The Weather

Culturally Responsible Yoga

It’s such a beautiful morning to be gathered together in community for what has previously been known as Intermediate Vinyasa Yoga. Just a quick note this morning: We’ve received some helpful critical feedback from the comment box out front that our practice may, at times, be “culturally appropriating.” Apparently, yoga is an integral part of a sacred holy Hindu tradition, and by primarily calling it the most awesome thing that can happen to your core, we have been insensitive. We wanted to be responsive to that feedback, so we have changed some things about this class in order to be more culturally tactful and cognizant of our white privilege. That last part does not apply to you, Martha. You are clearly an African American person. We actually talked about you, specifically, at the staff meeting. After a short debate, however, we decided that your regular presence in this class was not quite enough to keep us from making these changes.

The first change we’re implementing is to the title of the class. Rather than Intermediate Vinyasa Yoga, we’ll be referring to this hour as Bending For People Under 35. You’ll find that the rest of the class is largely the same—we’ve just exchanged Eastern cultural references and traditions for some of our own distinctly American ones. Shall we begin?

We’ll start with a few sun salutations. Breathe in. Reach up toward the sun. Breathe out. Now move furtively to someone else’s mat. Good. Once you’ve gotten there, you’re going to want to try to claim their mat as your own. You might start by persuading the mat owner to give you their mat using your words, but when that inevitably doesn’t work, use brute force. That’s great.Ned, I love the way you seem to be pantomiming a smallpox epidemic with your own mat in order to take over Sheila’s mat. It’s clearly working. Sheila, let’s keep it together, OK? Breathe out. Very nice. Let’s do another one just like that. Breathe in, and up toward the sun, and out, and try to find a person who is weaker than you are and again, conquer their mat. That’s very nice. Ned, you’re a natural. It’s always a good idea to bring religion into it! You’ve made Sheila cry. Great. OK, let’s come back.

We’re going to move into some downward dogs. This might be a little tricky, as it’s going to be different for each of you, but bear with me. On an in-breath, I want you to move on to your knees. On an out breath, you’re going to imitate the type of dog you are most likely to adopt from a shelter, after feeling particularly guilty about your privilege. So, just as an example, if you’re a lesbian in a committed relationship, you’re going to imitate a pit bull mix with some kind of brain injury; if you’re a lesbian looking for love, you’re going to go with a male boxer; and if your identity is primarily tied up with whatever sorority you used to belong to— that’s roughly 90 percent of you in here—you’re going to pretend to be one of those shivery, ratlike dogs with a head like a whiffle ball with two kumquat-shaped eyes bulging out of its face. Ned, you be a mastiff. Martha, you don’t have to do this one. OK, everyone looks like they’re basically there. Breathe in, and back leg up; breath out, and sniff a neighbor; breathe in, and back leg down. Beautiful.

Everyone take a few breaths and thank yourself for being here today. Sunshine, our intern, is going to come around with some McDonald’s French fries and bottled waters. Go ahead and devour those. Don’t reuse the water bottle, or comment on how we have a water fountain just over there. Just drink it all. Then throw the empty water bottle wherever you please. Everyone, look how Ned is demanding he get melted cheese with his French fries! I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Ned, it’s just sometimes it’s helpful for people to see what the pose looks like when it’s at its most advanced stage.

Great. Now let’s come to the tops of our mats. Take a seated position, and then go ahead and spend some time just looking at yourself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. If you feel comfortable there, you might want to push yourself and come up with some things about your body you don’t like and passive-aggressively tell someone around you. If you’re a woman, you may want to also apologize a lot while you’re doing this. Of course, that’s an upper-level variation, and it shouldn’t be tried without lots of practice. Only do what makes you feel comfortable, even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

For our final cool down, you have a few options. You can either watch a Wes Anderson movie, ask the intern Sunshine if there are any fries left, or touch Martha’s hair without asking. Whichever cool down you pick, make sure you’re breathing. You’ve given yourself a beautiful gift by being here today. Before you leave, be sure to ask yourself if you got a gift receipt to go with it.

Sophie Johnson is the editor-in-chief of the humor/nonfiction magazine Neutrons/Protons, and has been published in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Hairpin, Rookie Magazine, The Nation, and plenty more.