A Space for Belonging within Geography

I have been studying Iyengar yoga for a couple of years and I am interested in becoming a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher(CIYT) so I can share the mental and physical health benefits of Iyengar yoga to others. Thanks to a scholarship I received through my regional Iyengar yoga association(IYASE) I was able to attend an Iyengar yoga teacher training this past weekend for the Introductory and Intermediate Junior certifications. I really enjoyed what I learned, my fellow classmates, and the teacher who conducted the training. The path to becoming a CIYT is long and will probably be as intense as pursing my PhD(the Iyengar yoga teacher assessment has their own version of  written and oral comps!) but I am ready to embark on the journey. Even though I was probably the youngest one there(Iyengar yoga tends to attract an older demographic), I did not feel out of place and I was able to actively engage with everyone during the training. How was this the case? I felt that this active engagement in talking about the subject matter in an intelligent way allowed us to rise above the preconceptions of various things not only in how we engage in our practice and teaching, but how we engage with each other. While I am no yoga philosophy buff, I feel that this touches on the concept of transcending avidya (ignorance) which tends to cloud our judgement and prevent us from seeing our true selves and others.

Since the training, I have been reflecting on my experience during the training, yoga philosophy, and being a person of color in my discipline.

It is interesting how a sense of belonging can vary through the spaces and places we occupy, even if they are both homogeneous. I am currently  pursuing a PhD in geography, which is rather homogeneous in terms of race.  However a big area of interest within the discipline is to research issues around race. While one would think that such an emphasis on studying race would lead to a more inclusive environment, this is not necessarily the case. The fact that the discipline is homogeneous can lead to a large amount of avidya regarding race(what some geographers such as Laura Pulido(2002) refers to as “lack of critical mass” or what Minelle  Mahtani(2014) refers to as “toxic geographies”) and to be honest, some of the comments I hear or read about people of color are extremely unsettling at times.

I feel that attachments to such kleshas(afflictions, colorings, or obstacles depending on the interpretation) can lead to such unintelligent conversations regarding race. Especially given the political climate, these uncomfortable conversations and actions (from both well-meaning and not so well-meaning people) have increased. At times, it can be overwhelming and I am grateful to have a yoga and martial arts practice which is able to keep me somewhat grounded. In Light on Yoga, Mr. Iyengar mentioned the various levels of students(I do not have the book on hand to give the specific levels), and I would have to say I’m right there in the middle(always room for improvement).  Whenever doing Iyengar yoga or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu(BJJ), full concentration has to be on the movements you do. It’s a way for me to engage in pratyhara(withdrawal of the senses) which allows some peace of mind(even when put in a submission in BJJ).

Next month, at the American Association of Geographers(AAG) annual meeting, I will be on a panel in which I will be able to discuss issues that women geographers in STEM fields face in the discipline and I am wondering how I will give a presentation and engage in a conversation on a topic which might make some people uneasy. I still have some time, so I will be engaging in a lot of svadhyaya(self-reflection, self-study) so I can present and speak on this topic in an intelligent manner in order to create a space in which panel participants and audience can actively engage on these issues.  Being able to do this will not only foster creating  a space of belonging within the conference room, but hopefully in the long-term, within the discipline as well.

References(being a good grad student here).
-Mahtani, M. (2014). Toxic geographies: absences in critical race thought and practice in  social and cultural geography. Social & Cultural Geography, 15(4), 359.
– Pulido, L. (2002). Reflections on a White Discipline. Professional Geographer, 54(1), 42.
– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (n.a). Retrieved from http://www.swamij.com/. (note: At the moment, I I prefer the Bryant translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras but this website is a pretty good resource as well).


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