Have you ever felt afraid to stand in the spotlight and speak up for what you believe in?
In 2019, I almost quit speaking up for what mattered most to me. It was shortly after the first Honor, Don’t Appropriate, Yoga Summit that I hosted.
After the summit, I started receiving messages from some folks, saying that I wasn’t qualified and didn’t know what I was talking about. Someone accused me of stealing their ideas even though I’d been speaking on the same topics for a while too!
The critiques felt so personal and so mean, that they sent me into a spiral of doubts.
Which in some ways is good… I think it's good to take in feedback and question ourselves. But this went way too far. For awhile I was in full nervous system overload – I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, was full of anxiety.
I’m the kind of person who takes critique seriously – I always look at "what in this is true?". But it was hard to stay centered when I was feeling personally attacked. I was being called out in a way that completely misunderstood what I was doing or who I was. As you can imagine, I felt some big emotions: angry, sad, scared, confused. I thought “am I wrong?” “should I stop?”. I considered canceling my plans to host another summit.
What can we do in these moments of intense activation/triggers?
We stick to our values.
We come back to our theory of change.
We return to our yoga practice.
We connect with supportive community.
Thanks to my yoga practice, I was able to return to balance.
I realized I needed to take care of myself first and balance my systems – sleeping, eating, breathing – basics. One step after another. My yoga practices gave me inner strength.
The issue was complex.
My critics were saying that yoga is Hindu, and therefore to support yoga’s roots, I should be advocating for Indian representation in yoga only – I shouldn’t be supporting BIPOC people who aren’t South Asian.
I took some time to surround myself in sangha. I’m thankful to have community that asked me deep, reflective questions and challenging questions to help me really unpack the issue and clarify where I stood.
Ultimately, I realized that I'm not willing to unseat black folks from their feeling of at-homeness in yoga to make these Indian critics more comfortable. I realized that if anti-blackness is the hill that I go down on, then I'm okay with that.
I chose to stand my ground.
What I’ve learned is that anytime we're succeeding or taking up space, there's critique. Whether you’re online, in person or both, there will be detractors when you step into leadership. And when people are committed to misunderstanding you and bringing you down, the facts don't matter.
Even if you're speaking about great ideas that are of great service to your community, there will be people who don't agree, don't like you, don't like what you're doing, or don’t like the way you're doing it. They will criticize you, disagree or misunderstand what you're doing.
I think fear of critique is the reason why many people don't step into leadership or stand up for change – do you agree?
The real question for those of us devoted to social justice is:
What are the values that you believe in so much that you're willing to experience personal sacrifice or critique, to get your message out into the world?
At this point, I’m grateful for my experience because it helped me to clarify my values. Yes, we need to honor the roots of the practice, but that doesn't mean that yoga needs to be so tied to tradition that it can't be used to uplift those with non-Hindu identities. We must critique tradition where it furthers oppression. We must look at systems of power and oppression so we can orient our yoga to be the most useful for creating liberation.
So now you know why I almost quit speaking up about what I believe in, and how yoga, and sangha, brought me through…
Now it’s your turn… What is your mission?
What is your mission? What is your cause? What do you care about so much that you’ll do the uncomfortable (and sometimes painful) work of facing critique?
I have a feeling that you’re here in my community for a reason – there’s a purpose that draws you to yoga.
What is that purpose? What is your passion?
I’d love to hear your story.
I’d genuinely like to know: What is your mission? What cause(s) do you most care about? If you’re willing to take the time, send me an email at email@example.com and let me know your answer!
I truly want to hear from you. We’re in this together and I want to know what you care about most… so if this blog got you thinking about the causes that matter to you, go ahead: send me an email and share what you’re most passionate about.
And remember that yoga is here to nourish you and empower your personal and social change.