The Decolonial Parent

a continuous work in progress

woman in black leggings unrolling a yoga mat

my yoga journey doesn’t fit onto instagram

And I would do it all exactly the same again.

When I started doing yoga, I lived in a low-income neighbourhood almost identical to the one I was born and raised in. I worked as a freelance community worker, was either dancing or rock-climbing every single day, and coached a local U-14s boys football team. I viewed yoga as interchangeable with Pilates as a tool to prevent injury in dancers, as a way to improve my balance and isometric strength for climbing, and as a useful toolkit of new stretches for my football team. I had no idea that it would ever become anything to me beyond the physical, nor was I really receptive to the idea that it might be.

I’d been tentatively curious about yoga for years, and had tried a few yoga classes (at the college rec centre and a couple of gyms) but always felt profoundly uncomfortable the moment I stepped into the room. I’d never owned a yoga mat, and didn’t know what a child’s pose was. I balked at the idea of putting my face anywhere near a mat that someone else’s feet had sweated on, wasn’t comfortable sitting or lying still with my eyes closed for any length of time, and there was no way in hell I was chanting Om.

So when one of my friends asked if I’d try out this new yoga class she’d heard about, I was a tough sell. I promised I’d try one class.

In that one class, I found something. There was still sitting still and communal mat-sharing, but there was also a yoga teacher who knew what it was like coming to yoga as an inner city young person with an athletic background and a metric ton of emotional and spiritual baggage, who did something no other yoga teacher ever had. He met me where I was. He didn’t pressure me into any spiritual or esoteric practice, didn’t make us close our eyes in savasana, and didn’t Namaste at the end of class. I was back the following week, and brought another friend.

It was the furthest thing possible from a boutique studio with glowing reviews, fruit water, a waitlist, and merch store. And it was exactly what I needed.

Classes were pay-what-you-can, which meant that the people who attended the classes brought friends to try out their first yoga class too, came even when they didn’t have money to pay for the class, and reflected the community I lived in. Classes weren’t even at the rec centre or the gym, where you needed a membership to attend: once a week, we were in a meeting room in a community centre, another day per week was hosted in the rec room of the local fire station. My buddies and I bought neon green PVC mats for £4 each from the supermarket around the corner, marked down in a forgotten home exercise corner.

In the 10 years since, I’ve attended a lot of yoga classes with a lot of different instructors. I’ve been to classes in a range of yoga modalities. I’ve attended classes in studios, in gyms, outdoor classes, stoner classes. I know the Sanskrit names for my favourite asanas, and why they challenge and balance and strengthen me. I’ve learned to meditate, to pranayama, made my peace with chanting, and found my bandhas.

I haven’t had a-ha moments, so much as a gentle softening and opening through regular yoga practice. I’ve become more reflective and more accepting, more willing to take chances and be let down by myself and others.

I’ve learned that the journey matters more than the destination, that there can be many names for the same thing and one name can mean many things, and the Bhagavad Gita teaches we should all be community organizers (I’m not even half joking). But the number one lesson I’ve learned from yoga is that the only constant is change. This alone has had profound effects on my life, among them:

  • If I’m not the same person from day to day, how can I assume I know anything about the rest of the world? Least of all other people, who are all going through transformations of their own.
  • Progress is non-linear: some days I’m flexible, some days I’m tight, some days it’s just my shoulders that are tight, on other days it’s everything. It’s ok to be inconsistent, but if I’m gonna accept it from myself then I need to accept it from others, too.
  • With consistency, we can celebrate small victories; but first, we have to notice them. I give myself credit where it’s due, and I can practice noticing my own victories by helping others notice theirs, too.

I have learned to bend and flow, to be flexible in body, mind, and spirit, in ways that I couldn’t ever have imagined. Not that I’ve become a pushover, but I’ve gotten much better at picking my battles.

Yoga has affirmed and strengthened my resolve to justice and equity, and refined my patience and diligence to follow through on strategic decisions. I’ve confronted several of my many demons, made peace with my anger and frustration, and found a path through life when it felt there were only barriers in my way.

A decade later, I’m completing my RYT-200 as we speak. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me back then, but with hindsight the timing has always been perfect.