I was on a walk on another balmy spring day at a park. Behold, instead of family photo shoots, outdoor boot camps, and people playing with their dogs, a different activity was under way involving a couple of White patrons.
The couple was practicing yoga, but this was not just any kind of yoga. They were practicing acroyoga—the stuff I see in print and digital magazines and think, “Amazing. There are spiritual ways for me to physically injure myself.”
Ah, gives new meaning to mind-body connection.
People do not readily practice acroyoga at this park. As a result, onlookers and I were taken in by all of their different configurations.
I wanted to take a picture.
“I don’t want to interrupt them,” I thought, “I’ll wait until there is a break and ask if they wouldn’t mind.”
“Then again,” I pondered, “I don’t like it when White people travel to third world countries and take pictures of poor People of Color and their children-their intimate lives- without asking for permission. Don’t ask for permission. Take the picture.”
So, I did.
Immediately, I felt disappointment and regret.
Despite certain White people acting out their entitlement in third world contexts by taking pictures and videos of poor People of Color without their permission, I did not wish to emulate this horrid example to prove a point.
Many of us take pictures of public contexts which have strangers in it. It would be impossible to get permission from every single person in public spaces. Moreover, in some places, the children want to take pictures and ask to take pictures with visitors. I am not talking about these instances.
Regardless, there is something to be said about taking a picture of a specific stranger and taking advantage of power differentials to do so without asking. In these contexts, we can better respect each other’s dignity by asking.
Privilege lies in who gets to do things without asking. Colonization is taking over and imposing without asking, requesting, or negotiation. Colonizers feel entitled to nations, lands, and peoples. Colonizers feel entitled to even their spirituality, thinking, bodies, and sacred spaces.
Colonizers pick up someone’s child and take a picture with her/him without asking the child or parent because they can. Besides, they are on fabulous vacation or doing the Lord’s work.
Colonizers don’t think twice about it.
I thought twice and changed course.
To drive home my point about privilege and power, U.S. White people with a colonizer mindset do not stop to think about how they would not welcome a strange Mexican man on vacation, driving through their suburban neighborhoods, stopping to take pictures of them, their homes and picking up their children, who are playing on their lawns, without asking for permission.
I decided to wait for a break in their practice to make sure they were okay with me taking a picture. I planned to delete the pics if they were uncomfortable with it. Although it is reasonable to expect people to take pictures of acroyogis practicing in a public space, I wanted to be certain for my own conscience.
When the time came, I called out, “I hope you don’t mind if I took a picture or two. Is it okay?”
The couple cheerfully responded:
I thanked them, and satisfied with my “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” redirect, I continued my walk. I thought that was the end of it.
I was wrong.
From Colonizer to Photographer
Later, when I was back in the vicinity of the acroyogis, the male yogi walked toward me, and called out, “Hey, do you mind taking a picture for us?”
As I approached him, I replied, “No. I am happy to help!”
I noticed that he was wearing “racist sunglasses.”
I shrugged it off.
“You stand over there,” directed the yogi with racist sunglasses, as he fiddled with the camera settings on his mobile device.
Unaware of which “you” he was referring to, I asked, “Who are you talking to?”
The yogi looked, realizing his unclear directions, responded, gesturing to me, “I was talking to you.”
As the yogi prepared for the spontaneous photo shoot, I said to the couple, “Thanks again for letting me take pictures. I plan on using them for a joke with my husband. I am going to say, ‘This could be us, but you’re playing.'” I laughed. The woman chuckled in amusement.
Sunglasses yoga guy looked serious. There is no laughing in acroyoga.
Once sunglasses yogi was ready to start, he briefed me on taking pictures on his mobile device. We began the photoshoot.
The guy was lying on his back. The woman positioned herself on top of his legs. Next thing you know, she was upside down with her legs straight up in the air.
I took as many pictures as I could, until she couldn’t hold the pose any more.
“How are these? If you don’t like them, I am happy to take more, ” I offered.
Yogi with the sunglasses reviewed the pictures.
He disliked the results.
Although the photography was up to his liking, his partner’s pose was not perfect.
“You’re crooked,” he said without looking up, swiping the screen to each picture, “You’re crooked in all of these.”
The woman appeared to be surprised. She walked over and asked, “I am?”
