Thoughtful scholars have critiqued western yoga as a continuation of the process of colonization, upholding White supremacy and capitalism through a host of violent practices (Page). Yoga in the West has become synonymous with the predominantly White, cis-gendered, upper middle-class, able-bodied women who teach and practice asana in corporate studios in urban areas (Kaushik-Brown). However, although the settler-colonial project is a powerful one, we know that it is not complete; it is one that we can further and/or resist.
As Black yoga teachers in the US, one way that we can impede the settler-colonial project is by engaging in resistance of state violence through yoga. One such practice is Yoga for Black Lives (YBL), a series of yoga classes in which the foci are Black people who experience diminished life chances because of the violence of the settler-colonial state (violence of the criminal legal system/police violence, poor infrastructure that furthers environmental harm, negligent/impoverished public education, etc.). The YBL classes are taught in schools, community centers, theaters and small, independent yoga studios. They are led by Black teachers and feature theming, meditation and discussion around state violence broadly, and Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of the state specifically. Classes have been donation-based: space is donated, the teaching labor is donated, and all monetary donations from students go to activist organizations resisting violence against Black people.
While the classes are attended mostly by people of color, White people are not excluded. Over the course of the first year of the Yoga for Black Lives sessions, White studio owners have donated space, White teachers have asked if they could teach YBL classes, and White students have practiced in the space. But how should we understand yoga practices like this, ones that seek to further social justice broadly, and resist state violence specifically, in terms of settler colonialism and its afterlife? What are the various roles of White people, Black people and nBlack people of color in the yoga space? Are practices like these effective in securing resources for resistance? And resistance of what kind? Might a practice such as this one be furthering settler colonialism, even as it resists state violence (Nichols)?
This chapter will address these questions through the lenses of critical race theory (Harris), decolonization (Tuck & Yang), and anti-Blackness (King). It will suggest ways forward for yoga practitioners of color considering the opportunities and challenges presented by inclusionary and exclusive yoga spaces, and for those who co-resist and co-struggle through the practice of yoga.