I did not know what to expect at the 3rd annual National Kids Yoga Conference. The past two years, I was not in attendance because I had a nursling. This year, I was excited to finally meet many colleagues from across the nation and beyond. As expected, the face to face meetings were inspiring, heart-warming and soulful. Many of the keynote addresses and workshops were enriching and supportive. The standout moments for me, though, came from a particular workshop called, “Keeping it Real: Yoga Work with Communities of Color,” facilitated by Keval Kaur Khalsa, Sherita Young and Kenneth Strickland.
To open the workshop, Keval led us in the traditional Kundalini Tune In Mantra, Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo. What followed was anything but traditional, at least in an American yoga class. Sherita invoked a Zulu ceremonial greeting, guiding each participant to state:
“Sikhona, my name is (Abby). I am here to be seen.”
The group replied in unison, “Sawubona, I see you.”
What may seem simple on the surface was actually a brilliant and courageous teaching. Sherita beautifully held space for us to step out of our comfort zone, using unfamiliar words and entering the vulnerability of ‘being seen.’ Further, she modeled the art of ‘seeing.’ Sherita’s presence with each member of the circle was profound. Perhaps this teaching alone is the foundation of working with communities of color. In a culture where many yoga teachers are hyper aware of being the one ‘seen,’ Sherita embodied the role of the ‘seer,’ equalizing the value of each participant.
In another effort to foster voice equity, Kenneth asked participants to write one word on a group mural to describe our intentions for the workshop, and the work that we do. As he read and briefly commented on our contributions, he gracefully kneaded in critical consciousness where needed. Indeed, the hallmarks of these three teachers skill and mastery lives in their ability to see, hear and respond with respect, free of judgement.
I’ve been involved in many academic and informal learning experiences around social justice and equity. Not many of them would honestly bear the description of “graceful.” In fact, the emotional climate in social justice education is generally, and understandably, tense, with people ready to ‘call out’ ignorance and ‘school’ each other. While those types of experiences certainly have their place in the scheme of awakening people’s minds to injustice, what happened in the workshop with Keval, Sherita and Kenneth was heart awakening. The intersection of Kundalini yoga, Zulu wisdom and critical consciousness was profound and salve-like to our collective struggle for peace and justice.
Surrounded by Wisdom and Truth
The walls of the room were adorned by the words of great activists and teachers, statistics on racial profiling and disproportionate imprisonment, as well as facts on segregation and Jim Crow.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” MLK Jr.
“When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.” bell hooks
“Black pre-schoolers are far more likely to be suspended than white children, NPR reported. Black children make up 18 percent of the pre-school population, but represent almost half of all out-of-school suspensions.”
Practice for Presence
Keval led a rigorous Kriya, bringing home the teaching to keep up daily practice as the foundation for being present as a teacher. Again, the meeting place of yoga practice and social justice dialogue sparked deep resonance for participants who continued to enter more vulnerable states, letting veils drop; all in an expertly supported environment. This dance led to us all to a final circle where we were invited to share feedback on our experience. Hearing people share significant shifts in thinking, after less that 90 minutes of programming, brought solid hope on the power of yoga to transform our experience, both personally and globally.
The workshop ended with everyone in circle, joining palms with our sisters and brothers to our right and left. Breathing, feeling, connecting, affirming, grieving; we experienced a brief, rare, authentic moment of reconciliation. The moment was real because it was not in our heads, it didn’t live in the words we were saying, it was firmly situated in our hearts. The moment was undeniable.
The teachings continue to resonate. Reconciliation does not happen in the space of governments and policies. Reconciliation is an act of the heart. Yoga practice fortifies us to step into the bravery and courage to listen to other people’s life experiences, beyond our egoic identities. As more yoga teachers are awakening to the work of nurturing equity in our classrooms, we are contributing to a wave of healing that is stronger than the hatred covered daily by mainstream media. Quietly, gracefully, authentically, people are establishing relationships based on mutuality and respect of diversity. Bravo and gratitude to the organizers of the National Kids Yoga Conference for creating a space for this to happen in the yoga field. #realyogateachers
To learn more about Keval, Sherita and Kenneth’s work, visit Y.O.G.A. for Youth NC www.yogaforyouth.org