Decolonizing Self-Care with Yoga Teacher Avita Bansee

Avita Bansee is a yoga teacher and business owner. Life experiences as an Indo-Caribbean single birth parent of two and her continuous study of philosophy, politics, pranayama and biomechanics inform her teachings and self-practice. Her classes are centered on cultural and political reflections, breath, strength and active rest while maintaining a sense of playfulness. In addition to her yoga training, she has a Masters in Political Science from the New School of Social Research and an Honors B.A. in Philosophy. Most recently, Avita is Co-founder and Central Steward of The Connective, a cooperatively-owned online yoga studio. Merging her passion for social justice and yoga, Avita focuses her energy on creating original content for the platform and ensuring that the business is guided by the ethics of antiracism, yoga and social justice. Avita teaches regularly on The Connective and on Tejal Yoga and Social Justice. 

 

To practice self-care, do you need to spend a lot of money? I firmly believe the answer is no. As a single BIPOC mom of two and yoga teacher, I constantly question the ethics of accessibility and how they overlap with the ethics of yoga. For a long time, people have marketed luxury commodities and services as self-care. Just picture the yoga studios adorned with expensive religious deity statues and crystals or retreats with all-organic vegan menus. This self-care model delivers the message that caring for yourself and wellness is a privilege, not a right. But wellness cannot be aspirational, true wellness is accessible. The idea that being well can be purchased is violent toward marginalized groups, many of whom are BIPOC working birth parents. True wellness is inextricably tied to the destruction of white supremacy. Changing the culture around self-care means freeing self-care from being a commodity. Self-care can be as simple as closing your eyes for five seconds and chanting a bija mantra (bija mantras are one syllable sounds meant to activate the chakras — a mantra like “om”). This is true yoga, probably more so than the luxury all-inclusive yoga retreat. Accessibility also means extricating oneself from the white- washed ideals of the perfect yoga teacher and setting. Problematic even before the pandemic, the real life of yoga teachers with kids highlight why these ideals are neither sustainable, nor ethical. I cannot clean my apartment before every class I teach and I do not. I cannot afford perfect lighting, nor do I need it. My children will scream for glue or for their big sister while my students are meditating and my community accepts this as part of the practice. It is yoga: the union of mind, body and spirit, not the banishment of real life. The idea that you need to be alone or in silence to practice would make it impossible for most primary caregivers and parents. If you needed a perfect, quiet space to teach, then who would be left teaching? I accept the things about my life that have been culturally constructed as barriers as my strengths. Primary caregivers and parents have a right to self-care as they juggle children and work every day. Here are three simple practices I pepper into my day no matter what:

Face Massage: Start by sitting or standing comfortably. Soften the throat and the shoulders. Using your index finger and thumb, clasp the ear lobes and squeeze. Breathe in, filling the chest and belly, then open the mouth wide as you exhale. Vocalize the breath out with a loud sigh. Massage the cheeks from there, focusing on where the jaw hinges. With the tip of the tongue, skim the teeth and then relax the tongue. Lower the hands and relax the face completely for 2-4 more breaths.

Utkata Konasana: Goddess Pose is great if you spend a lot of time sitting. It can help you feel energized and strengthen the hips. Stand with hands on your hips, your feet wide apart and point your toes out. Bend the knees as you contract your glutes (bum muscles). Hold for 2 breaths and straighten the legs. Repeat 3 to 4 times. If you have a resistance band, loop it under your knee caps and add some heel raises as you hold the pose. Support your balance by holding onto a counter or wall.

Gliding lunges (with socks, resistance band optional): This is great if you are wearing socks and want to do something playful with the kids at home. Highly recommended for days that feel tense. From a standing position, hold a resistance band with your arms reaching straight ahead (arms parallel to the ground). Inhale and lift your arms up (fists reaching to the ceiling). Exhale as you lower your arms back down and glide the ball of your left foot back into a high lunge. Inhale back to standing with your arms up. Alternate this on each side as many times as you like. Add twists and free style glides if you like. Silliness encouraged.