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I really connected with Jessamyn as I have had Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) my entire life and I spent several years living in the same area as Jessamyn though several years before her. In college., I was called out by white classmates for spending so much time with some classmates they deemed as “those.” I never realized that I was gravitating towards students of color (probably because I was one of the very few married students on campus). Raised in an all white community, this was my first real experience of racism. It made me very self-conscious.
I grew up in the 1960s where the emphasis on appearance and being “normal” and socially homogenized was very strong. We had Twiggy, every commercial on TV was drenched in capitalism and affluence. Yoga was a spiritual movement then; but, as American capitalism monetized Yoga it lost its spiritual underpinnings. Much like the martial arts. In the 1960s martial arts was spiritual and you honored your style, teacher, and classmates. Tournaments and popularization of action films featuring martial artists like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee Americanized and Capitalized the spirituality away from martial arts. The cultural revolution in China didn’t help either. They stripped the spirituality away from Tai Chi through forcing a government approved short form that was the only approved Tai Chi form for many years. Meditation has also gone through this Americanization. TCM, Zen, Gestalt….even Yoga all monetized and sanitized. Yoga was something you needed to have money to access. You must have a teacher or you will injure yourself. You need the right mat and the right clothes. My body wasn’t ever going to fit in a yoga classroom. But, the teachers came to me. I was introduced to Thoreau, Emerson, Gandhi, Thích Nhất Hạnh, Rudolf Steiner, Lao Tsu, Jou Tsung Hwa, Sharon Salzberg, Master Lin… I practiced alone; but, craved community. I still crave community. I have found online communities; but, it just isn’t the same. I get a sense that Jessamyn is lonely too. She has stepped up and stepped out past her limitations and she does mention past friendships in the book. I’m contemplating whether Yoga can really be transformed in the US.
Brings me to the question often discussed in the National Qigong Association: Why is Yoga so popular and Qigong is relatively unknown? How do we spread Qigong practice without falling prey to Capitalism & Americanization? How can we maintain the spiritual aspects that are integral to Qigong in the US? When obtaining a space for a practice group, I had to convince the insurance companies that it isn’t Yoga and people do not get injured doing Qigong. The rates for a Yoga class are ridiculous. At the same time I had to convince the public that it was like Yoga but more accessible. I had to polish my elevator pitch but always had to include Yoga or field questions about Yoga.
I believe we do need to honor and make some return to our teachers, masters, schools, etc. Yet, I am committed to Qigong for all. I personally have experienced some rather exclusionary attitudes in SFQ. Beyond FOMO, I feel excluded by my chosen financial abilities; I have chosen to live on retirement so I can care for my daughters & elderly mother. That means I can’t take all the classes, workshops, certifications, etc. I have even been told that if I don’t get certified or take a level from Master Lin or whoever that person feels is best then I shouldn’t be leading or teaching. It hurts. Energy in Motion is inclusionary and healing. I treasure the community. Sadly, there are few Yoga communities that aren’t tied to $$$.
Jessamyn’s chapter on Music was also very interesting. I really liked how she emphasized we need a personal connection to the music and words. My Qigong playlist includes bagpipes, shape note singing, and pop music as well as sound bowls and chanting. Though I now practice the 6 word chant, I still occasionally chant the first Chinese chant I learned. Translated: Know Yourself, Do Your Best, Make a Little Progress Everyday, Don’t Overdo it.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book I listened to it several times. I even read her first book Everybody Yoga which give alot of food for thought too. BDD is still alive and well; but, I’m old enough to not longer care what anyone else thinks. The American medical community doesn’t see beyond weight or color. People of color & size are not given the same care. I hope that Jessamyn’s audience grows and helps normalize her Yoga.