I am a member of a Facebook group dedicated to black women who practice yoga. A community space in which we get to share our collectively unique thoughts, opinions and experiences of our demographic living in a society that primarily markets this South Asian practice to thin white women. And while our cultural experiences are similar, it’s is a mixed bag of personalities.
Obvious from the posts and comments, we do not agree on everything and, naturally, are on different spiritual paths and/or parts of our paths. A woman shared a photo from Yoga Journal that depicted Pasasana which is translated as Noose Pose. Anyone familiar with Black American history knows that the sheer sight of a noose or sound of the term can be quite triggering. Heavily affiliated with the terrorist practice of lynching, nooses tend to be perceived as quite negative by the Black community, even in a neutral context. I am no different.
When I initially came across the pose, I felt triggered. I immediately asked myself, “What the hell is this?!” My feels jumped suddenly into anxiety mode as the images in my brain teleported me to the days of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ youth and my mind flooded with the countless images of “picnics” black people strung up on trees amidst a crowd of smiling white folks. But then, my yogi skills kicked it. I stilled myself long enough to breath and gander at the posed question: “Did ya’ll know there is a yoga pose called noose pose? What is your immediate reaction when hearing that? How would you feel if a teacher used that word to describe this pose in a class? I’ve attached a photo of the pose for reference.” And just like the group itself, the answers were mixed.
A few responses were, “Should definitely update the name. It is insensitive.”, “Folks just make up poses and put asana at the end …pass.”, and “I completely agree that using the name is not mindful of trauma informed teaching.”. Others were more like, “…No, it’s never triggered me as I’ve always been taught the Sanskrit names …”, and “I personally wouldn’t care. To me thats like being offended at the word cotton.” This was my response:
“As yoga is a practice that reveals ourselves to us, I think triggers like this (while not [likely] the original intent for the pose) are meant to guide us into diving into those traumas so we can heal and learn to experience things as they actually are in the context they come.
I’d be mindful of the audience and my approach but I wouln’t let my trauma of black history stop me from teaching it ever. I see a way it can be done significantly and purposefully. So long as I could tell the instructor was on a similar page, I could respect it being taught in a class I was taking.”
To elaborate, I would likely implement my personally understanding of these negative feelings into a very specific type of class geared towards this trauma in the Black community. Even in my own practice, I can imagine the nooses that hung our ancestors from trees like strange fruit; swinging and burning in the wind. Then I imagine myself as that noose but hugging them lovingly and holding up their spiritual bodies. Not burning, but the memory of them being carried in my being in strength and courage. Understanding that they are forever with me in my work as a yogi – internally and externally.
I truly believe in the stance that I posed wholeheartedly. I’m sure that my view will not be accepted by everyone but it is my truth and I’d like to hope that anyone attracted to a class of mine will be receptive or at least neutral. It is, also, my hope that all yoga teachers – while practicing mindfulness and sensitivity – will not shy away from challenging their students and themselves to address their pains as much as they support their peace. In fact, I see these focuses as going hand-in-hand.