Connecting Ayurveda and Neuroscience and Uplifting the Divine Feminine

SA
Dr, I’ve learned so much from your work. I’m so interested in ayurveda and your practice as someone who not only deals with Indigenous medicine but also works in western medicine. What came first for you, was it the neuroscience or the ayurveda and did it go hand in hand? 

K
When you ask what came first, chronologically, I was introduced to ayurvedic medicine through my mom as a child. But if you have any ayurvedic experience you don’t approach it as, “Now we’re practicing medicine and now we’re not.” It has more to do with the ways that we live, the things that we eat. It wasn’t something overt. If I got sick, my mother would give me turmeric and honey before taking me to see a doctor. That became the backdrop of my childhood. 

When I talk about my professional career, first I went into neurology. I think for so many people who grow up in one culture and are raised in another, you take advantage of the wisdom in your native culture and file it away as something that has meaning but not any significance in the modern world. When I dove into neurology, I was a full fledged believer in modern medicine. It was very, very exciting in terms of the sophistication, how complicated it sounded, all of those things the young mind is hungry for. That intellectual feeding frenzy that happens when you’re in a new field. I came out of neurology not expecting that I would practice ayurvedic medicine. There were still many principles that I practiced although many fell away during my actual medical training because of the nature of that lifestyle. It was once I started practicing as a neurologist that I began getting headaches, migraines. For a neurologist to get headaches you’d think it’s not a big deal, I have an entire repertoire of medications that I could use. I spent about a year experimenting with different medications that I was prescribing as a physician and none of them worked. 

It was at the end of me searching that I actually came back to my mom and asked, “When we were growing up there were these physicians you would take me to, how can I get a hold of them?” She helped me reconnect and that was the turning point for me. When I saw the ayurvedic physician, he spent 90% of the consultation inquiring about my digestion and telling me what I needed to do to fix my digestion. That was a completely novel concept, that my headaches had anything to do with digestion. Nothing else had worked at that point and when nothing else works, you enter a state of humility. After seeing him, in three months, my headaches were completely gone. My energy increased, my creativity increased. Even though I was introduced to ayurveda as a young child, it wasn’t really until after I became a neurologist, and had this personal crisis of debilitating migraine headaches, that I then kind of reawakened and started to look at why my gut health was the underlying cause of my headaches. That just broke the entire paradigm of the way I was treating neurology.

SA
And when that shifted for you, how was that received amongst your coworkers and your clients? How did you begin to integrate that into your practice? 

K
I was working exclusively in the US at Scripps Memorial Hospital which is a very well established hospital system and certainly not a spot where you would think that this young ayurvedic practice would take birth. It was a very pulverized reaction between my patients versus my colleagues. My patients were happy and relieved that they were finally having these conversations with their neurologist. 

I was a well respected neurologist in a well respected institution. The initial response from my colleagues was of complete disbelief and, to some extent, horror. I understand that it came from a place of concern. Over time, as more about epigenetics came out, more about the mind body connection and the impact of stress and the research about the cause of chronic disease, they became more open. They also started to see that my patients were doing better, doing better in conditions that we once believed only got worse. Over time, it went from being just a foreign practice to an understanding of the basic principles: food is medicine and disease is predominantly created through lifestyle choices. Throughout the next decade, more information about the microbiome started coming out and so eventually there was some acceptance, because there was some scientific validity on why and how people got sick through their personal journey. Not just their physical journey. 

When we look at ayurvedic medicine there are so many layers to it. When I first dove into it, I was predominantly focused on what people were eating, the main stressors in their lives and the kind of exercise they were getting. There is a lot of science behind the nature of sound and the vibratory nature of the universe. I would highly recommend mantra and a deeper appreciation for the role of sound in anyone’s life because thoughts are also a form of sound, the words that we use are also a form of sound. What are the chronic thoughts that we listen to? What are the words that we are sharing with other people in the world?

SA
You’re tapping into a higher purpose, higher consciousness, deeper potential for yourself. How do you think about engaging with folks who are reluctant to engage because of the spiritual notions despite the science that shows clear benefits? 

K
It’s a very interesting question. Now that I’m back between the US and India, I will say, it’s much easier to talk and discuss and offer ayurvedic medicine to the American community than it is to the Indian community. Even in India (the center that we went there to help start) 95% of clients were foreigners and many of the local people did not see the value of this medicine because they looked at it as moving backwards because it’s part of our generational medicine. 

Even though we call it ayurvedic medicine in India, or siddha medicine in Tamil Nadu, you see similar ancient forms all over the world. This was the way that we simply healed throughout one point all over the planet. If you go to Latin America for example, they have their traditions, in Russia, they have their traditions. And if you look at the heart of these traditions, the Native American traditions in the US, they’re all very similar. There was a deep understanding of the healing potential of plants. There was a deep understanding of the mind and the body and the community and the body. It wasn’t just for the individual, they were looking at the impacts of group consciousness on health. This was a universal approach to health. I think for cultures that have had that, they are now looking towards the west for material gain, they looked for material gain and in the process rejected their own past and treasure chest of wisdom. I think that’s a natural cycle that we have to go through. 

We go through this inner rejection of our culture as we see some other culture and think it’s doing better. Then, as we see that they are now adopting what we are not doing—and I always joked with my staff in India, because I was going around the world giving lectures on mantra medicine, you know people in China were so receptive, people in all these countries were so receptive—but it was so difficult to get my Indian staff to be receptive. Now the West is adopting what we started and they are starting to shift. I think to understand the global nature of these medical practices, it becomes helpful to separate them from any particular type of religious lineage and you realize that at one point this was how we approached healing.

SA
We have so much to learn from indigenous knowledge, but there is this constant grappling as people who are not living in our ancestral homes, living in the West trying to live up to this idea of Western success. How can we hold both at the same time?

K
What I have found is that you can better accomplish the American dream when you incorporate your ancient knowledge. It’s not like these practices are telling you to give up your home and go and live in a cave somewhere in a forest. Our research is showing the same thing, that when you follow circadian rhythms you sleep really well. Here’s how you solve inflammation – and you see professional athletes such as Tom Brady who adopt certain things that you would call ayurvedic into their lifestyle. And they talk about how they’ve completely rejuvenated their bodies, they feel younger. When we focus on the science of peak performance on life, then people do start to care about how they’re eating and exercising and managing their stress. They begin to approach their life in a way where their mind and body are so in sync that they can perform at their absolute best. So many of my patients were people who were successful at life and wanted to take it to the next level. I definitely treat people with chronic illness, but I had a lot of patients who were also looking into untapped potential. 

SA
I also want to talk to you a little about the ways in which ayurveda, traditional medicine gets appropriated and commodified in a way in which markets pick and choose and in that process there is a loss of holistic healing. I personally saw a lot of this at the start of the pandemic where there was this collective anxiety where people were struggling with not knowing what was happening. It was interesting to me because the wellness industry is a multimillion dollar industry, and so many people invest in it daily, and yet there was this general depressive state. I do think we’re slowly lifting out of it as people have been interrogating this a bit deeply. How do you reckon with that? Is that just a symptom of living in the biggest capitalist country?

K
My general approach to this is first, coming from a place of patience, compassion and non judgement. If a group is embracing yoga, and when we say yoga we’re really talking about asanas – yoga is an entire school of thought and asanas are the body positions – that is people’s ‘in’. They’re at least doing something that is connecting to their body, and maybe had they not been doing that practice, they may have never addressed that there is this darkness that needs to come out. As a country goes through it’s different developmental stages, and this pandemic is part of the developmental stage for all of the different countries, responding to it reflects which stage of development they are going through – from that you start to look further. After this, there is going to be such a different way of looking at mental health because we can’t just put tens of millions of people on anxiety medication, they need something to cope on a deeper level. As that need arises, the medical system needs to mature to help that need. I’ve found that with any relationship, not just as a physician, but with any individual and any organization in the community, that if you don’t first come in from a place of non judgement, compassion and patience, you won’t make much progress. You can sit there and analyze the problems, point fingers and describe the dysfunction, but you’ll never be part of the solution. 

SA
It really is about coming with an open heart and making space to meet people where they are at. 

K
Patience is really important when you’re talking about historical trends, I know the book that I wrote about sound medicine is at least 30 – 40 years ahead of its time, to really be understood. If I was frustrated in doing work that would take decades if not centuries to be really understood then I couldn’t do it. When you’re part of history, which we all are, if you do not have the patience and the appreciation for the historical process you will never contribute anything. You will only contribute that which you can see and reap the benefits of a human lifetime. The human lifetime is a very short span – if you look at how many people in the past, the contributions that they made weren’t really manifested till centuries later. With life in general you need to have a lot of patience and not get so caught up in the timeframe of a human life time because it may or may not be the time in which you see change but that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the change. 

SA
If the pandemic is a portal, what are your hopes for how your practice evolves post pandemic or in the next 3 – 4 years?

K
I used to be somebody who did that a lot, I would have a one year plan, three year plan, five year plan. I could have never predicted that a pandemic would happen a year ago. I stopped pitching these scenes into the future and I’ve just become more responsive to what life wants at me right now. I’ve become less focused on what I want out of life, but instead, in this moment what does life want out of me. 

I will say that one thing I have felt in general as an impulse is doing more and more to reach out to women to explain more about what many ancient cultures have of the divine femine. It’s such a beautiful way to approach womanhood. There is this idea in ayurvedic medicine, and many ancient traditions, that when there is wisdom held within a woman in a household, the entire household changes. I’ve seen that over and over and over, the strength of women to rebuild the philosophy of the family. 

SA
Wow, I really resonate with this idea of the divine feminine and I’m definitely thinking about this concept a lot lately as well. How do you have those conversations with women in India? What does that look like especially as a country that can be contradictory to the divine feminine?



K
So many of these concepts of the divine feminine come from India, and so much of my inspiration came from India. But when I went to India, I was shocked at the state of womanhood there. I was kind of horrified. It was such a collapse of what we had known. There’s a tremendous amount of pain that needs to be metabolized as a nation. Unfortunately, usually when a place is colonized, women suffer the worst repercussions. I always start with, first of all, let’s heal the body. How do we start teaching women the basics of how to treat this body correctly. How do we eat correctly, what is the manual? You start with the body. Then you look at the mind and the traumas. Being a woman in India is not easy. Having spent two years there, I have so much respect for the amount of freedom, independence and leway I had as a woman raised in the US. I always keep in mind that my sense of self came from that ancient culture. It’s very paradoxical in a way that the reason I became the woman I am in America is because of my Indian heritage but I’m only allowed to ‘flourish’ under the social circumstances of America. As we first start to explore what are the traumas of their experiences, as we start to free people of the heaviness of the body and mind, now we can start to go back to what that means. If someone has gone through repetitive sexual abuse, it’s really hard to talk about something like the divine feminine until trauma has been released. Because for them, being feminine was a huge risk, it’s not something to be celebrated, they had to hide everything that is feminine because it was something that is treated that is a liability in cultures that abuses women. So you have to, again, always approach people where they’re at. 

SA
It’s really perplexing to me how much sexual trauma there is within the South Asian community and how rife it is not only back home but also within the diaspora. Which is such a contradiction to me because I look at tantra and all these ancient texts that really spoke to the divinity of sex and intimacy and yet there’s a complete juxtaposition to the extent that we can’t even talk about it with our families. There is such a taboo around this issue and I really do appreciate this conversation. How can women start those conversations within their diasporic communities? 

K
It’s a challenge and it requires a certain degree of understanding. I was really not prepared to see the level of sexual trauma that happens to women in India. I would say the women that I was around and working with, close to 90% had experienced some kind of inappropriate sexual behaviour. The severity of that varied, but the majority of women were raised in a way where they were constantly having to protect themselves. They were told, never be in a room with a man alone, don’t walk down the street. The first few weeks of being in India, I had already experienced inappropriate sexual conduct just by walking down the street in broad daylight. The culture is really built around secrecy and women having to protect themselves against constant threat, whether it’s midday or in the evening. 

I see a lot of Indian women who now live in other countries, and as we start to do the work, I’m amazed at how much sexual trauma is lodged in their bodies. It could be women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and even in those ages it’s hard work. You have to have realistic expectations. Could you have groups in their 20s and 30s who are ready to discuss this? Yeah, I think that’s a completely different group, but if that group needs for their mothers and grandmothers to admit what was happening, you’re trying to get water from an empty well. It may be too much. I do think this conversation can begin with younger generations, but even in that conversation, it has to shift a little bit from not just our individual stories, which are of course very important, but what is the conversation of the nation, which puts it into context historically. It helps us understand why this is the way it is, and moves you a little bit out from purely being victimized to understanding this is a national phenomenon. Switching from our individual lives to thinking about the nation and then having dialogue about what we now do as women for our legacy and the next generation, from me it would be to you, we need to start asking what we do with that legacy. That has been a desire, and coming up more and more. I’ve been amazed that heavy conversations like that can be brought up in light ways. You can train women on topics like natural beauty products, and how to create beauty from within and that’s a way to bring them into the body. You can invite people into a very warm and safe environment and then begin to take the conversations a little deeper that way. You don’t need to totally shock them. Natural beauty for example, brings up so many themes in taking care of the body. So many of the beauty products created for women are so toxic and they created hormonal imbalances because of the chemicals that react with estrogen receptors. That is just one way to say, you may not feel that you are strong enough to process this trauma, but let’s start with where you can make changes. Let’s start with, where can you make a change that is honouring yourself as a woman. Let’s have dialogue about what it means to be a woman and then you can lead people as far as they want to go from there.

