Oral

  • Privileging western ways of knowing only.

  • Demoting ancestors or tradition.

  • Calling Ayurvedic science or energy anatomy like chakras “magic” or “superstition.”

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 9: Oral Traditions Valued

  • Ahimsa - Cultural care

  • Celebrating / Being ok with different ways of knowing.

  • Valuing and listening to Aunties, uncles, niblings, elders.

  • Intuition and synchronicity celebrated.

  • Valuing Ancestors Oral tradition & written word.

  • Letting go of needing to have all the answers.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 10: Yoga - and You as Teacher - as Product

Transactional and rigid

  • Playing a role, ie. “yoga practitioner” or “yoga teacher”

  • Yoga pants, Props, blocks, blankets, straps, mat.

  • Must sell yourself.

  • Value in what you produce, sell, consume.

  • Earn people’s approval.

  • Praise or disdain.

  • Individualized.

  • Exploitative.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 10: Yoga as a Process not Product

  • Asteya - Valuing experience

  • Yoga as a way of being - a philosophy and way of life.

  • All choices lead to more separation or more unity.

  • Restore agency.

  • Indigenous sovereignty.

  • Emergent, collectivist structures, unions.

  • Relax, you are valuable beyond your production or consumption. Just being.

  • Focus shifted to process not product.

  • Hold and be in community.

  • Deep listening.

  • Regarding everyone as valuable, whether they are “friend, enemy, stranger, teacher etc” METTA - the honest well wisher, friends and enemies,

  • Aparigraha - detach from roles. You are more than just what you produce or do for others, or for yourself.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 11: Never Enough; Always Lacking; Quantity over Quality

  • Numbers make a big difference in defining what “success” or a “good” teacher is: number of people in a class, number of trainings you do as a student or a teacher.

  • Self Blame.

  • Endless Striving.

  • Toxic agreements, attachments and relationships such as exploitative yoga studio dynamics of power.

  • Studio Seva as an exploitative expectation rather than a gift.

  • Savior syndrome.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 11: Quality Over Quantity

  • Saucha and Santosha - focus and joy

  • Explore connecting and serving those who are right in front of you.

  • Win-Win-Win outcomes

  • Non Zero Sum Games.

  • “Whenever you conceptualize social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around who you are struggling as equal partners.” - Angela Davis

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 12: Lack of Forgiveness

Cancel Culture

  • EX: When BIPOC colleagues get “cancelled” it's so much harder for them to “recover” than when it's someone living a normative experience and how they can bounce back and not have their whole lives destroyed. Like we are held to a much harder and incontrovertible standard.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 12: Forgiveness and Self compassion

  • Metta bhavana - love and care.

  • “I am doing enough”

  • Self forgiveness.

  • Self acknowledgement and appreciation.

  • Compassion for others.

  • While holding space for accountability for self and others

  • Not lose sight of the humanity of oppressors even as we fight for our own victory.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 13: Suppression of Trauma/ Emotion

  • Performative work expectations.

  • Toxic positivity.

  • Good vibes only

  • Have to perform, be on, keep it together.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 13: Embracing Whole Beings / Emotions

  • Svadhyaya - self honesty

  • “I am enough just as I am” Wholeness space for self care and sustenance.

  • Boundaries.

  • Breathe and pause.

  • Community Grieving and catharsis.

  • Space to embrace wholeness, messy, emotion, anger, sadness, fear, grief.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 14: Devaluation and Destruction of Nature

  • Production has primacy.

  • Characteristics of Western yoga spaces/ culture: highly produced, cold, quiet, clean bare.

  • Bodies perform as machines.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 14: Synthesis with Nature

  • Ishvara Pranidhana - interbeing with natural world

  • Silence.

  • Connection with nature.

  • Reverent, connected and integrated with nature.

  • Gratitude.

  • Art.

  • Cyclical nature of time and healing.

  • Reclaiming our time and energy to nourish a more regenerative life is part of decolonizing.

