Your Work of Resistance is Important: On Not Othering Disabled and Marginalized Folks in Our Social Justice Movements

The other night my airways were semi-closed. I was having a mysterious respiratory reaction, the kind that is part of how Lyme sometimes manifests for me. I was lying down on the couch, trying to fill my lungs anyway, and trying not to panic from having reduced oxygen. As is often the case during these times, I distracted myself with social media. Unsurprisingly, my feed is filled with calls to action from my social justice focused FB friends. I love them and love the commitment to resist and turn the tides on the growing human and environmental abuses that we’re facing. So I was awash with memes that if “you” are not actively fighting these abuses, “you” are participating in them.

I’d love to say that I saw these and knew immediately that I was doing all that I could do by trying to keep oxygen in my body and understood that I was not to blame for the actions of a racist government because I was not doing more. But ableism is a cloying creature and I didn’t. Instead I feel disappointment with myself, as if I had failed to become who I had hoped to be in the world, as if I was failing to live my values. I am not unique in this. I have so many conversations with people with disabilities who grapple with feeling as if we don’t do “enough” with our limited capacities. But the problem isn’t just us failing to externalize ableism, it is also a problem of othering in our social justice movements. 

Chronically ill, and so many other folks, are rarely centred in cultural dialogue, strategizing, organizing, and activism. We are seldom included in the assumed “you.” In a culture where centering dominant groups is a firmly ingrained habit, it can be hard for folks coming from a place of privilege to even realize when it’s happening. Memes calling the reader to “share” if they would “rather pee next to a trans woman than a bigot” assume that the reader cannot be a trans woman (and also equate trans women with something undesirable). There are calls to action that urge the reader to see that whatever they are doing in the face of mass incarceration of immigrants is what they would have done during US enslavement or the holocaust. I understand the call to action but these assume that the reader would not have been enslaved or in concentration camps and that the reader cannot be fearing for their own families or trying to survive in the current context.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t speak to and agitate the most most privileged, we should! But I believe there is tremendous power in doing this differently in two ways:

  1. The first is to name the populations we are speaking to rather than saying “you.” What if we address cis (non trans) women about concrete ways to act in solidarity with the rights of all people to safely use public washrooms? What if we addressed those who have not had to seek refuge as a specific group? Those in dominant positions of power are often used to being the default and simply by naming them as specific groups, it can interrupt the assumptions that they must be front and centre in every discussion.
  2. The second is to make sure that the “you” in our calls to action and education includes those who are not in the dominant group. It is powerful for me whenever I see people with chronic illness included in the “you” as it intentionally brings me out of the margins. It also can help to break up the kind of internalized ableism that I described at the onset of this piece. It centres our bodies, ways of being, and skills in the possibility of resistance. 

In light of this call, I want to spend some time centring and witnessing the resistance of those who are not coming from positions of utmost social privilege.

I see you. Your grandmother was deported and you don’t know where she is. You are terrified about what she may be facing and you are working to find her. You are meeting with advocates. You are making phone calls. Your work for resistance is important. 

I see you. You are an abuse survivour and there is a predator as president in the US. Maybe he was even the one who abused you personally. You have flashbacks whenever you see his face on the news. And it is always on the news. You are calling crisis lines. You are talking to friends. You are working to stay rooted in your body. Your work of resistance is important. 

I see you. You are being targeted more and more as a black woman. As a trans woman. You can’t afford a car and people feel empowered to harass you on the bus. Folks are not standing up for you. You are carrying on. You are caring for your mother, your children, for yourself. Your work of resistance is important. 

I see you. You have fatigue so profound that it burns. All the time. Your body is on fire with fatigue and in your heart you are the person who would organize rallies and who takes to the street, fists raised. You use all the energy you have to share the post about a rally on social media. You read the sentiments that showing up “in real life” is the only thing that counts and you wonder what, then, is your participation if not a real way to use your life? Your work of resistance is important. 

I see you. Your Multiple Chemical Sensitivities are at an all time high this summer. You 13007153_10153981905202597_4741266708705251029_nwould have been willing to go to prison if it would help to abolish I.C.E. But you know that one night with the chemicals in any prison will fatally close your airways. You hear sentiments that the problems are only as bad as they are because people are not laying their lives on the line but you don’t face the immediate death sentence one action resulting in arrest would entail for you. Instead, you work to survive. Everyday. Every time you risk exposure just by leaving your house. Your work of resistance is important. 

And I see you. You have stable housing. You have the energy to get through the day on any given day. You are not personally being targeted. Your family is safe. You are well fed. You cannot be complacent now. You cannot question how bad it is for those who are outside your circle of comfort. You need to advocate. You need to agitate. You need to be in solidarity. Now more than ever. Your work of resistance is important. 

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Appropriation or Deep Learning? Reflections On My Yoga Practice and Blog

We know by now that there is a Western capitalist industry around yoga. Given that yoga was banned in India under British colonial rule, it makes sense for folks in other Western colonial contexts (e.g. Canada and the US) to be concerned with how one culture can both ban and profit from another culture’s wisdom. The question as to how we do yoga is an important one for racially privileged people living in white dominated spaces. As a white person who credits yoga as both saving and sustaining my life, I have to ask myself when am I in a position to add to cultural exploitation or reinforce the expertise of those within it. 

I’ve been having discussions about whether or not its appropriate or appropriative for me to call my practice yoga and also what the implications are of having a blog titled The Chronic Yogi. I haven’t updated The Chronic Yogi blog for a year. In part because we spent most of 2017 in an extended series of acute housing crises and also because I’ve been preoccupied with this question and its implications for the blog. Does it position me as an expert in a cultural context to which I am an outsider (and a member of a population that is doing much exploitation of said culture)? A year later, I don’t have many answers but have some guidelines for myself. 

  1. Honour the tradition. I have decided to continue to describe my practice as yoga. Part of this decision is that the practice is deeply spiritual for me. It is not just asana 33776664_10156182212792597_7553943756710346752_o (1)(poses). The breath work, meditation, attention to lovingkindness, service, unconditional love, and focus on accepting process rather than an end goal influences much more of my life than the time spent on the mat. It changes how I breathe, approach my college teaching (more on this in an upcoming post), and grow food (oh yes, there will be a whole series on gardening). To stop calling it yoga, for me, would be to not honour the culture and the wisdom that my learning is based in. I wholeheartedly respect people’s processes that have led them to different conclusions in efforts to exercise sensitivity.
  2. Study yogic philosophy. I have been reading more and watching more documentaries about the history of yoga, its branches, and its teachings which has taken me many layers deeper into my own practice. I also have been learning more about the oppression and following capitalist exploitation perpetuated from Western cultures and this helps me to be able to analyze what is happening at different events or studios that I could be in a position to engage with.
  3. Look at who profits. When I might sign up for a yoga site or (on the rare occasions that I can go to classes) get a studio pass, who am I supporting? Am I learning from a Western tradition that does not have deeper ties to the culture the practice is from? Am a supporting a corporate venture that profits more people in the settler colonial context (e.g. white folks in Canada and the US) or does it support the populations who chose to share their traditions? (As a side-note, I have zero profit from the blog.)
  4. Share as a learner and not an expert. I began this blog with the intention of sharing what I was learning as I was living a life where both illness and yoga loomed large. Living with Lyme was illuminating much about systems of capitalist exploitation of health and bodies, ableism, relationships, love, and intrinsic worth. Folks with Lyme disease are often desperate for reliable information in the face of silencing politics and much mis-education. I wanted to have ways to share this learning and advocacy that would not send me into spirals of either anger or despair. Focusing on the life sustaining role of yoga as a through line on my reflection and engagement with all of these things, allows me to write about hard topics without losing a centre of love and care as the primary reason for doing the blog (and maybe anything else). It is not my goal to teach yoga or position myself as an expert on the tradition. The line between sharing and teaching may blur at times and will most definitely require ongoing reflection.

I will be continuing to write as The Chronic Yogi with a clarified commitment to examining how I take up the tradition of yoga to support and not exploit its culture in my life, practice, and blog. I welcome dialogue with other folks who believe issues of cultural appropriation are important and take respectful work and reflection. How do you navigate the complicated terrain if you are coming from a place of privilege? What does respectful engagement look like to you if you are witnessing folks practice a tradition as outsiders, if you are an insider? Thank you for reading and thinking about this with me.

Intrinsic Worth 1

Chronic Illness Meme

Picture: A wooded area with a funky cob house in the distance.
Text: It’s hard to have a chronic illness and not count up what we give and receive and feel that we fall short.
But people who care want to see us keep going.
You are worth this as you are. You do not have to earn it.

Spoonie yoga chronicles: a reference for the spoonie yoga series

Here we are! The final post for the Spoonie Yoga Series. The series follows some of the
challenges and possibilities in maintaining a regular practice with a chronic illness. MeditationWhile writing this series, I experienced a spectacular pain flare and much upheaval. This is reflected in the series that tackles some really difficult aspects of finding consistency when it’s sorely lacking from our bodies. This post serves as a reference for the series, to help you find the information that will be most useful to you.
The posts fall along four over-arching themes to me: Understanding your yoga needs as a spoonie, Challenging internalized ableism, Facing a Flare, and Working with mental health struggles and PTSD.

 

Spoonie Yoga Series Themes 

Understanding your yoga needs as a spoonie: 

How is a spoonie yoga practice different from other yoga practices?

Setting up for regular spoonie yoga 

Challenging internalized ableism:

The challenge of not competing with anyone, even our former (well) selves

Giving up the able-bodied charade

The art of not pushing ourselves

Facing a flare

What if it stays this bad? Chronic Illness and managing what ifs

What do you need to hear when your chronic illness flares?

Working with mental health struggles and PTSD

“I’m too f**ked up to meditate:” How mental health struggles challenge a regular practice 

Feeling safe enough to move when you’ve got PTSD and trauma stored in your body 

Who wants a mirror for their s**t? Yoga and my stuck places

How about you, friends? What have you noticed about your struggles and strengths in building a regular practice with a chronic illness? Please feel free to share your stories here. I’d love to hear from you! 

 

Yoga Nidra Practice: Yoga for when you can’t move, meditation for when you are too anxious to meditate (Spoonie series 11)

So often chronically ill folks are given a slew of advice as to what would “cure” us! We are told about cousin’s friend’s miracle cure that got rid of their condition just like ours. Except that it rarely is. And those recommending rarely know of the plights we have undertaken to try all the things and research we have already conducted to find answers. One of the most frustrating recommendations for many is how often we are told that having a yoga practice would be a miracle cure. This is often coming from a good place, of course, but when you can barely sit up and someone is talking about an active practice of sun salutations and strength building standing poses it is not a comfort.

When I first got sick,  I was really missing my active practice but was unable to do it because of my illness, so claims that what I wanted very much to do would be my cure if only I would do them were bittersweet to say the least. I am always grateful that I all had a long-standing yoga practice before I got sick as it has been such a profound life-line for me through living with chronic illness and pain. Not as a cure, but as a tool. My practice had to change dramatically. I do yin or restorative yoga most often and even my active practice now does not look like what it used to.

Yoga Nidra is a particular favourite of mine for when I can’t move at all. It is a meditation that is done lying down and involves no movement. In fact, complete stillness is part of the practice. The guided meditation takes a person through a series of visualizations that help to “send the body to sleep.” According to Yoga Nidra philosophy, we can enter the state of consciousness that happens right as we drift into sleep. It is said that half an hour of this practice can be as restful as 3 hours of sleep…. this is exactly what I need most of the time! 

I love the restorative qualities of Yoga Nidra, as well as the way it can help reduce the anxiety and panic that long-term chronic pain or PTSD can evoke. While mindfulness meditation and Vipassana can be wonderful for many folks, including people with anxiety and trauma, it is not always the right thing for everyone at all times. Some authors suggest that it can even trigger flares for some people’s existing mental health conditions. I have found this to be true for me. My anxiety can spiral when I am attempting to meditate solely on my breath if I am not in a solid enough place to do this. Yoga Nidra is one of the safer meditations for my health issues as it gives very concrete imagery to follow. When mindful meditation solely feels like too big a shift from the level of anxiety I may be facing during a pain flare, Yoga Nidra offers a gentle way to attain greater equilibrium. 

There are countless iterations of the Yoga Nidra script available online. The Yoga Nidra that has helped me the most is available on here on You Tube as well as here on ITunes free of charge. The practice is detailed enough that a person who is new will be able to gain an understanding of what the practice can be for them without so much variation that the core themes that they risk getting lost. Be it through this or something else entirely, I hope you are able to find a route to a practice that can give you the restoration of yoga when you are not well enough to move and the ease of meditation when you might be too anxious to find your way directly into a meditative space. trees light

A love letter to justice focused queers who are housebound during pride…

I came out in 1997 and started doing all pride season things. After I stopped being a wide-eyed baby queer, I generally started to skip the big, corporate parade but in Vancouver that’s a teeny part in several weeks of festivals, concerts, plays, parties, and marches. I love running into everyone who I may not often see and catching up with folks. I love seeing festivals in the park with queer youth performance groups, drag queen elders, and everyone in between.I love being with all the weird and wonderful people, my people. 

This year most of the province is on fire. The air quality is horrible and I am stuck in the house. In the house with the windows closed and several noisy air purifiers on. Taking meds. And drinking medicinal tea. The isolation is seriously getting to me today. I feel so damn cut off from my community of queers. I know many others are too and have been for a long time. If you are stuck at home today, you are not alone. And you, with your chronic illness and queerness, are an important part of  queer culture.

Pride started after working class queer and trans youth, primarily people of colour, fought back against the police violence that shaped all aspects of queer life. It was illegal for queer and trans folks to meet in public places, to not wear gender “appropriate” clothing. Queer spaces were constantly, violently raided and patrons arrested to face horrors in jail. In 1969 queer and trans folks fought back against attacks on the Stonewall Inn bar and the rioting continued for a week, spurring an international movement. The first Pride march was one year later. Struggle to survive is embedded in this movement. And you, too, remain part of this. 

You are struggling to survive. To live with more pain and anxiety than you know how to cope with. And still we hold fundraisers to make sure folks have access to health care, we find creative ways to show up for each other while having panic attacks so we don’t face hard appointments alone, we help each other find boxes when we have to move again and again. We find ways to organize or at least to support the Black Lives Matter actions that keep alive the spirit of pride, speaking out against police violence. We find a way to roll over from our less painful side on the couch and promote an event and speak back to raising racism and ableism in queer communities. This, and you, are vital to our communities during this season. 

Before I was sick, I would dress up in fabulous, glamourous outfits for each event– fishnets, slips, lipstick to match the shade of my red boa. Today, I am not dressed, let alone dressed up and the feeling of disconnect from my own self as well as from my community is palpable. To my fellow chronically ill queers, I want to acknowledge the way you keep your fabulous femme energies through creatively draping a sheet when you can’t get out of bed and dress up. I acknowledge your handsome butch nod when someone hands you a glass of water. That these are sexy expressions of your queerness. You do not have to stand in your heels or hold a door open. There is nothing more queer than the lace you sewed onto the side of your breathing mask. You may not be at the Dyke march today, but no queerness is as accomplished as this. Your efforts have not gone without notice.

Your body and self are beautifully necessary to queer culture’s move toward greater resilience, greater solidarity, and creative move toward anti-oppression. I am celebrating you today, from next to my air filter. 12794653_10153588310272515_7927125473457083124_o