“See, you’re crooked,” he responded. He proceeded to explain to her what to do to correct her pose so that her legs were exactly perpendicular to the ground when she was hoisted upside down.
After his guidance, they tried again. I noticed that she was still “crooked.” I informed her, so she could straighten her legs.
When they finished this pose, I handed the device to the guy. As he looked at pictures, I tried to lighten the mood a bit. I stated, “By the way, I am Sam. I didn’t get your names.”
“I am Peter,” responded the yogi with the sunglasses. “I’m Kaitlyn,” smiled the woman.
I inquired, “So, are you yogis?”
Peter responded with assuredness, “Yes.”
Kaitlyn was tentative in her response. “Kind of. He is.” After looking at Peter and hearing his response, she added, “Yes, we are. He has been doing it longer.”
I turned to Peter. “I can tell you are quite serious. You are intense.” I took two of my fingers and pointed at my eyes and then motioned them toward Peter’s eyes, signaling that I am looking at him.
“You are ‘Eye of the Tiger’ with it.”
Peter looked at me without comment. I think there was a smile fighting to break loose from the left corner of his lip.
Kaitlyn assumed that I did not know what they were doing and that I had never heard of acroyoga. She explained it to me. I listened.
Peter interrupted, “You are still crooked.”
Kaitlyn looked surprised, “What? Still?”
Both reviewed the pics.
This time they decided to try a different pose. This time she would still be hoisted upside down. However, her legs would form a “V” shape.
Afterwards, Peter reviewed the images, and he was not pleased.
He pointed out that Kaitlyn was crooked, again.
I felt for Kaitlyn. If you were there, you would have seen a contrast in energy. Her vibe was cheery and easy-breezy. Peter’s energy reminded me of Scar from The Lion King.
I tried to buffer the heavy criticism because I did not like the way Peter addressed Kaitlyn.
“You know, one person’s crooked is another person’s accomplishment. Your crooked would be a big deal for me. Isn’t that how life is? It is a matter of perspective.” Kaitlyn smiled and shook her head in agreement.
Peter did not care because Kaitlyn’s pose was imperfect.
“But she is crooked, ” Peter replied, as the frustration escalated in his voice.
The two of them studied the picture and discussed how to best ensure that her legs were in a perfect “V” shape and how to keep her torso was straight.
It looked to me that something was off in her body, but I didn’t say a word. I wondered if she had an old injury.
We tried again.
It became a “we” effort.
I let Kaitlyn know where her legs were tilting. I did not want her to deal with Peter’s running his mouf harsh comments. She tried to “correct” her form to the best of her ability.
I had a feeling that Peter was not going to feel thrilled with these results, either.
Did He Just Say That?
I handed the mobile device to Peter. Shaking his head from side to side, he said to Kaitlyn, “You’re crooked.”
I took a deep breath and responded, “The good thing about this impromptu photoshoot is that now you have data from the pictures, so you know what to do.” Kaitlyn’s smiled widened, shaking her head, again, in agreement.
Peter did not care about the bright side of an imperfect acroyoga pose.
I turned to Kaitlyn, sounding sympathetic, “Your body needs time to heal.” I did not want to add to the pile-on fest that Peter hosted. Before he could say “Amen,” I added, “However, even if you did rest more, sometimes, when your body heals, it still does not function quite the same. It tries to compensate for certain parts that are not functioning well.”
I began to tell her about what I learned from different manual therapists from my physical healing journey after multiple car accidents. We discussed various modalities to look into.
As Kaitlyn and I talked, Peter sneered, “It’s useless. There is nothing she can do. She will be like this for the rest of her life.”
Kaitlyn’s mouth dropped.
“Wow,” I thought, “Did he just say that?”
I could feel my eyes widen as the words like daggers struck her. I rebuked the words under my breath.
I felt like Peter had cursed Kaitlyn. The energy behind his words were cold and determined.
I was getting awfully close to asking Peter, “First, who hurt you? Also, who made you her private physician? Who are you, the Tina Turner of physical therapy?”
“That’s so negative,” Kaitlyn replied. Her mouth remained opened in disbelief.
Peter sat on the ground, not bothering to look up at the stunned Kaitlyn.
I thought, “Giiiiirrrrrl, I hope you are waking up to this guy.”
This woman was trying so hard to bring sunshine and rainbows to this storm of a man. This dude’s foul attitude would make Little Orphan Annie cuss.