I’m spending more time in my yoga practice. Doing sun salutations every morning has been especially grounding


Eating a traditional Indian ayurvedic diet, incorporating more seeds that help balance hormones and cortisol levels

Reading:The Power of Now & A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Eckhart Tolle is a rare person who is a modern spiritual teacher who actually does reflect the ancient teachings. When I read his work, it resonates so much with the ancient texts. It’s not about ‘how you manifest this’ and ‘how you get a big this’ it’s really about what is our work as human beings. To be able to hear the words of the ancient sages translated into modern language has been very helpful.

Reading: Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. I decided during this time, I wanted to be a better parent. My son and I are separated right now because he’s in India, so now I’m thinking, what is it going to be like when I go back? How do I become a more compassionate and receptive parent? This boy is going to need, really, months of learning how to feel secure again. Attached is a wonderful book on attachment theory. It’s helping me understand better what the impact of this detachment is going to be on for him.

Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary’s combined expertise in both modern neurology and the ancient science of health known as Ayurveda has uniquely positioned her as an expert able to pull from the broadest possible base to treat her clients. She is passionate about raising awareness for the need of a paradigm shift in contemporary medicine that focuses on patient empowerment and a health-based (rather than disease-based) medical system. 

Confronting the Capitalist and Casteist Appropriations of Yoga with Neha Sharma

SA
One of the most visibly violent wellness spaces is the yoga industry. In the west, this is driven by white capitalists appropriating Indigenous practices for profit, fetishizing and erasing true custodians of the practice. The misinterpretation of yoga is actually a double edge sword. Historically, as a practice Indigenous to South Asia, it has been reinterpreted by upper caste Brahmins as a tool of exclusion towards the Dalit community. Accessibility to yoga is widely spoken about in a Western context in recognition of the lack of space made for Black, Indigenous and people of color in general, yet an unintended supremacy lingers in the ignorance many have towards it’s South Asian roots. From the invisibility and lack of centering South Asian practitioners to a masking of the casteist interpretations of the actual practice. What have your experiences as a South Asian yogi been like in the Western world, and what does it mean for you to engage respectfully with yoga as an Indigenous practice?

N
I could write an entire essay on this, but I’ll keep it as concise as possible. As an Indian-American yoga teacher based in NYC, I have witnessed, experienced, and encountered the blatant ongoing appropriation of yoga in every sense of the word. From studio spaces to merchandises to management, being a South Asian yogi in the western world can often feel like being a foreigner in your own home. I entered the industry three years ago and since then I’ve been taken far aback to find that I have visibly no fellow South Asian yoga teachers or students in the space. I’ve never seen a single South Asian yoga model on popular yoga apparel brand ads like Lululemon or Alo, which are typically completely washed with white women and a token Black or East Asian woman. Similarly, I’ve never seen any South Asian teachers hired to teach at those brands’ studio spaces here in NYC. I’ve been an anomaly in this industry, which I’ve always found odd as an educator of the sacred practice belonging to my own ancestors. I first started teaching in small boutique studios throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, owned and managed by white women who often knew nothing of the practice, let alone had any sense of respect for the Indigenous roots of it. One studio owner said to me once after I did a demo, “we don’t use Sanskrit here”. I thought to myself, “that is like going to church and saying, ‘we don’t say Jesus here’.” Needless to say I didn’t take the job, but somewhere between the insulting kitschy “beer yoga” and “hip hop yoga” trends, it quickly became evident how Western capitalism has violently stripped away the very essence of yoga and what it represents at its core. Western capitalism has robbed yoga of its Saucha (purity) by breaking a core philosophical principle of Asteya (non-stealing). Across the board, it’s clear that irresponsible brands getting a kick out of “Namaslay” and “Namastayinbed” have no intentions for truly embodying the cultural roots of yoga as an Indigenous practice of India. Images of the gods and goddesses I’ve grown up to praying to have become logos for their disgraceful marketing tactics. I’ve seen a Ganeshji tattooed on a non-South Asian girl’s foot — an utter sign of ignorance and disrespect. These realities have been unsettling me for years, and have filled me the same rage I feel when I think of how colonization has historically stripped Indigenous people of their identity, resources, and rich abundance for personal capital gain. I have now transmuted this rage into committing to the radical decolonization of yoga. I teach my classes with Sanskrit names for the asanas. I refuse to teach in a space that perpetuates watered down versions of the practice with trendy labels and unrelated pop fitness branding (what the hell does Cardi B have to do with yoga!?). I often take the time to illuminate the South Asian roots of yoga through my dharma talks while creating an inclusive space for all who are willing to learn with an open mind and ego-free heart. I’ve made a promise to never again work at a studio or with a company unwilling to acknowledge the Indigenous sanctity of yoga. As a South Asian teacher and practitioner, I believe it is my responsibility to engage respectfully with yoga as an Indigenous practice through action-oriented reclamation and raising my voice loudly against appropriation. *Tip* for my fellow SA teachers, an important but often overlooked place to start is to start correcting people on pronunciation. It’s not “Naaaaa-maaaa-stayyyyy”. It’s “Nam-uh-stey”. Don’t allow people to butcher our beautiful language while continuing to call themselves educators of this practice.

SA
A critique of the commodification of wellness is absolutely needed in order to sustain a practice that is genuinely focused on a deepened awakening for the Self, the Community and the Earth. Without challenging the underlying power structures of white supremacy, casteism, capitalism, the patriarchy and colonialism that often leak into wellness platforms, we are reaffirming the status quo and recreating power imbalances. How does your practice approach this idea?

N
Living in a deeply capitalist city like NYC, the commodification of wellness is so insidiously ingrained, it’s nearly impossible to disintegrate from it. It’s a constant work in progress to dig deep into the systems in place and identify the power imbalances. You can drink all the green juice in the world and wear hundreds of dollars worth of yoga leggings, but that does not make you a real yogi. The more of a pull there is towards the material possessions in the wellness industry, the farther it pulls one away from core yogic ethics like Aparigraha (non-attachment). In my personal practice, I make sure to never stop questioning what is being presented to me and how it is being presented. For example, many wellness brands recently hopped on the black square trend on Instagram in support of the “amplify melanated voices” social media campaign. Many brands completely missed the mark, posting performative content which simply reaffirmed lack of authentic reflection on true representation of Black, Indigenous and people of color in their marketing and corporate management. At this point the ignorance or alleged confusion is disingenuous because Google exists. Educators exists. There are endless resources available for those who seek true reformation. Those who are ready to learn, will in fact take the first steps to doing so. When they do, that’s when I’ll make space for them on my radar. In the meantime I continue to navigate the wellness space with just the right amount of healthy, bold skepticism and I support those who are working to dismantle the colonial structures in place. My practice is about tapping into ancestral intuition and resilience to challenge the status quo. Do not believe everything you see or hear. Keep asking the hard questions. Discomfort is how change gains momentum.

SA
How has committing to a decolonized practice of wellness allowed for an enhanced sense of your own Self?

N
It has been liberating. Each day I learn more about myself, my practice, and my purpose. I am undeniably committed to decolonization of wellness and yoga. This commitment has brought more like-minded Black, Indigenous and people of color leaders and wellness educators into my sphere, and I am happy to say I have virtually met more South Asian healers in the industry since. I believe once you sharpen your focus and find what fuels your fire, the tools for stepping into your own power will come to you. There is so much more work to be done, but I’ve discovered a new spark of hope that the decolonization process is underway and here to stay. It truly is a reclamation of Self. I am excited to be an agent for change and a medium for sharing the message.

Combining her training in alternative eastern medicine and healing with a comphrehensive background in healthcare, Neha has come to understand how mental health stressors, diseases, and chronic body pains negatively impact our lives in an increasingly demanding world plagued by external pressures. Through her work, Neha observed many gaps in the system, noticing the lack of emphasis on preventative health care. Witnessing how human behavior and lifestyle choices inevitably impact health and wellbeing at large, Neha figured it’s time to take back control over our mental and physical health without relying solely on medication and doctor visits.

Dance Dance Revolution with Vanessa Varghese

SA
Vanessa, how are you? Can you describe your energy today for me in three words?

V
Comfortable within it.

SA
How has your spirit been feeling the last few months? 

V
My spirit has been soaring high on love and an abundance of frozen dumplings. My babe and I came back to Australia for what was supposed to be a five week trip to get married. We ended up having to cancel, get married low-key COVID style and have spent the last 5 months living on my in-laws’ farm. I am feeling very loved and very in love with everything about life right now.

SA
What was it like moving back from Australia after spending some time in New York? 

V
What a question! So I’ve lived in Australia for a majority of my life, yet it’s the only place that gives me culture shock. When I was in New York I felt as though, for the first time in my entire life, I was invisible. I got to just be a human, not an exotic unicorn. So in being invisible, I’ve never felt so seen! At first it’s overwhelming when you return to Australia because you’re suddenly hyper-visible again. Then you learn to rebuild your thick skin. I’m totally fine with this reality. It allows me to see past a well-meaning comment and instead see that person for their soul. I don’t bother correcting people much, I know that’s considered bad practise but I actually need to pick my battles for the sake of my mental health.

SA
What have been some of the challenges you faced with Groove Therapy, as a woman of color taking up so much bold space in Australia?  The wellness industry in Australia in particular is so white dominated. How did you feel stepping out with your project initially? Were you met with resistance and how did you overcome that?

V
I know we exist adjacent to many white wellness establishments but we are so far out on our own limb that we don’t feel as though there’s competition. The main challenge is dance not being a part of Australian culture, so a lot of our energy in Australia is spent on marketing the benefits of dance and educating people re: the cultural roots of music and dance.

When you’re in a place like New York or London you don’t need to explain what hip hop, house or dancehall is before you proceed to teach it. Even if you don’t like or listen to a genre like, say dancehall, in those international cities, you’d know of it simply by virtue of existing in a melting pot of cultures that overlap and collide with your world.

But overall I haven’t felt bold or courageous starting Groove Therapy in the slightest. If anything I’m the one who is constantly inspired by the regulars who come week after week and show that support, love and appreciation for this little vibe we’ve created.

SA
Can you tell me a little bit about your practice as a dancer? I am so inspired by the fact that you began as a bharatanatyam dancer! What was that like? And how did you transition into Groove Therapy?

V
I love the fact that I began as a bharatnatyam dancer too! The thing with bharatnatyam is that it’s very…classical. So at around 17 I stopped because the training got hectic and I was too busy being a frivolous teenager. I started dancehall at 19 and felt a different kind of liberated. Street dance is so different from classical dance in that self-expression is part of the foundational technique.Classical dance, on the other hand, is about learning skeletal and muscular technique, rhythmic fundamentals, religious philosophies and history for years – decades even – before you can begin to comfortably break rules, push boundaries and express your own stories through the art form.

As for a link between the two – you don’t do anything in bharatnatyam without learning why. So, for me, it doesn’t make sense to simply learn a street dance move or listen to a genre of music without asking where it came from. I think it’s a fun kind of curiosity because it lends to a liberating, dynamic and kinetic history lesson every time you step into a dance class.

SA
I never feel more in my body, more liberated and all powerful than when I am dancing. Taking up space physically is so revolutionary for those of us who are sidelined, it’s transformative for not only our physical selves but also for our mind and spirit. I know for you, dancing is a political act. How do you navigate this concept of liberation and how might you encourage your students to take the energy they cultivate on the dance floor, off the dance floor? 

V
Wow how beautifully put! I could talk about this for hours but at the end of the day dancing is fun, free and asks that you enjoy your own body for what it can do, not what it looks like. Those three elements are so anti-establishment to me. Having fun means feeling joy within a system that constantly tries to rob you of it. 

Dancing in your bedroom costs nothing. We live in a world that is so full of angst and noise that entire industries have been built around selling your happiness back to you at an exorbitant price. Enjoying your body for the way it moves rather than the way it looks is a huge middle finger to the fashion, beauty, wellness and lifestyle industries that manufacture, then profit off your self-loathing. 

Being able to grind, get low, flick your hair and grope your own damn body feels electric. Your skin glows from the sweat and your entire body is pulsing with the frenetic energy of serotonin charging through you. Go find me a cleanser that can do that.

SA
How has your knowledge of bharatanatyam aided your work with Groove Therapy? Do you think you’re tapping into ancestral knowledge and how does that come up?

V
So I still train as a bharatnatyam dancer under my guru Sahi at Navatman Dance School, New York. What I love about Sahi is she is progressive, contemporary and pushes boundaries without ever sullying the authenticity of the art form. We learn everything from tapping into intention by meditating before a simple Alaripu to aligning our spine, hips, feet, neck and the tips of our fingers whilst drilling our adavus. 

It’s not romantic, exotic or mystical. It’s very matter-of-fact Indian. You know – Indian aunties and uncles dropping their kids off, big cooking drives where the community chips in to make large vats of food and staying behind after class to help sew student costumes and build stage props. 

It’s India, not the idea of India. So more than tapping into ancestral knowledge, I feel very grounded when I’m there because it does not exist for the white gaze. Learning an ancient classical art form teaches you that the foundations and understanding of a culture simply cannot be rushed. There’s no 10 week crash course, there’s no intensive summer camp and there’s no volunteer work in some remote village that automatically certifies you with cultural authenticity. 

In that way, I’m able to understand my place as a non-black woman teaching street dances like hip hop. There’s a level to which I can pass on technique but it needs to be constantly supplemented with the voices of the creators of the art forms. Honestly I think I’ve mainly learned that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.

SA
I think you’re sooooo cool, I’ve been following your work for so long and as a fellow brown girl born and raised in Australia, it’s been so motivating to see how you move against what is traditionally expected of us. How has this journey helped you understand a deeper sense of self? 

V
Wow thank you! I think I’m just stubborn and riotous in what I stand for. Then there’s my parents, who are half-hearted about tradition and quick to dismiss archaic cultural thought-practises when my sister and I challenge them. In that way my parents have let me be 100% myself. I’m mindful of my coconut-ness and the level of visibility I’m afforded within white spaces compared to so many of the more culturally Indian people out there so I try to be mindful of who I create content for. My biggest gripe is that we brown folk are so reduced to a few key tropes by Westerners – like slums, yoga, Appu, taxi drivers, Om, marigolds, bindis and curry. 

I want to highlight how truly diverse we are as a people. I want the world to understand how cosmopolitan we are. I want people to understand that many Indians have access to better tech than people in the west. I want people to see past romantic Hinduism and look at the way it is currently being weaponized within India’s politics. I want people to understand, truly understand, that we are not a mono-culture. We are a pulsing, breathing mass of contradicting ideologies, languages, religions, subcultures and socio-economic classes. We are affected by colorism, casteism and colonization. We are a throbbing dichotomy of an ancient world that exists within the hyper-futurism of contemporary India. I want the world to understand that we are more than just one narrative. So that’s honestly my reason for existing on the internet – to show people that I’m Indian but also that I’m Vanessa, a weirdo individual that can’t quite fit into any one ‘brand.’

SA
If the pandemic is a portal, what are your hopes for Groove Therapy post revolution?

V
Eyyy I see you Arundati Roy reference! Groove Therapy will continue to grow, morph and evolve on the same trajectory it was following pre-pandemic. The difference is the shift in global consciousness re: the way we live life and interact with cultures that are not ours, especially post the Black Lives Matter movement. I see such a shift in the way people absorb the same discourse we’ve always put to our audience. People seem to actually be listening! The lyrics to that song, the story behind the movement and the politics behind the sub-culture suddenly has a gravitas now. I can see the penny drop for so many in our community. I’m all about it.

SA
What are a couple things you are listening to/eating/watching/reading/making/creating that are helping you stay grounded during this time?

V
Oh! I’ve been interested in learning more on the art of good conversation lately. The other day my spirit lifted out of my body and watched myself talking to someone. I was boring. I just regurgitated the same ‘smart’ political opinions to every new person that came my way in the last month. Yawn. So now I try to converse in a way that keeps me interested. I try not to repeat catch phrases or same-same political musings and am trying not to say ‘um’ or ‘like’ as much. So far the results have been underwhelming. I bought a Masterclass subscription and I am devouring everything on it – the writing workshops, the filmmaking series and the cooking tips.

I’ve been getting into retro Arab pop, classic disco, vintage Bollywood and crate digging for contemporary Indian musicians who can sample carnatic/hindustani music without butchering it. 

I’ve been reading Arundhati Roy, David Sedaris, Miranda July, Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseni, Jerry Saltz – the usual suspects, nothing you haven’t heard of. I’ve been trying to read Romeo and Juliet but it’s such a brain warp to read Shakespearean English casually before bed so I’m only like 5 pages deep.I tried my hand at pottery and it was a wonderful lesson on keeping your ego in check. I’ve been stretching on the beach. Turns out you don’t need activewear, a yoga mat or a mermaid body to stretch. You can just do it in your pyjamas and weird high bun to prevent those injuries. I binged the entire Indian Matchmaking series. I recently discovered that I’m really good at tennis. By really good I mean not as dismal as expected. 

I want you to know that I just re-read all the things I’ve been doing and realized how impressive it sounds, but please know that the last five months has mostly just been a montage of me eating toast and watching cat videos.

Training across New York, Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Brazil, regional Australia, and her purple bedroom, Vanessa Marian Varghese is particularly fascinated with street dance and the way it is born outside of the dance studio context. In 2016 Vanessa founded Groove Therapy, aimed at making dance accessible to all walks of life. The program has brought dance to at-risk youth, Indigenous communities, dementia sufferers, refugee girls and the every-day person, using the political and healing foundations that these street dance styles are built upon and mindfully appropriating it in new communities to help spark global conversation and cultural understanding.

Organizing through Imposter Syndrome with Zenat Begum of Playground Coffee Shop

SA
How are you feeling today, Z?

Z
Hi! OH! I’m feeling an overload of emotional progression. 

How are you feeling today, P?

SA
Woah, I wanna hear more about this emotional progression. I’m feeling good, ready to take on the day and glad I get to start it by talking to you. What’s on your schedule for today?

Z
I think this is a great way to start the day. My schedule is typical today. I have a few calls regarding Playground funding and programming. I’ve been thinking more about structure as for the last 6 months I was getting through each day by being task oriented in order to do my job efficiently and neglected my own emotions in the process. September is always a recharge month for me and I think it is suggesting, rather, forcing me to realign.

Did I just say all that in one breath? Talk about efficiency, haha. 

SA
I mean, happy Virgo season birthday girl!! When did you begin to notice that the structure you created for your organizing did not allow space for your own self? How has the transition been as you’ve started to be more intentional with taking care of your emotional health? And what is emotional health for you?

Z
Aug 10th was the day I acknowledged an emotional sewage block. Like I couldn’t communicate. It was weird, even as I had been communicating actively through work, I had a difficult time conversing with people socially. 

The transition has been taxing. I think after being in the crossfire of work and mental health declining I started to see exactly how much of myself I was sacrificing. 

Emotional health is having a fluidity of emotions. The ability to process with care and tenderness as every emotion passes. Accountability and trust is a virtue of this said process. 

SA
When we were speaking last night you said something about accepting the experience of depression. I think there is something very profound about that idea of being fluid and open with emotions instead of holding on and lingering. I’m really happy that you have been making time for yourself over the past month. The work that you do is incredibly transformative and also incredibly demanding of the mind, body and spirit. Playground has been so responsive to the needs of the community since the uprising and it’s been really comforting to be part of and observe how much care is being poured into the community. What have your experiences as a South Asian woman organizer been like? We talk a lot about imposter syndrome, and especially thinking about our own cultural expectations to have a more institutionalized life vs what we actually do, and then organizing in a city where we have settled and gentrified stolen land – there’s so many layers to it. What does that feel like for you? 

Z
The concept of imposter syndrome is something almost everyone doing this work is feeling.

Being South Asian plays a role in how imposter syndrome develops over time because even in this global city, there aren’t many South Asians organizing with the intention to center Black lives. This is a critique of my community although there isn’t enough diversity within the South Asian network or intersection of Black folks to begin with. I have seen a lot of my peers build intention and work cohesively so that all voices are heard and acknowledged. Solidarity and resistance work can often make you feel like an imposter. Are you good enough? Do you have the discourse to verbally debate? Do you have an audience? Are people going to be receptive of your message? Being skeptical is what I am leaning towards these days. IS perpetuates self doubt and that is a boundary I have learned to protect.

Playground’s response to COVID is something our ancestors would have championed for their own communities. When times get tough, the tough gets going. Building community around you to distribute food to those food insecure. That is exactly why we do this – provide actionable solutions. 

I feel like I have been on auto-pilot for the last few months. The road ahead has its peaks and valleys and challenging circumstances are just part of the process just as much as the bountiful moments are. 

SA
I love what you said about Playground’s response being something our ancestors would have championed for their own. What’s more South Asian than ensuring your entire neighborhood is fed? Like, that intuition that Playground runs with is so deeply ancestral to me, which is ironic considering it is not like you yourself belong to this dense South Asian community. That’s what is so magical about pushing back on imposter syndrome, looking at the conditioning we’ve experienced and being able to hold up the parts which could’ve worked and then tweaking it to build something you know you and your community deserves. 

Do you think that the skepticism we have for institutions outside of us is sometimes internalized with imposter syndrome? How important is it to work collaboratively and collectively, and how do we do that when we’re in a moment where, even amongst organizers it’s becoming clear that transformative justice and accountability isn’t centered? 

Z
In my text exchange with you last night we were talking about the recent tarot reading I did with you. One of the cards set for the future intention was about collaborating. I think Playground had made exemplary collaborations to set the precedent for organizing. In a time like now, my communication has been spread thin because I feel as if I have my radar up all times. Which can be divisive when learning to trust potentially collaborators and their position in this revolution. This is sometimes a risk we take in the name of pioneering change. The revolution has to be stripped of its individualism. Working collectively is a human trait, it’s how villages are built. The same organization can create a larger space for us, thus having actual impact, hopefully legislative. Now, that is holding this country that exists on stolen land accountable. 

SA
Totally, I think that it’s also important to be discerning about the intentions of potential collaborators & I completely understand needing to keep a wall up so to speak to make sure that the safety of your community comes first. In fact, I think it’s what draws so many people to Playground, it’s firm stance in centering and recentering it’s community in a way that is so uncompromising. 

Z
I am burning incense in my bakhoor burner, listening to quarantine mixes, revisiting hobbies, working out, trying new recipes @ home, I’m working on a bookclub right now so I have been reading excerpts here and there to gather what book will be centralized focus, drinking my Playground community blend coffee at home, gathering with close friends to talk through days that are harder than others, motioning a playground green house right now to offer something beautiful and building my new home to create an environment to do these self care rituals and practices. 

Zenat Begum is the owner and founder of  Playground Youth, a community-based organization operating out of Playground Coffee Shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Playground Youth supports Bed-Stuy by ensuring a safe space to exchange art, cultural knowledge, and strategies. The organization tackles a range of community needs including literacy, food equity, and arts & culture through a range of accessible programs and events.

Spiritual Birth and Swami Taboos with Jasper Lotti

SA
Jasper, how are you doing this morning?

J
I’m good! I was nocturnal ever since quarantine started but I’ve gotten back to waking up early. It feels so good. How about you?

SA
My sleep pattern has also kind of been all over the place lately but this week I’ve tried to be a little more strict with myself. I’m good, a little achey and still slowly waking up but so excited to be talking to you!!! What’ve you been up to during quarantine, how have you been keeping grounded?

J
Very excited to talk to u toooo. Hmm, I’ve been really turning inward and seeing how my energy is unbalanced. Just trying to fix myself and face my demons. And just getting more comfortable with myself overall. Fixing my energy has really helped me stay grounded and feel at home in my body. I think maintaining your homeostasis when the external world is so chaotic is so crucial right now. 

SA
I so agree that it’s necessary to have some sort of internal equilibrium in order to deal with the constant crises around us. When/how did you come to realize that your energy was unbalanced? Was it a particular moment or a culmination of varying things? 

J
My life was going at such a crazy pace. Once I was locked down and was able to sit with myself, I was able to see how I was reacting and acting in a more subjective way. I’m a very chill person around my friends, and being in lockdown with my family was a lot and definitely showed me sides of myself I didn’t like. They were treating me like I was in high school and it made me realize I had to go back to my past and do a lot of healing on my younger self. Even though I’m a different version now, seeing how I reacted to their comments made me realize the work I had to do in order to heal my younger self. It’s really weird but it helped me a lot with my current self.

SA
Wow, I so relate and hear you. I think one thing that came up for so many of us was the need to reparent ourselves. I can’t imagine what being in quarantine with my family would be like, so big ups to you for navigating that. I want to hear more about your upbringing in terms of navigating culture and spirituality and how you understand it now. You incorporate so much of it into your art and I think it’s really beautiful to hear how you are on this journey to better yourself while rethinking cultural/spiritual values. What has that been like for you?

J
Up until like mid-elementary school, my grandparents lived with us. And they are super super religious and are devotees of Swami Sivananda. So growing up I was always playing with my grandma and she would teach me mantras and I would play in our pooja room. Every night before I would sleep she would tell me stories, the mythology of different gods and stuff from the Mahabharata. I kind of developed this fantastical idea of gods and spirituality. I would draw different gods and write my own stories, really into the idea of this other universe. My mom introduced me to spirituality very early on in my life, like pre-school. Broad topics about the universe and how energy works. On top of that, I was singing in a gospel choir and classical Hindustani music. I was really submerged in this magical bubble. But I didn’t consider and still don’t see myself as “religious,” but spiritual. I do appreciate all religions, especially the mythological side. It can be so powerful and inspiring because it makes us feel linked to these fantastical worlds. I have so much appreciation for my upbringing. I got pressured as I went through schooling to become a doctor/study harder but I was never good at school, especially math. And so my ideas of the world as this magical place started to fade as the modern education system killed my spirit lol….but I found it again as I went through really dark times in high school and college as I started creating music and coming into my art. I was brainwashed into thinking life is a constant struggle and suffering, money is all that matters etc. like NO. I was right when I was a kid. The world is this magical place with energy moving around, humans are so magical, we have magical powers, everything is so insanely beautiful. 

SA
This reminds me of something I grew up around which was this notion of having faith and a spirituality that is ‘child like’, and really coming back to the purity and innocence of a radical curiosity, hunger + thirst to know both the world + yourself. So many of us get jaded and then can’t see beyond the darkness.. 

OK so, I want to ask you about what you and I have been sporadically chatting about in terms of sexuality and spirituality. I hit you up when I saw you posted a screenshot of a pornsite that had a Swami category… I was SOOO infatuated because for me, I’m really working through how my sexuality and spirituality are connected considering there have been many attempts to squash my sexuality through spiritual practices, thus the connection I have to my higher self has also been hindered. How did you stumble upon the Swami fetish?? 

J
Yes to all of this. I guess going back a bit, being born into a very religious family, I was never really seen as a “girl,” and any sexual desire or urges I had growing up under my family’s roof was way off the table in terms of discussion. I was scared to show this side of myself to my parents because I did have such strong feelings but was ashamed/embarrassed. So until college where I had freedom to live on my own I literally felt like a blob of nothingness LOL. As I lost touch with my younger child, I lost touch with what it meant to be spiritual. The moment I had my sexual awakening, I had this spiritual rebirth as well. That was a pivotal moment where I was able to connect back with my younger child and start this new journey of rebuilding and spiritual growth. Once I experienced my sexual power, I was like wtf this is so magical…how are humans able to do this. When you orgasm and feel sexual, it’s such a direct feeling of your own godly energy. Like damn….what? So for me, having that firsthand experience of this crazy power within me was like ignition to my spiritual path. The energy is so TANGIBLE, you don’t have to go looking for it. Ever since that point I’ve always really thought about spirituality and sexuality as extremely linked. 

In terms of the Swami fetish, growing up in a family with a Swami being so central to notions of spirituality, I started to think how people relate to these figures. Like, my grandma LOVES swami sivananda. And ever since my grandpa passed she has really been devoting herself completely to her worship. I just became curious and started googling things… I think the line of devotion and attraction is soooo fine. I don’t think attraction has to be “sexualized.” Devotion is sincere love, love doesn’t have to be sexualized. I came to this conclusion that sexualization doesn’t have to be “sexualized.” It just is. And just looking back at hindu mythology, if you look at the story of shiva and parvati: she was born as a human and was in love with Shiva, a god, and prayed to him everyday in hopes that she would marry him. Like that’s devotion being sexualized. She literally wanted him sexually! And krishna with his gopis. He would lure them with the sound of his flute (lol) and kiss them, and some sources say even have sex with them, because they were so devoted to him. There is this weird line between devotion and attraction and desire…I feel like energy is energy. Channeling it through sexuality is just another medium. But because we have all these taboos and ideas around sexuality, it’s seen as so separate from these notions of spirituality when in reality it truly is not. There is a lot of repression involved in these dynamics. So ya…that’s where the Swami fetish came from! haha

SA
It’s so interesting to me how we come from a culture that explores sexuality so fluidly and organically and yet, now, we look at South Asian culture as one of the most sexually repressed ones. Like, I hate that when I saw the screenshot of the Swami, my mind immediately went to thinking about all the predatory stories I have heard about Swami’s instead of thinking about it as something more divinatory.. I really want to go into a deeper dive with you about all of this… but, because I am running out of time, to end, can you talk me through some things that are helping you stay grounded right now? 

J
I’ve been watching wayyy much more anime than I usually do. It feels like an escape and I think it’s been helping me mentally just to live vicariously thru these characters. In particular, Inuyasha, Rurouni Kenshin, Fushugi Yugi. Anything with medieval Japan. I think I have some past life connection to that era because I resonate so strongly. I’ve been working on my next EP called Priestess, which is pretty much a culmination of a lot of spiritual work, my obsession with cosmology and my exploration into divine feminine culminating. I think honestly just following your curiosity right now is so important, like learning about new topics or new skills, just challenging yourself in new ways is so crucial to staying grounded. Bare feet on grass ! That really aligns me and makes me feel literally rooted. I started this routine at the start of the year of doing a yoga flow + meditation first thing when I wake up. It’s literally changed my life, getting my into a good headspace to start the day. Like taking time for yourself when you wake up, to feel aware and intentional before you start is so important.I think overall taking care of my body too…I was so busy before I didn’t stop to ask my body how it was feeling, like give it enough love. Thanking it for being my vessel in this weird experience. It’s corny but these things have overall made me feel more gratitude in my life overall and love for humanity and the universe. It’s the only way to stay positive and keep building! Time off social media, off Instagram. Being in the present. I know this situation has forced us to be on social media even more, but I’ve been really seeing the matrix of it all and am just TIRED of the cycles and algorithm lol…so only going on when I need to/using it for messaging. I’ve started journaling as well, it’s been helping me keep track of my life and goals, just being more active and present.

Creating a Movement of Integrity with Fariha Róisín

Fariha Róisín is a multidisciplinary artist living on Earth. She is the author of the poetry collection How To Cure A Ghost (2019), as well as the novel Like A Bird (2020). Fariha founded Studio Ānanda alongside Prinita Thevarajah in May 2020. The pair recently sat down for a conversation on slowing down to reset our operating system and the significance in leading lives with integrity.

F
Hi love!

P
Hi! How are you feeling? You’ve had such a full on day. 

F
I’m feeling a few things — tired, exhausted come to my mind. My body (mainly shoulders) have been incredibly tender today so I’ve been feeling that constriction in my muscles, too. I’ve been smoking less weed these last few days, as I’m trying to sit with myself, and listen. But it’s actually so hard to keep that attention, to be mindful of my body’s needs, without assigning judgment. But then, my spirit today is also feeling conflicted: I feel joy that I’m here, talking to you, that I’m back in New York, but I’m also cognizant that I need rest. Always working within these bodily and mind conflicts I guess.  

How are you?

P
I’m also feeling a lot of different things this morning. I get out of quarantine in five hours. I’m excited to be outside and feel the sun directly on my skin, unobstructed by a window & to breathe fresh air!! Unsure about what my first few interactions with my family will be like, but overall excited. 

You’ve made it through a full week back in New York, and knowing your schedule, it’s incredible to me that you’re even able to make room for conversations like this one. I hope the weekend is deeply regenerative for you & that you’ll be able to restore fragmented bits of energy and call your spirit back to yourself. 

One thing that has always struck me about you is that even as you work on so many different projects at all times, the quality of your art and the passion in your presentation always comes through so strong. Where does that come from? I know what you’re saying is it does take a toll on your mind and your body, though the fact that you’re able to go for so long without losing steam… it’s incredible to see unfold.

F
Thank you <3 That reflection is so important for me because I think I’ve told you, but an astrologer earlier this year told me that I’m the type of person to do the work even when nobody’s watching, and I relate to that sentiment with my whole personhood. I am just dedicated to doing the work. I could explain that astrologically, I’m ruled by Saturn, so hard work is meditative to me. I find my best self when I get into that flow, which is what it is for me, a flow of motion. I do feel like a sorcerer, a magician, or an alchemizer, and that’s what all my work feels like. As if I’m channeling something. It’s so innate, so intuitive, that it’s really an energy that I tap into. Maybe it’s spirit, maybe it’s the ancestral realm that I’m dipping into, but I also think it’s a contract that I signed onto in this lifetime. I feel charged by something beyond me. 

But in the human realm, on the other end of the spectrum, I do suffer. As a child love was beyond me, and I have really worked to find that as an adult—in my community, in my friendships, at the very least. But I’m still bad at asking for help, or telling folks that I’m suffering. I’m very good at excelling while I’m barely surviving. Which I guess is a trauma response. 

P
I’ve known you now for about four full years and it’s clear that there is kinetic energy that flows through you. It’s tangible and I feel it in the spaces that you occupy, whether that be your home space or the way you manage your interpersonal relationships. There is a great deal of thoughtfulness that you move with, that you’re teaching me everyday. One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about is integrity. You operate with so much of it & I think it can be jarring for some, especially in an era where social media allows for a disconnected personality, to see that in action. The way that you’re able to be so vulnerable as a public facing figure, and yet at the same time struggle to ask for help, for me that is heartbreaking and another example of how you’re always trying to move without ego and in full transparency. 

F
Yeah, it’s honestly a battle. I struggle with it immensely. I don’t know if it’s my Cancer Moon (lol) or the fact that I’m a Jupiter Cancer. Probably not, I just think it’s instinct. My entire therapy is built around how I tried to make myself perfect and how I was still abused. It’s actually painful to think about. I think I was just raised by my sister and father with such incredible values. My dad is a man of his word. He’s one of the best men I know. Or people, period. I guess despite the kind of horrifying shit the three of us experienced, it encouraged us to be really caring and compassionate… and also not complain. Which is why I find it so hard to. I was sort of this court jester character in my family, always making people laugh. If my mother was having an episode I was thrown into the pit to calm her down. Sometimes willingly, but I wonder if a child ever really has a choice. I just saw myself, and my value, as a token for someone else. I didn’t realize that I could have my own life for quite some time. Now, many years later, I still suffer from not prioritizing myself or my own needs. The thought I could hurt someone always is what drives me. And it’s a lonely world being like this. 

I think the hardest part is people don’t believe what they see, and then they use it against me. That’s what Shaka, my ex told me a few months ago. I’m obviously not perfect lol and I have many flaws, but it is a really lonely thing to be dedicated to one’s word and to try to be the best example all the time. I’m just sort of always trying to be better. 

P
I’m reminded of the post-it note that sits above your desk in your office which simply says “just be good”. It’s such a simple yet difficult task for most of humanity to just be good.

What does prioritizing yourself these days look like?

F
I love that post-it note so much! Prioritizing myself means trying to locate how I feel at all times and letting that guide me. But because I was extremely abused, my senses are sort of dulled. Especially when it comes to being uncomfortable… so I’m trying to gain better fluency to myself so I can actually ascertain what I need in a moment. And that is a lot of work for someone who could never say how they felt (when it was bad). There’s a lot of deprogramming of such simple things for me, and I guess I’m just trying to be kinder to myself, show myself the compassion I give everyone else all the time.

P
I think it should be spoken about more how childhood sexual abuse and childhood abuse survivors in general have to literally rewire their brain in order to fully function as a capable adult. You are actively doing that work while on tour, writing a fourth book, running a studio and all the other bits and bobs that you fit yourself into.

What is coming up for me now is this slowness you drive, which is antithetical to everything that we have been taught. A slowness and a gentleness which ultimately says that, if you are not kind to yourself and others, if you are not slow with your journey and with the journey of others, then your practice will not be sustainable and your purpose might not be realized. It’s not an easy thing to move this way in a city like New York City especially. 

F
Yeah it’s incredibly difficult to have that kind of discipline. I learned this by trial and error and basically I’m a fast learner, and I don’t want to waste time. My own or anybody else’s. I think when I was in my early 20s I was messy enough times to realize that shit doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy it, it’s too shameful for me. I hate carrying that weight. I think all of us have moments of entitlement, where we feel we are owed things. Especially as a survivor. Then, I think by the time I re-entered New York, and especially after my last break up, I realized there were holes in my character that I had to address. It’s when my real first spiritual download happened, as if I was like Fariha 4.0, my system was re-energized. In plant medicine circles the human psyche is referred to as the “operating system” or O.S a lot, and I relate to that frameworking. What are you keeping in your body that is old hardware? What isn’t serving you anymore? To evolve basically means ending patterns. 

So for me, aligning myself with who I say I am was a very important step in the evolution of myself. I have high standards, but I’m a person that gives such high standards back. It’s something that I have to remind myself all the time, and actually that is what’s begun to (to refer back to your earlier question) help prioritize my needs more—just because I’m bearing witness to how I’m evolving.

P
Right – you are only expecting from others what you expect from yourself. That is a very radical type of accountability. Truthfully, as someone who is in their early 20s, I’ve never experienced a dynamic like ours where you really do hold me to how I say I’m trying to be in the world. Because, you’re right – a lot of us are carrying this really slippery entitlement that is often leveraged in terms of our past. But with you, you see it and you say ok, so now how are we going to move forward and be better and avoid repeating stagnant patterns. 

