Yes, I Belong: Discovering Community Through Yoga & Social Justice

June 23, 2017    BY Dominique Camille

The Yoga + Social Justice Collaborative is an organization dedicated to exploring the relationship between spiritual practice and social justice through collaborative gatherings, education, and service. This blog series shares the thoughts and practices of our members and supporters. We invite you to join the conversation!

“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood of the Bay Areaa city that most Bay Area natives don’t even know exists and hasn’t changed much since my family moved there 27 years ago. Surprisingly, I managed to find a group of friends who were all from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Resulting from this, I grew up preaching about diversity acceptance and the importance of embracing individual differences.

Back in my sweet innocent naiveté, I believed our world could change by addressing systemic problems with “empathy.”

At a young age, I had very little understanding of my identity or how it would shape the world around me. Outside of my family, what seemed to impact my identity development was other’s projections, stereotypes, and implicit biases about black women:

“I thought you were a white woman on the phone.”
“Are you going with the Aunt Jemima look with that hair?”
“You’re not like other black girls.”
“You’re pretty for a black girl.”
“Wow. You’re so articulate.”
“You do what white people do.”

The Internal Landscape

The remnants of internalized hatred traveled with me to college at UC Riverside where I found myself actively avoiding the black student union because I didn’t think I belonged.

Our minds do not play as our allies when it comes to our own disconnection, suffering, and separation. The mind has the unique ability to create more distance than what could be happening in reality. Needless to say, when it was time for black graduation I opted out. This self-inflicted wound was a missed opportunity to celebrate black excellence. In retrospect, I would’ve had a lifelong memory with my peers and a chance to honor my ancestors for their sacrifice, strength, and resilience.

Yoga gave me a sense that I was awakening and rediscovering myself, detaching from the destructive inner critic and relying on the wisdom within my body.

Emerging and Awakening

Emotional and mental instability slowly emerged from my sense of disconnection and would manifest in different forms throughout my life. I discovered yoga when I was feeling desperate to refuel and regenerate myself from depressive episodes.

My yoga teacher training ignited my curiosity for self-healing and liberation. In particular, it turned a bright light on my experience of anxiety and depressive episodes, allowing me to understand what was happening inside me rather than just being a prisoner of my mind.

Yoga gave me a sense that I was awakening and rediscovering myself, detaching from the destructive inner critic and relying on the wisdom within my body.

Anger and Reconciliation

Funnily enough, my “spiritual awakening” was filled with anger and many questions about the lack of diversity and inclusion in yoga spaces. Anger that there was a lack of visibility for women of color as teachers and students. Anger that not all communities benefited from the practice of yoga. Anger that I was not encouraged to explore how my identities impacted me as a student and teacher.

I decided I needed to seek answers, so I quit my job for an internship in South Africa. What has now become clear to me is that I also went on this journey to reclaim a sense of black identity.

One of my unconscious desires was to feel accepted and connected to the black community of Khayeltisha (one of the largest townships in Cape Town). When I was told, “Oh, you aren’t one of us, you’re from the States,” I felt that familiar wound open up again. Within my second week, I was told that I fit a stereotypical American image, so my idea of home and belonging felt very abstract and elusive.

Despite the identity confusion, my time away provided much needed self-reflection about my responsibility for my own liberation. I began to take accountability for undoing, unlearning, and for sending out my own frequency into the world.

My yoga practice allowed me to understand and transform my pain, discomfort, and anger into an exploration of the oppressive systems in which we navigate. This exploration also encouraged me to seek the support of a community that understood, valued, and celebrated the integration of spiritual practice and social justice.

The integration of spiritual justice has become vital to my self-care practice, personal growth, purpose, and well-being. For those of us who don’t belong to the mainstream culture (white, cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.), being intentional about community is as essential as drinking water. I’ve broadened my definition of “walking in my truth” to include knowing my worth, healing deep ancestral/cultural wounds, expanding narratives about our communities, and exploring opportunities for transformation.

Discovering Piedmont Yoga’s Spiritual Justice Immersion has allowed me to see my physical and spiritual manifestation as more than enough. In fact, the only person I ever need to be enough for is the one looking back at me in the mirror. With this grounded sense of being, I can move into spaces with an awakened and embodied awareness.

Dominique Camille
Dominique Camille MA, began practicing yoga after finishing years as a NCAA collegiate athlete and acknowledging her mental & emotional well-being had been severely neglected. Her training at Namaste Yoga + Wellness allowed a deeper understanding of emotional instability and ways to cope with it. Yoga allowed her to find healing, acceptance, and liberation in a tangible way. Her natural curiosity about behavior, energy & emotions continue to drive her search for healing modalities for the mind,... Read more>>

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