I felt the awkwardness from Kaitlyn. She couldn’t look at me. She stared at Peter.
I tried to bring some cheer to the situation.
“Hey, you have yoga,” I said with confidence, “It might help with restoring your body.” Kaitlyn smiled. Her eyes looked thankful and hopeful. Peter countered, “Yoga can’t heal everything. Even yoga has limits.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am a pragmatist, yet Peter’s responses seemed to have more than realism driving them.
“Hey,” I reiterated, “You never know. Plus, this is acroyoga!” I fanned my arms in the air, as if the word “acroyoga” was displayed on a big screen in the sky.
Peter shook his head in disagreement, scrolling through the “useless” pictures. He continued to assert that Kaitlyn’s condition would never be the same for ever, ever, ever and ever (*said in an echo*).
I made another offer to Kaitlyn and Peter, commenting, “I can take another pic.”
“Never mind. She can’t do it. She will be crooked,” snorted Peter. His tone sounded as if he had announced, “She is useless.”
I felt hurt inside for both of them. We exchanged our farewells, and I went about my way.
I suppose Peter will not share the pictures because Kaitlyn’s pose was not perfect.
From a distance, I saw that the duo kept practicing.
Was Peter having a bad day? Maybe he is less of a jerk when he is not in acroyoga photoshoot mode.
Kaitlyn was radiating love and warmth. Peter could use a lot of it, but must it be at Kaitlyn’s emotional and spiritual expense?
What if Kaitlyn’s body is not able to do a “straight” pose? Would Peter accept her in her humanity or would he discard of her like damaged goods?
Kaitlyn is more than a pretty pose.
The Lessons: Using Yoga and Jesus
During week 41 of my year without Bible study, I felt more appreciation for simply being. My weird yoga encounter reminded me to focus on the joy of living.
I am not perfect like Kaitlyn’s pose in many ways. I have areas that are still mending or will ever need growing.
Kaitlyn appeared free and happy until she saw the pictures and heard the feedback.
I suppose we have more joy when we focus on feeling free and being in the moment instead of scrutinizing our “flaws.”
What if Peter cheered for Kaitlyn, marveling at how proud he was of her to do advanced moves after an injury?
Imagine the impact of this loving message.
What if he was more grateful to have her in his life?
What if Peter switched sunglasses?
Kaitlyn seemed to accept Peter’s controlling and twisted attitude. Why couldn’t he accept her with her crooked poses?
Kaitlyn and Peter changed my life because I could see aspects of myself at different points in my life in both of them. I have gotten caught up in trying to get something right or doing a particular work that I did not enjoy the journey with all of the beauty and joy around me.
I have acted like a jerk even after I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I have overlooked people who were downright mean and rude because I cared for them.
I have allowed myself to be the target of other people’s pain because I empathized with them and wanted to be there for them. I have taken something that was spiritual and turned it into a thing to do-something to acquire or perform like attending a church service out of obligation.
I have created arbitrary times and frequencies for Bible study and praying because I thought that more and more often pleased God. I became prisoner to performing spiritual acts.
At one point, I felt pressured to proselytize to a set number of people, or I feared that I was failing Jesus.
Have you been a Kaitlyn or Peter at some point in your life?
Have you taken for granted any privileges? Have you ever been oblivious to how your actions might dishonor people with less privileges?
By pointing to our practices, initiatives, positions, titles and deeds to prove our spirituality, we can remain religious and spiritual jerks. We use experiences and people to justify our righteousness.
When we are using, we are not allowing our hearts and minds to expand in the process.
We can go through the motions of yoga practice or serving in church, but if it becomes something to get right or accomplish, we prevent ourselves from allowing these spiritual experiences to transform us. If spirituality becomes something to perfect to feel good about ourselves or appease a distant angry God, we miss out on the richness of transformation or being present to goodness in life.
Yoga, Jesus, or any spiritual practice will not “save” you from you. You can take a stinky attitude and bring it to any spiritual practice or religious experience.
By the way, these moments inspire me to feel grateful that Jesus walked and that there were no recorded scriptures about Jesus doing somersaults. Otherwise, Bible literalists would have folks handling snakes and doing cartwheels to prove our faith.
Oh, and please don’t act like a White colonizer, especially if you are White.
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