It’s not an easy way to live, it’s actually very uncomfortable and I respect you for your ability to be comfortable with uncomfortability. So much of the hope I have in the mission for Studio Ananda really does tie back into the way you and I both handle conflict, confusion and collaboration. 

On Wednesday our filler post was, ‘your greatest enemy is in your hearts and mind’ and we were informed that it was a line pulled from Thich Nhat Hanh’s letter to MLK, where he was writing about the parallels between the inhumanities in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. He was delving into this idea of – transform yourself first to transform the world around you. And that’s what seeps out of so much of the art that you create and the way you live your daily life. 

F
Thank you. Our relationship has taught me so much about the importance of reflecting your best self at all times. We are friends who ventured on this incredible, beautiful mission. It means that there always has to be an emphasis on full transparency. When I need to tell you something, that may be difficult to say, it’s actually so powerful for me to remember that I owe it to the both of us to be completely honest. Because our work relies on that transparency. What we are creating with Studio Ananda has never been done before. So it means that the way you and I co-exist, or even how we work with Sonia/Raver Jinn, has to be of the highest order. I think sometimes I feel like a monk, and I’m sure you know lol, I’m just really obsessed with integrity. 

The other day I pulled the Jaquar Card which is Integrity/Impeccability card in my Medicine /Animal Tarot Deck. It brought tears to my eyes. It made me think of my ayahuasca shaman Jyoti, who is somebody who has incredible integrity. That means she’s sometimes scary, lol. I don’t endeavor to be like her completely, but I think there’s immense value in bluntness, in telling the truth. And that’s the energy I want to bring to my work, to my relationships, to Studio Ananda. 

P
And ultimately, you are just helping me see myself a little more clearly as well. It’s cool that you’re able to do that in a way that is candid, blunt only to cut the BS and allow for a really clarified perspective on the situation. Which is super different for me to experience as someone who has only ever been met with a bluntness that was self serving and meant to harm rather than bring higher understanding, so thank you. 

What are your deepest hopes and dreams for Studio Ananda? 

F
To create a movement of integrity. I hope that people are moved by the discipline of evolution and encouraged by the people we talk to, the archive we build, the schools, the impact that we foster and create. I take deep solace in the Islamic Renaissance. Studio Ananda is a harking back to that time of enlightenment, to show people how reflection and healing are radical tools to dismantling systems. Now, in this lifetime, in order for us to work together and destroy capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy, we need to understand that there is a collective call to action. That starts with the self, of confronting the demons, the ancestral baggage, so you can be a true accomplice and comrade. All liberation groups were destroyed by the ego. We need to work seamlessly and understand the true way to truly liberate is to do so yourself. It begins with you and it becomes a mighty foundation to then inspire and motivate others, or to hold them up in their process. This is what we owe each other. This is the way we face the apocalypse. I want humans to evolve. I hope Studio Ananda helps on that journey.

P
Feeling very blessed, activated and grateful to be able to build this space alongside you and curiously waiting to see where the universe takes us with Studio Ananda. I feel very humbled to be able to stand beside you and offer this space as a resource to others. 

I know it’s getting late over there, how are you feeling right now? 

F
The feeling is mutual, my love! I feel good. I’m so excited for what’s to come. We are building, co-creating, a truly moving place. To watch us grow has been a gift. I’m also looking forward to continuing this conversation. There’s more to come, and more to say. We are expanding in so many different ways, and it thrills me to be on this journey with you.

P
Same!

Holding on to this thread of integrity, do you have any particular resources that come to mind, texts, audio, visuals that have encouraged you to stand strong in your practice of integrity? 

F
Oh I love this! Ok, what comes to mind is the John O’Donohue On Being episode, as well as his book Anam Cara. He was a poet, priest and philosopher. I don’t know why I find him so moving, but maybe because he’s writing about survival but through the lens of beauty, the importance of always keeping something beautiful in your mind. 

I also have been so called to action by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and other abolitionists like Mariame Kaba. To be an abolitionist, I think, relies on integrity. It means believing something so beyond you, and so outside the realm of experience, but to dream for it anyway. To believe in transformative justice means to be better for it. If we believe in abolition, we have to transform ourselves, as a species and as people. That’s exhilarating to me. Same goes with the environment, in the hope of being climate warriors. I’ve been reading Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva, and similarly, it’s such a hopeful book. This time, pandemic time — this portal itself — is asking us to push against our inertia so we can save this planet. 

P
Perfect, thank you for sharing these. Do you have any last words you want to add? 

F
I’ve been meditating on this quote by Joanna Macy, “We can sense that we are in a space without a map. That we’re on shifting ground. Where old habits and old scenarios, all previous expectations, all familiar features no longer apply. It’s like we’re unmoored, cast loose. In Tibetan Buddhism, such a place, or gap between known worlds, is called a bardo. It’s kind of frightening. It’s also a place for potential transformation.”

On the Visual Appropriation and Erasure of Lower Caste Histories with Khushboo Gulati

SA
Hi Khushboo!! I’m so grateful to be speaking with you. How is your spirit feeling this evening?

K
Hello! My spirit has been ruminating this evening ~ been sitting with my thoughts, letting myself flow and create! How is your spirit? And also excited to be here and in dialogue with you! 

SA
So glad to hear that you’ve been able to have what sounds like a fluid and restful day. I think this retrograde combined with the new moon energy has been pretty heavy for me personally, I’m looking forward to spending the next few days in rest and quiet contemplation. Can you speak a little about your practice with me – if you can even generalize. You are someone who is so multidisciplinary, multi skilled + multitalented – so maybe, how do you define the art that you create if you were to narrow it down?

K
I hear you! These last few days have felt chaotic energetically so I have been resting more and my dreams have been very amplified! 

Yes! Thank you for seeing me! My creations engage with my journeys of flesh and spirit, time(less-ness), flower splendor, the elements, challenging values and narratives of oppression, rewriting internal and external narratives, transformation, detangling pain, my dreams, and igniting wonder. My art practice is a reflection of my healing practice. My practice is rooted in embodiment and sensorial activation and is reflective of my own process of self-excavation and evolutions into my deepest selves. My process is shaped by ritual, elemental reverence, stillness and movement, collaborations with qtbipoc community, liberatory politics, and my intuition! Is this narrowed down enough haha?

SA
So so so beautiful. One thing about your art practice that really drew me in is how tangibly sacred your process is. And how willing you are to offer that with the world. I also really love this notion of sensorial activation. I’ve only recently come back to my body, I’m still calling bits of myself back, and your work is so palpable while also speaking to inner healing. 

Your tattoo work is especially something that struck me – when did you get into tattooing and how did you begin to foster the process of channeling inner vibrations through the tattoos? What does that look like when you are giving someone else a tattoo?

K
Thank you for your affirmations! I appreciate hearing that ~ Sensorial activations in my work came from my own healing work. It brings me closer to my spirit and invites a deeper connection to my body. My art has been a sanctuary to create new worlds that reflect my visions, desires, and pleasures and invite different ways of feeling, being, and seeing from what is taught to us or socialized. The process of calling ourselves back into our bodies and spirits is definitely a nonlinear and expansive ongoing process that takes new form as we grow, unlearn and relearn and revel in the unique and magical songs of the self! My tattoo work has definitely been an expression of sensorial activation, as a somatic healing practice that bridges and expands mind, body, heart, and spirit! I started learning how to tattoo in 2016 from my friend Sookie, the night I graduated from college, which was a really symbolic moment of moving away from this academic logical world to this sensorial, intuitive, and creative world. I was dreaming a lot about tattooing myself months before this night but was not consciously acting on these visions. I feel like I have been connected to this practice in various forms (and in training) since I was a kid. I was always the kid drawing on other people in class with my inky ballpoint pen, drawn to adornment, was raised in a household that was visually stimulating with Indian wall hangings and embroideries my mom decorated the house with that I was subconsciously studying. I started to do mehndi/henna for myself and my community and felt really connected to that energy exchange and ritual. When I close my eyes I see patterns, fractals and intricate images constantly. I also feel that having a dance practice growing up shaped my understanding of the rhythms of the body and how it moves, which informs how I tattoo. Decorating the body with sacred adornment has been so powerful for me as a queer non-binary person in defining myself on my own terms and celebrating the vibrances that I feel within! I also feel that what I have learned from organizing has informed my practice of tattooing as a political act of honoring and celebrating the layers, stories, and histories that belong to the communities I tattoo! I transitioned to learning how to use the machine last year with the help of community, Mirza and Jaime. Honoring my teachers in this work is so important to me! I am self taught and community taught!

My tattoo practice is rooted in amplifying the autonomy of and connection to our bodies, hearts, and spirits, inviting transformation and deeper self-awareness. Each session is a sensorial ceremony to mark the flesh with symbols soaked in intentions and prayer, acting as a powerful tool to reclaim the body, challenge fear, projections, expectations and the socializations of our bodies. My client and I will talk about their meanings and what it brings up for them over email. I never share my flash sheets online to protect my work and because they are also so deeply personal and reflections of my spiritual journeys and lessons. When the client arrives at my studio, we usually check in about how we are both doing and I go through what the tattoo process will look like. I ask their body boundaries, communicate with them how I will be working on their body/where I will be placing pressure, reminding them we can move with this process in ways that support them and their comfortability with breaks and breaths. 

Once the image is placed, I ask that we take 3 deep cavernous grounding breaths and to set an intention with this tattoo. I ask what they would like to affirm, invite, celebrate, or release with this piece and I set an intention as well. After that process to invite presence we begin the process. Tattooing different parts of the body can bring up a lot of emotion and energy, so I want to make sure to hold space for this and encourage the client to listen to the messages of what is coming up! There is never any rush with my sessions, I do not like to work with that energy because it disrupts my process and channeling. Because I am a Gemini, I love to ask questions and I will usually talk with my client (to whatever extent they want to share) about their journeys, how they flow through this world, what they creating and dreaming about, what they want to transform, their ancestral histories, their favorite time of day, etc! 

SA
Wow Khushboo, I am so moved by how deeply intentional and thoughtful your process around and within tattooing is. The reverence you have for this palpable energetic exchange, the ways that you’re making room for lineages and hundreds of years of histories – it’s such a holistic approach to embodiment and meaning making.

I know for me, I’ve had to really slow down when considering who I will approach for my next tattoo because I do want to be in a space where my body is honored and my spirit is seen. It’s so comforting and exhilarating to know that you’re really digging deep and combining gentleness and interrogation into your tattoo work. 

I want to talk to you about a recent trend that I’ve been observing that is the tattooing of markings that resemble that worn traditionally by Dalit, Adivasi and other ‘lower caste’ communities. I only have recently begun learning about the ancestral histories behind these types of markings and it’s concerning that there is this rising trend where both South Asians and non South Asians are pulling from communities that have been historically discriminated against without context. What have you been thinking about this?

K
The energy exchange of tattooing is so vulnerable and intimate, it makes sense to want to work with an artist that moves with community care and trauma-informed approaches. For me, this work is not just transactional or commercial, it is so process oriented and invites so many worlds of flesh and spirit. Tattoo artists must consider who is coming into their space, what they are bringing, and how to honor their clients as well as themselves. This has also meant making visual vocabularies that are outside Brahmanical and white imaginations. Tattooing, in my approach, is a form of care work of holding space, deep listening to the body, energy, and the client, and supporting the client in activating their agency through this process. 

Upper caste people have been appropriating and taking from caste oppressed communities since the inception of the caste system—from their literal labor, their cultural practices, to their humanity. This dynamic of upper caste people appropriating tattoos that come from oppressed caste communities is a very colonial dynamic and peak casteism. The ease through which upper caste people appropriate comes from caste privilege and this domination mentality/psyche of entitlement, lack of self-awareness, disconnection from the self and their positionality, and not knowing the vast histories of oppressed caste communities. This dynamic is also coupled with capitalism and patriarchy, where upper caste people reduce tattoo histories and vocabularies from oppressed caste people down to just aesthetics. This dynamic is extremely harmful and violent, and perpetuates caste supremacy. It destroys the sacred! I was reading from Akademi magazine that “Savarna history is a history of erasure.” Appropriation feeds anti-indigenous ideologies and is another form of colonization of oppressed caste communities. By appropriating these visual languages, upper caste people are erasing the contributions, intellectual+creative labor, imaginations, and agency of the original practitioners and wearers of these tattoos. Upper caste people can adorn themselves with these appropriated symbols without consequences and receive praise and adoration, while oppressed caste bodies are hurt, policed, controlled, and dehumanized. This appropriation is extremely disrespectful and harmful in a time of Hindu fascism, rampant caste violence, and ongoing labor exploitation of oppressed caste communities, when oppressed caste communities have shaped everything without receiving credit or dignity. They have created the visual expressions and cultures of South Asia and we have to honor them and their artistries. 

Upper caste tattoo artists and non-South Asian artists have a responsibility to practice integrity by honoring and respecting the boundaries and practices of oppressed caste communities. Tattoo artists must incorporate deep research into their practices and integrate anti-caste work into our practices. To be transparent, I am caste privileged, making it an even greater responsibility to challenge this casteist appropriation and actively listen to and support Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi liberation movements. 

Something I have noticed is that a lot of upper caste people in the diaspora will look to aesthetics as an entry point into understanding their identities, but will not think about the artisans and makers behind these crafts, textiles, embroideries, etc. It is in this process that the meanings, intentions, and histories of oppressed caste people get commodified and decontextualized. The irony is that I will see upper caste tattoo artists and people talk about appropriation of their ~culture~ by white people but will not even mention how they are replicating the same dynamic through casteism. Another layer to this is that many upper caste people’s perception of their culture has been shaped by Brahmanism and North Indian Hindu upper caste hegemony, which is inherently violent and problematic. Additionally, while simultaneously taking from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi visual practices, upper caste people and non-South Asians are romanticizing Southasianness and Hindu imageries with tattoos. This is deeply dangerous as well because of how Hinduism is also appropriated from oppressed caste people and has caste supremacy and brahmanical patriarchy written into its scriptures. The construction of Hindusim as a peaceful, romanticized religion comes from upper caste Hindu elites utiltizing European historiography of India as this mystical peaceful land. Hinduism has been used as a tool for nationalism, fascism, and upholding upper caste ideals. Brahmanism/Hinduism & caste supremacy is a construction by upper caste elites to create systems that subordinate, exploit, and control oppressed caste communities and represent Indian society as a monolith. It was framed as a holy and sacred structure to justify its existence and to maintain its power so deep, deep in the psyche of South Asia and South Asian diasporas. The gravity of this appropriation of tattoo languages by upper caste people is manipulative, immense and wrong by how much trauma and damage casteism has caused and continues to create. These acts are a form of spiritual and political warfare. Nothing is separate from history. Tattoos are political, the body is political, it is the site of imagination and possibilities. It is a reflection of the social, political, emotional, spiritual, psychological and historical ecosystems, circumstances, and journeys they come from. One cannot detach tattoos from history and dynamics of power. 

SA
This is such an in depth interrogation of the violence that exists within so much of South Asian caste culture. Even within the system of yoga, there’s so much space made to critique the west’s appropriation of the practice, and yet so many South Asians are unwilling to address how the practice itself has its roots in violence against lower caste communities. 

Now especially as we are experiencing the peak of Hindu fascism, it’s so interesting how platforms like Instagram get used to proliferate these images of South Asianness funnelled through ~experimental village-esque~ tattoos. It’s so crucial for us to really think about how we are playing into the mass spiritual, institutional and physical erasure of lower caste and historically marginalized South Asian communities. We absolutely need to start interrogating the ways we perform our identities – even more so if we feel like we don’t have a connection to caste dynamics, because that is usually how and why we become so complacent with the romanticization of ‘South Asianness!’ I want to delve so much deeper but I want to be mindful of your time, to end – do you have any resources that you might want to share for folks who are interested in learning more about the caste histories and visual languages of tattooing? And what advice would you give for those who maybe already have markings on their bodies that they weren’t super intentional about? 

K
Yes caste is everywhere and engrained in every facet of life, making it even more important to constantly be interrogating everything we have learned about South Asia and South Asianness. I want to give thanks to the Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi and Muslim activists, scholars, artists, paradigm shifters that I have learned all this information from.

I remember when I was first researching tattoo history in India it was hard to find comprehensive information and now I realize this is because of Brahmanism. I have been learning from Dalit feminists, that this is the savarna washing of history with casteism denying and erasing oppressed communities and their histories and the resources to wholly document their vastness. When I did find articles there was barely mention of caste dynamics and written in condescending or voyeuristic tones. My learning has come from caste oppressed activists, artists, and culture workers on instagrams and thru online articles. B.R. Ambedkar, brilliant Dalit visionary and leader talked about building a counter culture to Hinduism & caste supremacy. This means making sure our tattoo practice feeds a culture that is working towards liberation of oppressed caste communities. Our tattoo practice must nourish a counter culture that honors and encourages healing, transformation, harmony, inner work, accountability, action, communication, research, pleasure, joy and authenticity. 

As I have learned from Ambedkar and other Dalit activists, true allyship means to abolish caste and divest from Hinduism. There is nothing to salvage or reform about institutionalized injustice! 

For deeper learning, there are so many resources online you can find through the Equality Labs page—they have a list of book recs. I would recommend reading The Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar, Debrahmanising History by Braj Ranjan Mani, books by Kancha Ililah, articles by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, to name a few. Follow the pages of Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi artists+ activists. Some wonderful pages to follow– @artedkar, @bakeryprasad, @partyofficehq, @coolie.women, @sharminultra, @gracebanu, @ranaayuub, Huma Dar, Yalini Dream, @ManishaMashaal, @kirubamunusamy, @artwhoring, @akademimag and sooo many more. 

Upper caste people must challenge casteism in their families and caste network! As Dalit feminists have stated, the burden should not fall on Dalit people to fight Brahmanical patriarchy and caste apartheid—this is an upper caste creation and upper caste problem. Upper caste people must listen and surrender to Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi leadership, liberation and communities. Organize with folks committed to caste liberation, find an Ambedkarite organization! Upper caste people must engage in deep inner work by taking responsibility for the harm our ancestors have caused and were complicit in. This is healing the conscious, subconscious, and conscious where casteism resides. This is healing and taking responsibility for your bloodline, of reprogramming, dismantling, and interrupting toxic and violent belief systems and behaviors. Because caste is so embedded in our relationships and psyches, it is critical to heal how we build with one another. 

Creating a connection to the self outside of caste supremacy requires us to be creative and open our hearts. We must remember that we have the capacity to grow into other forms of knowing and connection, especially knowings that center liberation. We must remember that we can shapeshift and transform. We can create new worlds, traditions and rituals that affirm life. We have to build relationships outside of assigned illusions of caste supremacy and invite a deeper more radical loving. To the folks who have markings on their bodies that were not very intentional, I would say let this be a learning moment to move with deeper intention, self-interrogation, and research. Let this be a reminder to interrupt casteism and caste apartheid everywhere. May this be a reminder to commit to a lifelong journey of undoing the violent legacies of Brahmanism. May this be a reminder to bring forth the worlds envisioned by caste oppressed communities. May this be a wake up call to fight for the dignity, humanity, autonomy, justice and healing for oppressed caste communities. May this be a reminder of the reparations upper caste people owe oppressed caste people. May this invite you to rewrite history so that the same cycles of history and hatred are not repeated.

Khushboo is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer born and raised on Tongva Land (Los Angeles). Their creations engage with the journeys of their flesh/spirit, time/less-ness, ritual, flower splendor, the elements, challenging values of oppression, embodiment, rewriting internal & external narratives, detangling pain, dreams, and igniting wonder. They channel through painting, tattooing, graphic design, sensation activation + curation, textiles, installations, and dance, creating lush worlds around saturated loving, healing and existing… new ways of flowing, being, seeing, connecting. Their work is guided by shifting paradigms, transformation, metaphysical spiritual exploration, intuition, creating autonomous affirming spaces that center justice, liberation, love.

Their practice has been an ever flowing journey of constant learning, flowering since 2010. They are interested in reflecting the deep connections between the personal, political, and spiritual. Their work has been and is shaped + informed by decolonization and debrahmanization, anti-capitalist anti-racist organizing, abolition, ending caste apartheid & Islamophobia, Black liberation, queer and trans liberation work, disability justice frameworks, & healing+spiritual justice work~

 

The Quietest Revolution with Amber Khan

SA
Hi Amber <3 So lucky to have just talked to you. How are you?

A
Hey! I’m great! I’m so happy to have spoken to you. 

SA
I have so many questions. But firstly, what first drew you to Tarot? 

A
When I was a sophomore in high school I had to do a demonstrative speech for class and I hadn’t done the assignment. Naturally, I told the teacher and he told me I would fail. So, I went down to the locker room in tears and a friend of mine handed me a deck of cards with an instruction booklet inside. The assignment was to teach the class how to do something, so I learned the spread in five mins and taught the class how to do a reading. The teacher didn’t buy it and demanded that I do an actual reading and show the class. I did so and just went off what my gut told me the cards meant. The girl (who had given me the cards) was my first reading and I nailed it. When I got down to my locker there was a line of girls waiting. I guess you could say I fell into it. 

SA
Talk about fate… one one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is (well, it should be said for the readers, you’re my go-to Taroist/Astrologist) there’s something that’s so obvious to me about your connection to source. You speak in such profound ways, such profound truths. To hear the genesis of how you ~ came to be ~ makes so much sense. Do you feel like that’s accurate? Your connection to spirit?

A
So, when my mom was nine months pregnant, she fell in Mecca in front of the Kaba on her belly. There was quite a loud cracking sound and then I didn’t move at all for days. Everyone thought I had died, but she refused to go to the hospital, two days later I started moving again. I fell again when I was three in the bathtub (I slipped) and was out for an entire day. I think I learned in the womb how to leave and come back and have a tendency to do so quite a lot. It feels like the more disconnected you are from the body, the easier it is to travel and become a live wire – a connector of sorts. It’s not like I know what I’m going to say, ever. There’s no dialogue in my mind.  I just say things, so I know I’m tapping into a running current of knowledge, it’s not my own. 

SA
Your life is so poetic, but I find and see my own life as such… how things just fall into place, and things are gathered so effortlessly. As a Muslim, I’m so grateful for your existence because you navigate both Islam and the intersection of other worlds so gracefully. Sometimes you’ll say Inshallah or Mashallah in a reading and I just feel so seen. How have you cultivated this space where you can just be and harness all those intersecting (and to some maybe oppositional) spiritual practices and meld them together? 

A
Well, it’s worth remembering that the first computer was created from the study of the iChing which led to the creation of binary math.  The iChing is a divination tool that’s made modern computing possible. So, for me there isn’t much of an issue with using another tool of divination because it’s not something rooted in the occult for me. It’s like a quantum computer before those words existed.  A series of pictures of broken and unbroken lines that reads the simulation at any given moment and shows you where your energy is at. I also shy away from predictive astrology for the most part. Sure, this transit and that card mean something, but your fate is always within your own hands.  These tools are just a guide to help you understand yourself better so you can actually create the future you want not be tied into something that’s inevitable. I believe very deeply in my religion and I believe that a big part of my appeal is that I give people control over their own lives. Knowledge shouldn’t hurt you, it should guide you. There are many who may see my work as blasphemous, I’m aware.  But there are many trenches and many ways of bringing people to faith.  The most desperate among us look to the dark corners where judgement doesn’t prevail.  I like working in those corners.  

SA
Absolutely, this makes sense. Is this a reason why you’ve dedicated your life to this work? There’s something about the information you give, with tenderness, sometimes with sternness, that feels like such an offering and salve. I’m sure you hear this so much, but personally for me it’s been life altering… and I can’t help but feel like you are serving your purpose by giving so many people across the globe this reprieve… but how do you view and sit with this offering? Is it hard?

A
Not at all.  The thing about tapping into a stream of information and energy is that I’m not a vessel.  I don’t get drained or need to be filled back up. (Gemini shit) The only thing I know how to do in life is help people, I can’t bear suffering and cruelty.  Wherever I see it, I have to do or say something.  And because I seem to be able to offer information that soothes people and eases their suffering, I just keep doing it.  There is no deeper thought process, so I don’t ever feel like it’s difficult or a burden. Someone appears before me and they’re hurting, they need some understanding, some hope, some information.  I blurt it out, they feel lighter, better, more hopeful and then I’m gone.  LOL That sounds bad but it’s pretty accurate. 

SA
No, it sounds like a miracle! I know I’m so corny but you’re an angel ~ this is so selfless and beautiful. I also relate. I feel this work is so necessary, and I wish more of us took the time to create space to listen and heal with others, so thank you. Thank you for everything you do. Many things you said earlier in our reading moved me, but one thing that really struck me is “internalized parenting…” When you said that, I felt it in my bones because of course we create patterns to govern and control ourselves via how or what we learned from our parents and upbringing. Pivoting here a little, but can you talk to me a bit about how Tarot / Astrology has potentially healed you… For me, they’ve completely transformed my relationship with myself but also my familial and interpersonal relationships, and I’m curious to know how and if it’s affected yours?

A
The first book about astrology I ever received was The New Astrology by Suzanne White.  I was a kid and I had no idea what I was in for… but suddenly I knew I was a Gemini Snake and it defined me so perfectly that I started carrying it around and reading to people out of it.  And every person would just sit there with their jaw on the floor. I saw right away the power of understanding and validating the self. The more I do this work, the more people come to understand and love themselves, the more healed I become. May sound trite, but whatever pain I may have had in my life has healed itself as I busied myself with the healing of others. I see so much of my own experiences in other’s trauma and with every word offered to them, my inner self is listening as well. Freud first coined the internalized parent in his work and when I first learned about it, I was in shock.  The idea that we carry a miniature version of our parent’s worst qualities around in our mind to “keep us in line” was shocking.  But of course, it resonated.  However, the more I learned about my own chart and transits, I realized that internalization had nothing to do with the real me.  When it didn’t make sense anymore, my mind just discarded it.  I think without realizing it, many people have this same experience. Tarot and Astrology bring them closer to the “them” that existed before the learned behavior took over.  It’s been the same for me. 

