Wambui is a multiracial Black woman of Kenyan/English descent who moved to the US as a child. She studied dance and movement as a teenager and began yoga for therapy and injury recovery at 15. She began Ashtanga yoga in 2008 and has been living in Helsinki since 2010.
Petri is a white Finnish male, a former ice hockey player and punk activist who’s been practicing Ashtanga yoga for the past 31 years and teaching for 29. He wrote two books on the subject in 2005 and 2008. Petri also has studied Finnish Folk Healing (Jäsenkorjaus) which he combines with his yoga asana adjustments. Petri and Wambui have two Afropean sons and co-teach together.
Both Petri and Wambui believe in the healing power and grace of yoga, when applied with skilful understanding and right view.
However, it’s unfailingly clear that the culture surrounding yoga, wellness and spirituality has been co-opted worldwide to serve those who are white or elite, middle and upper class. Thereby, catering to a small demographic of people with disposable income who can afford travel to attend workshops and retreats.
The bigger pattern of who isn’t valued, well or cared for in society or who cannot regularly access, nor be served effectively, in healing/wellness spaces is deeply problematic, unfair and harmful. Nor can the full expression of yoga live and breath in such an environment.
It’s our vision for our work and our lives that we view inner spiritual life and the more seemingly external arena of social justice as two sides of the same coin. No longer can we spiritually bypass difficult and unexamined topics such as racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia and the ongoing effects of so-called post-colonialism, to name just a few.
In his Lion’s Roar article, Protest is My Spiritual Practice, Lama Rod Owens illustrates it as such from the American Buddhist perspective:
“…Justice calls power inequalities into question and reveals how our dharma communities can mirror larger social systems that perpetuate violence against marginalized bodies. White-dominated sanghas reflect the experience of the white middle class and its privilege of having less struggle for resources. The work of justice disrupts our communities. That can challenge the comfort that many white practitioners seek. Marching is the antithesis of what many dharma practitioners are interested in.”
The time is now. Matter of fact, it’s been time a long long time ago.
We must mobilise the insight and power of discernment, wisdom and compassion gained from our practices and apply them into holding our individual and collective selves accountable when examining how we uphold and benefit from unjust systems of oppression. We are not the ‘good’ ones simply because we have had the privilege of a yoga practice and therefore think the racists are ‘out there.’ We are the ‘out there’ and the ‘out there’ is in us.
Not all of us are ready to do the work and we’re not here to convince you otherwise. We’re interested in spending our time and energy in co-creating a community ready to do the work of creating a safer, kinder world for ALL, by holding ourselves accountable, leveraging our privilege and putting tangible action for the following prayer to be more than sweet, yet ineffective, aspiration, or cruel, sheer mockery:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu