Seeing with the Heart
There is a great divide between many groups of people in our world today. There’s always been divisions, but when the divide has to do with something so personal and close to our identities, we are so attached to that identity that we glom onto this idea of right and wrong, offensive and offended, black and white. In Buddhism, one of the major ideas is non-attachment. We often think of this in terms of material items-to not be attached to our houses, our clothes, our possessions. But a deeper level of this beautiful teaching is to not be attached to ourselves, our egos, our identities.
Although yoga has been delivered to me in a predominantly white culture, I’ve found that the philosophy of yoga is beyond race. Yes, many of my teachers have been white, but I’ve also had flamboyantly gay teachers, (who were bald men that wore skirts and fancy shirts to class with their nails done to a tee), French-Russian teachers, Canadian teachers, Black teachers and Asian teachers. I am grateful for all of my teachers who’ve taught me significant life lessons through the yogic philosophy. Now, as a Japanese-American girl, I am a yoga teacher myself as well and I believe that yoga is beyond race-it is beyond our differences; it is about living as spiritual beings in a world that has laid obstacles around us to prevent us from seeing our true paths.
There’s a difference between seeing with the eyes and seeing with the heart. As a child, I saw the world first through my eyes, always aware that I was a darker version of my peers-a Japanese-American child in the midst of a mostly white community. I always felt different from my peers. I went to a school that was predominantly white-there was one other Asian kid and one Black student. But I could sense my difference, and I think because I felt so different, I also isolated myself to protect myself.
When I reached high school, I had my first experience creating a boundary with an unhealthy friendship and that learning gave me strength to stand up for myself. I excelled in high school in many ways and graduated as a stronger, inspired and successful student. I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder and again found myself in a very white environment. There was certainly more diversity-I even signed up to live in the dormitory that had a cultural diversity element. And I appreciated it, but I also never felt fully at home there.
When I was a junior in college, I found yoga. I found a teacher who talked about samskara-about how we were here to become the best possible versions of ourselves by learning how to overcome the negative thought patterns that we’ve developed or had because of our pasts-even possible past lives. My teacher was a white man in his thirties who had been severely abused as a child, had been addicted to drugs and had lived a rough life and then had found yoga which had guided him to a clean, spiritual life. His vulnerability in sharing his story and his way of talking through the current challenges he faced with a desire to still become a better version of himself touched my heart. I was inspired; I wanted to do the same.
I’d grown up very religious, and deeply desired a spiritual journey. But when my personal beliefs grew in conflict with the religion I had grown up in, I dropped my religion, and simultaneously dropped my sense of spirituality. I yearned for a spiritual path, but I was so wounded by the teachings of my religion, that I distanced myself from anything spiritual.
But suddenly, the way this man talked about yoga and spirituality finally rang true for me. I, who had abandoned God, suddenly had another way to access a higher sense of spirit, a universal being that still had a purpose and goal for me in my life and was able to see me beyond my physical being. And it had nothing to do with the color of my skin-it had to do with the sense of my soul: Me, beyond my physical body.
After I graduated, I fell in love-but a very unhealthy love. I soon found myself in a considerably controlling, verbally and emotionally abusive relationship-and pregnant. I was talked into staying in the relationship for the sake of our child but was often reprimanded for ever wanting to do yoga or go for a run or do any of the things I’d used to do for peace of mind and tranquility. I stopped doing yoga. I stopped running. I stopped rock climbing. My sole purpose was for my partner and my child. I forgot myself.
Finally, after my partner threatened to kill me and then kicked me out of our home, I recognized that this relationship was not the kind of relationship I wanted my daughter to see as an example. I left my partner and broke the bonds of something I had somehow entangled myself in. We split custody of our daughter, but I still felt guilty for separating the family the way that she’d known it to be.
I was devastated. But I was relieved. I was in healing mode. And the Universe sent me an angel, another teacher of yoga. Since I wasn’t going to get yelled at for going to a yoga class, I started attending this woman’s yoga class. She was certainly not like the yoga teachers of Boulder who were all in their 30’s and fit and lean. She was a short, elderly Native American-blooded woman in her late 50’s. She was beautiful, with long white hair and wrinkles that smiled at you when you looked at her dark glowing skin. Her eyes held the most kindness I’ve ever seen and she spoke truth through her yoga classes. She spoke the exact truth I needed to hear-that love starts with the self and that I was strong-stronger than I thought.
As I did more and more yoga with her and then with some online videos and more on my own, I grew a greater sense of self. I healed. I learned and accepted my journey, my ex and the things that had happened to me. But I also was able to let them go. Eventually, I was doing yoga so much, someone noticed and told me I should become a yoga teacher. I began to sub for my teacher and taught at the rec center in the small mountain town where I live. One thing led to another and then, last summer, I found myself in Moyobamba, Peru, seeking my 200-hour yoga teacher training.
I arrived in Peru nervous and excited. I was ready, I was strong and I was excited to deepen my yoga practice and learn more about the philosophy of yoga. I found myself in a group of 14 women who were also there to get their YTT’s. These women were from all walks of life-some of us mothers, some of us in our early 20’s just graduated from college. These women were from all sorts of different backgrounds-Hindi, Christian, different countries, different sexual orientations, all kinds of diversity. But somehow, we were all souls brought together on a significant journey, meant to empower each other. Every single woman in the yoga teacher training instantly became a bonded sister. We were people-people who’d been through hardships, through journeys, people who’d found yoga as an aid to help us heal, to help us grow strong, to center and ground us. And suddenly, none of our differences mattered-it was the commonality of our spiritual journeys that united us.
My experience at Moksha is one I will forever treasure. The teachers and the women in the group were all such incredible individuals, I felt deeply knitted into our community almost instantly when we had our opening cacao ceremony and looked deeply into each others’ eyes and greeted each other with love. And as the two weeks went by, the bonds only grew stronger.
We are spirits who met on a beautiful journey in an absolutely amazing setting in the middle of the Amazon jungle. We parted ways, but each of those people whom I spent time with during my YTT will forever be a part of my heart. I don’t see them only with my eyes as beings who each look different and have different stories, which are beautiful differences that only make us stronger because we can share different perspectives. But I also see them with my heart as beautiful, spiritual beings who are on a spiritual path-which is really what yoga is about.