SA
Uff, the “them” that existed before the learned behavior took over… What I always learn from you is a) your deep wealth of knowledge, how much you know is truly astounding b) your ability to synthesize and see humans so clearly. I think I find it so remarkable as well because in many circles folks still assume that Astrology and Tarot is anti-intellectual… but you merge these worlds together in your work. You weave story, history, information with the moon and the stars. How do you navigate people who are perhaps uncomfortable with these worlds? What do you do to convince them of this real technology?

A
Well, first off as Carolna Casey says the proof of Astrology is in it’s persistence.  It refuses to go away and the stars continue to have deep and meaningful effects on our lives… so I never try to convince.  My strategy is this: doesn’t matter if you believe or not, you don’t have to.  You can scoff at it, belittle it… that’s okay. But if the information helps you, heals you, gives you insight into self, makes you a better you… then does it matter how legitimate you find it?  I’m also not one for allowing any sort of snobbery in my life, so those intellectual circles that would look down on these arts should remember that their favorite physicists, scientists, philosophers were astrology buffs first, and professionals after. Whenever I meet someone who loves Newton’s work but laughs at Astrology I am there to remind them that he spent most of his life studying the stars and much less time creating the laws by which we still define the Universe. There is a dangerous form of dogmatic thinking that exists in scientific circles at the moment and it saddens me.  We’ve only come as far as we have because the great minds of the past understood that the metaphysical was just as important as the rational. I actually feel a bit sorry for people when they cut themselves off from such a rich source of knowledge. 

SA
Isaac Newton was also Capricorn Sun/Cancer Moon!!! This makes sense, and I also agree. The ways in which we limit our own mind… is just incredibly sad. I’ve been thinking a lot about how trauma creates limiting beliefs and affects our own imagination and conception — the very possibility that there are worlds and systems that we might not fully understand — and I believe white supremacy/ colonization has done similar things, as well. Yet, we code things between a binary of rational versus irrational. 

What’s some advice you’d tell someone that perhaps wants to get more into Astrology and Tarot, but is overwhelmed by the plethora of information out there. How should one vet it and find the right fit? 

AK
The simplest way is to start with what you’re most curious about.  If the alignment of the stars at the time of your birth is intriguing, have your chart read. If you have an immediate issue that you cannot see yourself solving, use the iChing (which is basically a very sophisticated way of teaching various strategies of patience). If you’re wanting to try your hand at interpreting yourself, get a deck of cards.  I’m a big believer in trusting yourself first.  There’s no need to look outside if you trust your gut completely.  Any of these tools (outside of the chart read) can be done by you, interpreted by you… but it involves truly trusting yourself.  So, that’s where I always start.  What’s keeping you from trusting your own instincts?  What makes you believe that your intuition isn’t right?  That’s always rooted in a deeper pain, once you find that pain, everything opens up.  You don’t need anything out there to help you understand yourself. But it’s nice to have the resource. 

SA
What a beautiful reminder to trust ourselves first. I don’t think we are told that enough by anyone, I know I’m not. Looking toward the next few months—and moving into 2021—is there any planetary or intuitive guidance you feel like people should move with?

A
We have a few tranists coming up in 2021 that have to do with this very specific Gemini energy which most people find very difficult to navigate.  It starts with the Lunar Eclipse at the end of November and continues into next year.  The thing with transits through Gemini is that you’re tapping a raw nerve.  It doesn’t care one bit about your feelings, it just wants to give you information (sometimes information that doesn’t seem at all relevant).  When you’re inundated with all this seemingly useless detail, there’s a tendency to get overwhelmed and not face anything. But we can’t do that.  The way to deal with it is this: accept your faults, let your ego sleep for a few moments and receive the information as purely as you can.  It will sting, it will hurt, it will seem completely unnecessary but the purpose is much more esoteric than it seems.  The eclipses of 2021 show you what needs to change immediately.  There’s no more time to waste, the evolution train is leaving and you’re running to jump on.  You can’t run with baggage. So, first the eclipses rob you of the useless weight, then they make you run to catch the train, then you finally get moving… it’s terrifying, way too fast, where are we going anyway? The point is, you don’t know but you trust it, like you do a Gemini friend who meanders through a story and then suddenly it all makes sense.  Giving up control and trusting yourself becomes a real life exercise in 2021.  

SA
I could talk to you all day, but I am mindful of your time, so I want to ask you once last question. You are such a beacon of light and knowledge, when you’re a seer like you are, how do you care for yourself? How do you aid your heart and rest? Are there rituals you do to protect yourself?

A
Absolutely.  This is where my faith comes in.  Every morning, I’m up before the Sun, praying.  Then I play Quranic recitations throughout the house while I burn rosemary.  I ground myself with bare feet on Earth or sand.  I bathe twice a day.  Meditation and yoga are a huge part of my life.  But more than any of those very valid and important practices, I never let a toxic person in twice.  I’m extremely protective of myself.  If someone shows me they can’t be trusted with my energy, they never see me again.  It may sound harsh, and it is.  I’m very strict with who I allow in my presence or in my ear.  I’m also celibate, which a lot of people find surprising but it makes all the sense in the world to me. There are games that people play with each other once sex is involved that can make it a very dangerous enterprise.  So, if I’m not madly in love, there’s nothing going on in that area of my life. Also (just one more thing) my priorities are simple and again, very strict.  My religion, my family, my tribe… everything else is a distant 4th place.  

SA
I’m hanging onto every word. Thank you for your wisdom, may Allah protect you 🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿 Thank you for your time, beloved. 

A
It brought me to tears to see your beautiful face. I’m so proud of you and the work that you’re doing.  It means so much to so many of us.  We love you kid. 

SA
I’m crying now… Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

A
Anytime, like I said, I’m always here if you need me. ❤️

The Indigeneity of Trauma Focused Yoga with Lakshmi Nair

SA
Lakshmi, Thank you so much for making time and space this afternoon to speak with me. How are you feeling? Can you describe your energy today in 5 words?

L
That’s a tough question, but I’ll try.  Lazy but productive, nostalgic, and devotional.  That’s my day today.

SA
I hope that you’ve been able to feel rested despite being productive amidst the laziness. Where are you located right now?

L
I am in (Denver, Colorado) Cheyenne, Arapaho, Ute lands. 

SA
Amazing. I first read about you and your work as I became aware of the Satya Yoga Co-Op, the US’s first yoga co-op by and for people of color that is run out of Denver. What an amazing space you have fostered and nourished. What was your journey into yoga like and how did you become involved with Satya?

L
So my journey with yoga started from childhood in the sense I think of yoga first and foremost as a spiritual connection and I think as a child it was through stories and songs and visiting temples on our visits to India and such that I would feel that connection. When I was a teenager, my dad used to wake me up early to do asana practice and meditation. We had gotten initiated into transcendental meditation. I hated it. Because he would wake me up at 4:30 am.  And then when I went to college, my roommate my freshman year was a born-again Christian and complained to the RA about my altar…said that it made her uncomfortable.  So I stopped connecting in that way at that age.  Around the time of my Saturn return, I found myself in a really bad space.  I was in an abusive marriage.  Very disassociated.  And just in a really dark place. I didn’t really see any future for myself.  And then a friend of mine started taking me to a yoga class with her.  That was in San Francisco.  That class… just brought me back to what I was familiar with already from my childhood. It brought me back in touch with my body and I think just the reminder that it gave me brought me back to prayer and connecting to Spirit.  And that really saved me.  Everything changed after that.  I felt as though a hand reached out to lift me out of this deep dark hole that I was in. I left that relationship and it took me a couple of years to get through all the legalities of that but then I decided to go to India to study yoga.  

I was there for 3 years and then started teaching here in Denver when I came back.  I came back to Denver because I grew up here and my family was here. 

I actually spent about 10 years trying to teach yoga in the Denver yoga scene and never really felt like I fit in.  Also I was experiencing microaggressions, was weary of the cultural appropriation, and the whiteness, and I saw a lot of overt systemic racism in the yoga world also and so finally after a sort of last straw type incident, I decided to leave that world and for a while I really didn’t know what to do, but then eventually I decided to try and address the lack of diversity in the yoga world by starting a teacher training for people of color.  And that was when I felt like everything clicked for me.  I finally found a space where I felt I could teach in a way that felt authentic and purposeful for me and I have been doing that ever since.  I named my teacher training Satya after my maternal grandmother. I am named after my paternal grandmother.  And also because Satya means truth and that was really what I was looking for in yoga.  After 4 years, some of my students and I formed a co-op.  I wanted to be able to help my students with their careers after they finished my training, but I always felt like after I taught them what I know and feel about yoga, I was throwing them into a pool of sharks sort of… into a world that wasn’t anything like what I was teaching them about.  So we formed the co-op to be able to help each other and to try to create different kinds of opportunities for each other. 

SA
What a moving journey you’ve had, Lakshmi. I want to hold this space to really honor + uplift you for the work you are doing alongside the community to really transform and aid liberation through holistic connection. You speak so poignantly about the commodification and appropriation that happens in the yoga industry that as people of color, particularly South Asian practitioners, feel often sidelined by. It’s rife and it can be so overwhelming and off putting and really stunt one’s healing journey. Lately at Studio Ānanda, we’ve been thinking through not only the western appropriation of yoga but also how within the structures of yoga itself there lies inherent casteism and discrimination against South Asian communities labeled undignified for the practice. When I began reading more into this double edged sword, I myself had to pause and really contemplate who I was learning from, their intentions and agendas, how caste was being reenacted within the practice itself. But the one thing that keeps drawing me back to my practice, and you mention this briefly above, is how monumental a yoga practice can be in reconnecting those of us who are disassociated. Can you speak a little about what a trauma focused yoga practice is? Why is a practice of yoga so effective when healing from PTSD and other trauma conditions?

L
Yes, I really feel what you said about casteism and needing to question and interrogate the tradition too when it is tied up with so many cultural oppressions like casteism and patriarchy. Brahminical patriarchy to be specific.  And (sorry…I know I’m veering off topic but I will come back to the trauma-informed bit).  It’s hard to separate what has been truly helpful and healing for me personally from all of these cultural oppressions that I absolutely don’t believe in or want to support.  A big part of my healing was also to understand how did I end up in a an abusive relationship and how did I accept so many unacceptable behaviors and treatment…and so I had to interrogate my upbringing and the patriarchy that conditioned me to accept all that and that created the conditions for that kind of abuse.  Even if yoga came from my culture and helped me to heal and gave me strength, it was still the patriarchy of my culture that stole my strength.  So both of those things exist in our culture.  There is tremendous oppression in South Asian cultures but I feel that spirituality…true Indigenous spirituality is always healing… it is what enables people to survive.  So I have come to believe that what is truly life affirming about yoga is indigenous wisdom that has been co-opted and twisted by Brahmanical patriarchy.  I believe Brahmanical patriarchy is a colonizing force within South Asian culture just like white supremacy is here.  So back to trauma-informed yoga….I think that “trauma informed” is just a new terminology, but that indigenous healing practices are inherently trauma informed.   It means meeting everyone where they are…being exceedingly gentle with ourselves, understanding that we have been through so much in this world that beats us down for all kinds of reasons…for being indigenous, for being women, for being queer, for being Black, for being poor, etc.  It’s about acknowledging and understanding those oppressions that harm our bodies, minds, and spirits.  I also think in terms of physical practice…it is about slowing down, connecting to our breath which is the bridge to Spirit, and slowing down our breath to be able to tap into the frequency of nature/God/Spirit…whatever you want to call it.  But that frequency is the indigenous frequency…that is the slow/relaxed pace of life that indigenous peoples have always been in tune with except when they aren’t allowed to be in that frequency because of colonization.  I feel like I’m blabbing! Hope I’m making sense.  Just kind of going with the stream of consciousness. 

SA
You’re making so much sense, and actually really helping me synthesize a lot of the things I have been thinking about but haven’t found the words for. Firstly, the naming of Brahminacal patriarchy is so crucial and I absolutely agree with you that where white supremacy is the pioneering oppression in the west, in South Asia – what we are dealing with is Brahmin fascism. 

Secondly – yes!!! By way of living in the imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal + colonized ‘modern’ world, we are all living with varying levels of trauma. Non white people experience the brunt of this trauma in the way that we carry it in our bodies intergenerationally. When I first began attending yoga sessions in spaces that were white dominated, as someone who lived with childhood sexual abuse, I didn’t realize that I was being triggered when doing some poses and positions. The fast pace and focus on flexibility was something that I really struggled with as someone who was so dissociated from my own body. I actually had to stop attending in studio sessions altogether and began finding practitioners of color online who prioritized what I understood as a trauma sensitive approach to yoga, which – yes, you’re so right, is just an inherently Indigenous approach to healing. 

Do you think that the mainstream approach to yoga as one that overlooks the burdens each body carries is necessary for the replication of status quo to continue in the westernization of the practice? Why is it that a trauma sensitive approach to yoga is not as popular, is this just another symptom of the devaluing and disregard of Indigenous knowledge?

L
I think so, yes. I definitely feel like the overemphasis on yoga for fitness and getting a “yoga body” is colonized yoga.  The emphasis in yogasana should be self-awareness and opening up and clearing energy channels.  It’s not that physically demanding rigorous yoga is not authentic yoga.  Certainly there is that type of traditional practice.  I have heard some people say that they need movement and to work hard to be able to focus their minds and slow down their minds.  And I think that is probably true for some people.  I have actually had folks feel really uncomfortable sometimes with the really slow pace of the trauma sensitive classes that I teach.  It brings up a restlessness that they are not able to sit with.  And I don’t want to devalue anyone’s experience.  I am not sure if rigorous asana classes are a distraction or whether they could possibly be a way of providing focus and concentration for some people.   I think it could be both and it probably depends on how it is taught.  I think physically demanding classes, if taught with awareness and focus could still be therapeutic for some people.  But that said, that is the predominant style and I don’t think it suits everyone…maybe not even most people.  Especially people who have been traumatized in ways where they don’t feel in control of their own bodies, as you shared, and which is the case for most women, femmes, queer, and BIPOC peoples.  I think for a lot of us, we really need to feel like we can be in control and make choices about how long we want to stay in a pose.  And exercise-oriented yoga doesn’t offer a lot of space for individual agency within the class.  That is how formal Trauma-Sensitive Yoga is different from mainstream yoga classes.   I think about Ayurveda…how there are different constitutions and what suits one may not suit another…but that too is part of our indigenous wisdom is that we do have a variety of practices for all the different needs.  And that it is really about allowing people to tap into what their body needs.  I think what is colonizing about the way Western yoga is usually taught is that it treats all human bodies as if they were the same or based on some idealized human body.  Western medicine is like that too.  That is generally the colonized approach.  I think the indigenous approach respects the vast diversity of creation while maintaining a grounding in the underlying Unity.  The colonized viewpoint is kind of the opposite.  It doesn’t respect diversity and treats us all according to some “norm” and “others” us if we don’t fit that norm. 

SA
The one size fits all model of healing truly needs to be eradicated. Thank you for sharing, Lakshmi. Before we end – what are a few things that are helping you feel grounded during this time? Whether it be a routine, a ritual, a meal or something you’re reading?

L
Just being at home more has actually been very grounding for me… I’m slowly getting to organizing my house, I’m cooking more, I’m getting more rest, and am able to take care of myself more… I am oiling my hair once a week, taking some classes that I’ve always wanted to take… am taking a kalaripayittu class from Australia through zoom and also am taking an astrology course.  And all this because the pace of life has slowed down so much…before I was so busy and always running around but never had time for myself. It’s that slow more indigenous pace of life that creates so much spaciousness.  I’m really trying to take advantage of it.  So that all the other hard things… the sad things don’t get me down.  

Lakshmi Nair is a proud member-owner and co-founder of Satya Yoga Co-op, the first BIPOC owned and operated yoga co-op in the country. She is a yoga educator of South Asian descent, engaged in reclaiming the resilience and resistance of her ancestral tradition of yoga and creating spaces for herself and others to authentically engage with the practices of yoga for self and collective healing and liberation.

Ayurveda and the Subversion of Brahmanism with Navi Gill

SA
I’m so glad our timelines could finally align for this, Navi. Where are you located right now and can you describe how your spirit is feeling in a few words?

N
Me too! I am speaking to you from Vancouver BC, specifically Surrey BC which is the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh people. And my spirit has been feeling beautiful today, light, clear and connected to the source.

SA
Lovely. It’s a real joy knowing that you are feeling clarity, especially as we approach the end of the year. 

I discovered your practice earlier this month, when you were circulating your ‘No Farmers’ graphics around Instagram. What prompted the presentation of this information, and can you perhaps speak more to how the wellness industry is complicit in the oppression of farmers throughout India and the world?

N
I am so glad that so many people found that graphic resonant, whenever I create something it’s like a very strong message from spirit and there’s this need to speak it out in some way. I never had any idea it would blow up or that people would even care but I looked at the industry that I happen to work in which is growing so quickly, every single day, and everyone is coming in at different levels and sometimes I forget to simplify things. In this case I just thought about what it is that people will connect to to relay the greater message. The wellness industry is no different than any other industry where white supremacy exists and where capitalism and corporations exist. I had said that the wellness industry is not exempt from creating harm just because there is good intentions. There are many ways but starting with the extraction and appropriation of deeply spiritual practices from other cultures, people and traditions and the gatekeeping of them. White people being self-proclaimed experts and the rest of the world going along with it, allowing them to create the opportunities, profits, the industry standards, the rules, minimizing the value of many practices where people from those places were persecuted, killed, silenced and unable to practice these medicines, these practices. There was/is no acknowledgement of the colonization of wellness until now where BIPOC are finally just taking up space and reclaiming, we don’t need certifications and external validation (especially from White folks) to prove/tell us about the wisdom we carry in our bones, in our cells, in our breath, in our DNA that comes from our lineages and land. 

SA
I am nodding my head ecstatically in agreement – yes to all of this! I really admired the way you were able to articulate the above appropriation and responsibility folks have to the ancestral lands of their practices. It’s still really striking to me that the ongoing farming protests have received such minimal media coverage, and that wellness spaces are carrying on as usual – particularly white dominated yoga and ayurvedic spaces. There’s such a disconnection and dissociation that exists there which really emphasizes how individualistic and spiritually void some of these spaces can be – which is antithetical to the indigenous roots of the practice.

How did you get into ayurveda and being a practitioner?

N
Ahh it’s kind of a long-ish story but I will give you a summary. TBH it was a remembering for me of something I have known my whole life or looked for my whole life but I didn’t have the language for. Most of my life something felt missing, like everyone had a purpose except me and I was constantly trying to find an example of someone doing what I wanted to do and didn’t have that. When I was 23, my Nana Ji suddenly passed away and that was when everything broke open for me and I think I saw the fragility or… impermanence of life so clearly and nothing I was trying to fit into or follow from the outside world mattered. In my grief I had permission to say fuck it, and I went deep into that grief and like all the grief and anger I held my whole life, but didn’t feel, I had permission to feel or express: it came out in a big way. I went to India at the end of that year for my Nanas last rites and I was in Kerala on a very impromptu trip with some of my family and I saw people practicing Ayurveda, I saw, felt, smelled, touched, tasted the plants and herbs and I remember the exact moment where my spirit just felt electrified and this… whoosh when I realized this was it, what I was looking for. Since then I have been studying Ayurveda, I became a practitioner of Ayurveda bodywork, Yoga, i even threw “life coaching” in there because at the time there was no space or place to practice or learn Ayurveda that was accessible and people didn’t really know wtf it was so I was like maybe coaching will be a way to have a practice that would serve as an umbrella (but again that was me trying to fit into a mould of playing small created by whiteness).

The last three years have been pivotal in just claiming that space and acknowledging that the knowledge and wisdom I carry is a blessing from my ancestors and I can choose how I want to heal, how I want to work, how I want this work to look and it’s very clear that it’s for my people, it’s for BIPOC and it is ever evolving but without being apologetic or feeling like I don’t know enough or what I do know isnt of value. Rediscovering Ayurveda and this ancestral work is a blessing from my Nana, a gift he gave me from the ancestral plane. 

SA
Mm what a beautiful journey – not one that’s been easy with the passing of your Nana, yet one that is inherently yours and transcendentally passed onto you. 

I only recently found my way to Ayurveda. While bits and pieces of the system have been scattered throughout my upbringing, as Tamil Christians, my family always strayed away from getting too heavily involved in anything considered too ‘traditional’ as it was also considered sacrilegious. Since being on my own healing journey though, Ayurveda has proved to be the most holistic, most sense making therapy for me. Although, I have been a little bit conflicted about practicing lately since learning about caste based violence that is inherent in systems of Ayurveda and Yoga. Mainly thinking about how purity laws have been used by upper caste Brahmins to further marginalize lower caste communities, how dharma and karma teachings have become misinterpreted to label Dalit communities as ritualistic impure based off past lives etc. And then looking at how the BJP and fascism in general in the subcontinent is on the rise – it makes practicing these traditions a little bit sticky and uncomfortable for me. 

How do you, if at all, think about moving around and through these violences? How do we reclaim our indigenous practices in ways that aren’t erasing lower caste histories? 

N
Well, I think what makes it easier for me is being a Panjabi Sikh womxn in this space, I already know that the purist think I shouldn’t be practicing this and that used to play a big part in me feeling insecure about putting my work out there. I didn’t grow up with any inkling of this knowledge being practiced around me and I didn’t discover a lot of yoga, pranayam, sadhana practices until I came into the Art of Living. I needed that community to learn and experience those things because I had no other way of accessing the knowledge. Eventually my relationship changed because I started to become acutely aware that in those spaces, I stood out. I was not represented. I was not seen in many ways because my identity was different from most others who happened to be hindu or from backgrounds where they were ok adopting those traditions and practices. I feel there’s so many layers to this question so I’m going to do my best to articulate. 

What fuels me to learn, practice and share is that my identity allows me to bring this knowledge to the people who its been kept away from. I believe it is our birthright to be well and my ancestors and Gurus put me here to be that bridge because I am so deeply connected to my own heritage, my own spiritual path that I can’t simply just fall into this structure created by Brahminism. My wellness and purpose expands and lives for my people. I think also because it is something that has always been innate, to want equity for all people it’s hard for me to explain, my brain and spirit says why the fuck not? Why would all people not be able to have this, to experience wellness, to be liberated, to have sovereignty. I think that probably pisses a lot of people off who have put themselves on these pillars and here’s the thing about decolonizing this work- first we deal with the white supremacy and get into our own people, and there we have the other beast which is Brahmin patriarchy. That second part is where we are collectively at now and working on dismantling. I truly feel like it’s the perfect time and I have been preparing for it for the last decade because now there’s space to speak about these things, everyone else who doesn’t fall into that group is done with being oppressed and we are coming together, finally.  Oh and to answer the last part, I ensure I am informed, I am advocating for marginalized communities and people and through my privilege I create connections, resources, give this knowledge to communities that need it and will always prioritize that and no one can tell me shit really.

SA
This makes so much sense. I think it’s such a fugitive, subversive act to be a South Asian who has historically been excluded to then come and take up a space that primarily focuses on transformative action. It’s so powerful, Navi, and I can really feel your passion and your fire as we have this conversation. 

N
Haha well I am literally burning up as I write this so I’m glad it’s coming through.

SA
What advice might you have for South Asians who are similarly unsure about their place when it comes to our Indigenous practices. Do you have any tips for folks like me, who understand the profoundly healing tenets of Yoga and Ayurveda, but are hesitant to engage in order to avoid complicity?

N
Forge your own path, I am a believer that a lineage is important to have and trusted teachers but don’t let anyone keep you in the box or dependant on them. A true teacher leads you to where you step into your own unique purpose and create what you came here to create. The old paradigm of groupthink and someone else deciding what is right for the collective is gone. I have never fit into most groups and even in my spiritual community I always shook shit up because I asked questions, I used critical thinking and also listened to my spirit to know what was right for me and what was fed to me. It takes time, everything comes at its own time but as long as we remember that we are sovereign, we are worthy of being well and having access to tools to bring us greater health, wealth and wellbeing then we will get there. And be authentic, don’t try to do things that are not you especially if you want to teach or be a wisdom carrier, and that requires a lot of self work, a lot of healing, a lot of discernment, just work period. I find because spirituality is suddenly cool, everyone wants to bypass the work and be a healer but it doesn’t work that way. Embodiment is key and the blessings of your ancestors.

SA
Thank you, Navi. It’s so important to remember that we all have nuanced needs and desires that can really only be actualized through contemplation and interrogation. It’s exciting to think about the future of what our practices might look like, and so comforting knowing that folks like you are leading this new wave. 

As we come to the end of this discussion, and to the end of the year (!!) what are a few things that you’ve come back to this year to help you stay grounded? 

N
This question always makes me emotional because I can think of all the moments where I experienced being more grounded and nourished and for me it’s a few things- ritual, my sadhana- breathwork/pranayam, some form of movement and meditation, praying- prayed my ass off this year, writing, physical acts of self care like abhyanga, oiling my hair, massaging my face every night, sleeping more,music, crying, tea and a good pastry or cookie always helps, going into the forest or getting sun whenever I could but I would love to do more, and listening to my inner voice, and giving myself permission to honour its needs. 

Navdeep (Navi) Gill is an Ayurvedic practitioner, therapist  and educator specializing in lifestyle consulting, Marma Chikitsa therapy, foundational Panchakarma bodywork. 

She helps clients and community experience holistic wellness and gain autonomy over their well being through her ancestral medicine practices.  She has been learning and practicing Ayurveda and yoga since 2011, her work focuses on decolonizing, reclaiming and connecting BIPOC to ancestral wisdom and ritual as a form of self care.