334: Many Shades of Brown in Yoga with Anjali Rao

Conversations around race and identity in yoga, especially South Asian identities and the experience of South Asians in the West, tend to be uncomfortable. However, it is still important to give voice to the South Asian experience in yoga and to also talk about how yoga has been shaped by colonialism, capitalism, and the Western interpretation of yoga as well as caste, religion, and race. Anjali Rao shares her insights about her experience of being brown in modern yoga.

Anjali is a South Asian yoga educator and practitioner who explores histories obscured by patriarchal and colonial narratives. She integrates yoga history and philosophy with storytelling, imagery, and poetry.

Anjali highlights that our identity is composed of different parts, which is why it’s important for discussions on this topic to be nuanced. She also emphasizes that South Asians are not a monolith and that our lived experience is influenced by our different identities. Anjali provides a summary of the history of yoga and provides her perspective on how we can embody ahimsa, what social justice has to do with yoga, and much more.

Key Takeaways:

[6:03] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Anjali Rao.

[10:17] What is the work that Anjali does and who does she do it for?

“I think the nuances of who we are are lost in the dominant narrative of yoga.” ~ Anjali Rao

[12:41] What are yoga teachers missing in the story of how yoga got to be where it is now?

[18:23] What is Anjali’s response to people who try to counter bringing attention to our different identities by saying that we are all humans walking this earth and we are all yoga teachers?

“We don’t have to shout out in that sense, but we have to know who we are and come from that space of self-awareness and discernment.” ~ Anjali Rao

[20:59] What makes being a brown yoga teacher so difficult and complex right now?

[25:36] Anjali shares her perspective on why it’s okay to say “namaste” at the end of a yoga class.

[28:02] Shannon pops in to share a short anecdote of how OfferingTree has helped her to schedule guests on the podcast.

“We’re all human beings, but we have completely lived different lived experiences.” ~ Anjali Rao

[30:09] How can yoga teachers start doing the work so that they are not simply doing certain actions as a token gesture but rather going deeper than that?

[36:14] Anjali shares a brief summary of the history of yoga.

[42:34] How did yoga end up in the West in the way that it is shared today? Anjali talks a little about colonialism and the other factors that led to shaping the practice of yoga in the West.

“We are really not tapping into the potential of yoga, not only for ourselves, but for really creating a community of compassionate, courageous people who can speak against harmful oppressive systems.” ~ Anjali Rao

[49:16] Shannon and Anjali discuss how we have lost a lot of the essence of yoga in our modern yoga studios.

[52:50] What are some baby steps people can take to do this work of liberation and opposing harmful systems?

“There is so much potential in yoga as a practice of liberation, not only for the self, but for the collective.” ~ Anjali Rao

[57:54] Anjali invites us to start normalizing saying we don’t know something or that we made a mistake.

[60:08] Learn more from Anjali via her podcast.

[62:37] Shannon shares her biggest takeaways from this conversation.


Gratitude to our Sponsors:

OfferingTree all-in-one software

Pelvic Health Professionals