On April 22, 2016, the Race and Yoga working group hosted its third conference “Yoga Justice/Yoga Violence.” Building on the success of our previous gatherings, we decided to interrogate yoga as a healing modality, form of social justice activism, and site of violence simultaneously. Responding to previous attendee feedback, we included somatic practice (physical movement, breathing, meditation) this year. We received an overwhelming response to our call for papers. The conference organizing committee (Tria Blu Wakpa, Sabrina Strings, Jennifer Musial) adjudicated 40 abstracts submitted by scholar-practitioners domestically and internationally (ie. Australia, Italy, and Canada). We selected 10 presenters to complement an opening and closing keynote. Attendee interest was exceptional too: we sold out conference tickets within 2 weeks based on the strength of social media word-of-mouth.
“Yoga Justice/Yoga Violence” (live-tweeted with #raceandyoga) opened with a keynote by Kimber Simpkins, a Bay-area yoga teacher. Using personal experience and informal interviews, Simpkins outlined Queer Yoga as countering heteronormativity by creating an environment where queer people and queered bodies can be seen and feel less othered while (re)inhabiting a home within. The next panel “Yoga for Profit and Sport” featured talks by Darshini Shah, who spoke to the exclusionary nature of Yoga Alliance for teachers in the Global South, and Ryan Laws, who problematized competitive yoga. Then, Misia Denea (Oakland-area teacher) led us through a practice of body positive yoga attentive to people of color. After lunch, Susanna Barkataki facilitated mindfulness exercises and small-group discussion on how to create ideal yoga spaces we envision for our communities. Then, “The ‘Authentic’ Body Politic” introduced panelists who addressed quotidian racial and colonial violence. Anusha Kedhar presented on the Hindu nationalist use of yoga to forward Islamophobia in India. Shaira Vadasaraj complicated yoga classes offered in Palestine. Lakshmi Nair shared “From Root to Fruit”, a video produced at her Denver studio (available on YouTube) with yogi/nis of color using the Chakra system to heal from racial and colonial violence. Finally, Sri Louise critiqued the globalization of Deva Premal’s famous recording of the Gayatri mantra. The day concluded with a keynote from Roopa Kaushik-Brown, who founded South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA). Kaushik-Brown highlighted the “propertization of yoga” evidenced by the exponential rise of yoga-related patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and asked us to consider the connections between yoga and racialized capital.
Race and Yoga looks to the future after the overwhelming success of our third conference. We are exploring the idea of multiple, localized events in 2017 as opposed to a day-long conference. We are readying Race and Yoga journal for its inaugural issue (the first essay is available now) and we continue to curate a robust Facebook page. Our next journal Call for Papers will be out by the end of the year. We heartily thank the Center for Race and Gender for their continued support as well as Makhapo Blu Wakpa for helping out and taking photographs of the event. Please visit raceandyoga.com for more information.