For those who give a shit and are still reading:
I no longer feel comfortable calling myself a yogi or yogini.
A few months back when I listened to Dana Falsetti’s excellent podcast “Deep Dive” on this very topic, it validated my feelings of unease and finally exhumed the heart of the matter for me.
Perhaps it's the spirit of Australia Day (being celebrated this whole long weekend) and the historical colonialism, racism and cultural misappropriation that surrounds this controversial holiday that have finally pushed me over the "dare to change your Insta handle and confuse everyone!" line.
I practise yoga and I make money from teaching yoga. But I just don’t feel like I have the authority to claim the title yogi. In the same way I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable saying namaste at the end of class. For the same reason I don’t wear mala beads or paint a bindi on my head. For the same reason most yoga teachers probably wouldn't recognise the goddess in the picture above (hint: it's not Kali).
Don’t worry, I’ve tried all of these things and more. But for me, they’ve never felt quite right as I explained at length in my post Why I quit yoga (and what brought me back). For me, letting go of the self-appointed yogi title is yet another layer of self-discovery, and my gradual disentanglement from the clusterfuck of fake spiritual empowerment and "holier than thou"-ness that I call the Sexy, Successful, Spiritual Woman Ideal.
There are three main reasons I'm letting go of the yogi title.
Not mine to keep
It’s just how I’m personally feeling.
Yogi is just not a title I feel entitled to claim. Because it’s not my culture. For me, in the current climate of yoga culture where an 18 year old can do a 2-week yoga teacher training and appoint themselves with the same terminology as an aged sadhu in India with a lifetime of spiritual practice, labelling myself as a yogi has started to feel like cultural (mis)appropriation.
Being a half white yoga teacher in the western world there’s arguably some degree of hypocrisy in the very fact I teach yoga despite not being of Indian descent.
I honour the teachings as best I can.
At the same time, being a hybridiser by nature I see the value in creating new interpretations of the practice, always recognising these evolving, ever-growing branches as such. Case in point: I’m an AcroYoga teacher, a practice that has generated controversy among those who argue it’s not "pure" yoga.
But as much as I love exploring the many creative manifestations of the amazing practice that is yoga, honouring the practice as best as I can does not necessitate me self titling myself a yogi.
My heritage is mixed Chinese and Australian. As a woman of colour I know what it feels like to be marginalised and at the same time, fetishised. Being a target of racism and targeted assault for being half-asian (I grew up in a small North Queensland town, 'nuff said) and also being “complimented” on my exoticness. I know how it feels to have my culture slammed and bastardised. To be culturally misappropriated whilst culturally dismissed.
I will no longer do that to another culture.
It also helps that for some time I’ve been exploring my roots and feeling more deeply connected to my own ethnic origins. I feel as if this exploration, although still in its preliminary stages, has given me more strength to be who I am without the need to lean on self-appointed titles from other cultures.
Not old nor wise enough
Which reminds me of not one but TWO epic little ballads:
I'm a practitioner of yoga, a student and teacher of yoga. But yogi to me means something else, something not only distinctly Indian; also something truly distinguished, something requiring a lifetime(s) of hard work.
The god of Wikipedia says that a yogi or yogini is a master practitioner of yoga.
A friggin' MASTER!
That's not something my naive, Australian 18 year old self was - or my current not that much older 33 year old self is probably entitled to. Although it's my aspiration, I'm not yet an old, wrinkled, wise woman, an elder, a master, a wisdom keeper. No. Where. Near.
Why do I feel entitled to self identify as something that belongs to an age/wisdom bracket I have not yet reached? Or a culture I have no inherited connection to? To take pieces of another people’s culture and tokenise them as I please to fit the current western standard of what a “yoga teacher” should look and be like, especially when they don't personally resonate?
At the very least, it strikes me as just a bit weird, even quaint. Like watching my one year old baby try to put a pair of my undies on and not get them over her head.
I’m not saying that if anyone out there calls themselves a yogi that they should stop or feel bad. No, this is a personal shift, my personal evolution. For me, it just doesn’t resonate anymore.
Not all I am
Cultural misappropriation and wisdom shortages aside: I’m so much more than a yogi, or even a person who practises yoga. I’m an eating disorder dietitian. I’m a nutritionist. I’m a mother. I’ve recently decided to brush up on my veterinary skills in preparation for offering my services as an animal nutritionist (exciting! Watch this space).
But for all their convenience, I’ve never liked labels. They are too limiting for creatures as complex as human beings.
In short, I’m not a yogi - I’m me!
That’s why you’ll now find me @caseyaconroy on Instagram. And shit, it feels good.