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 15: Normative Bodies, Experiences Centered

  • Everything represented in media in yoga in West:

  • White.

  • Skinny.

  • Flexible.

  • Cisgender.

  • Heteronormative.

  • Neurotypical.

  • Ads, copy, covers, clothes etc.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 15: Diverse Bodies and Experiences

  • Tapas - exploring all experiences

  • “I belong”

  • Embracing, centering and privileging diverse experiences.

  • Center bodies of culture and color.

  • BIPOC experience.

  • All body experiences.

  • All ages.

  • Queer, Trans.

  • Neurodivergent.

  • Move from disorientation → reorientation → integration → celebration!

Colonial Mindset / White Supremacy In Yoga

Quality 16: Colonial Dominance Privileging Western ways of Knowing / Colonial Mindset

  • Sees non Western thought as superstition and religion rather than philosophy or ethics.

  • Defines what is normal and desired.

  • Serious westernized oppression and trauma.

  • Harms all - medical trauma etc.

Healing Mindset / Decolonizing Remedies

Remedy 16: Decolonized Mindset

  • Vichara and Viveka - Thinking critically and discerning putting aside colonial mindset.

  • Trauma transforming - discharge.

  • Take off the colonized and colonizer hat - live in this space without having to try to make sense of it - have an experience and process it later.

  • Work continually to embody yoga ethics and to decolonize.

Exploring these qualities and their remedies can lead us towards yoga as unity.

  • What qualities, ways they show up, or remedies do you experience?

  • How are you feeling and being as you explore this work?

A little bit of background on this work and its emergence.

This thinking and work emerges in a collective context of social justice and social change happening in a subsection of the yoga community. In 2018-2021, a collaborative group of educators in Yoga and Social Justice who have come together under the umbrella of Ignite Institute for Yogic Leadership and Social Change* The goal is to run equity-based educational training to help yoga practitioners cultivate a yogic mindset to become yoga leaders embodying yoga and acting for social change. As we did this work, we saw how colonial mindset and white supremacy culture is the context we move and swim in within yoga spaces in the West. We utilized many resources such as Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture, and my own first book Embrace Yoga’s Roots as frameworks. These framework were helpful and we also saw specific manifestations of impact in yoga culture itself where more refinement in naming the problems and their antidotes is highly needed.

We were able to see how in a yoga context, forces of colonization dovetailed with White Supremacy Culture and interacted in different ways. As many of us were living, teaching, practicing and exploring from underestimated as well as privileged ally and accomplice. We continued the complex work of unraveling systems of oppression, noting where they show up, and doing our best to name things as we saw them. We also engage in the culture building process of exploring and iterating antidotes. As part of the work engaged over a decade with Embrace Yoga’s Roots we’ve developed an analysis of Colonial Mindset as well as Decolonizing / Healing Antidotes.

As we are exploring some challenging topics I also want to offer you tools from within the practice for sustenance and support as this exploration can be triggering. Colonial harm impacts us for generations.

Please resource yourself through this exploration in ways that support you. As you explore the 16 Characteristics of Colonization and White Supremacy in Yoga, as well as trauma informed and healing centered resources. I also recommend using the Resources from the free chapter in my book, Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice, to offer some healing centered practices from the yoga tradition that support resourcing ourselves, discharge and healing as we face and acknowledge harm and oppression and work to decolonize yoga. I’ve been so nourished by, loving and appreciating using the decolonizing remedies for healing.

Know this work is always growing and changing and is a work in process.

Please decolonize by citing Indian writers, sources and quote me if you use this work. You'll find infographics and other representations of this work on my instagram here - where I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga unity activist, writer, and founder of Ignite Institute for Yogic Leadership and Social Change. When she's not teaching disruptive yoga teacher trainings, she can be found hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, playing with her son, partner and rescue puppy Harmony or practicing Ayurvedic remedies for rest and revolution.

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