Please enjoy and reflect on this wonderful guest post from a Social Worker in Vancouver that prefers to not be named. I am very excited to be starting this series of guest posts when I have been posing yin questions out to the community. I am very interested in telling new stories about yoga, who practices and its social impact. I hope you enjoy this! Want to contribute to this blog, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and lets tell new narratives together.
Love and Justice, Danielle
Healing occurs in my body when I take the time to feel through my discomfort. When I give myself space. When I let my body tell me what it’s feeling, when I let my emotions bubble up and out, when I acknowledge and breath into the tightness, constriction, pain. There’s a lot of pain. Some days my body needs time to heal and I am learning about what it means to allow that and not push myself to “get my work done”. There’s a lot of work.
I am from the Musgamagw Dzawadenuex First Nation (Kwakwaka’wakw) on my mothers side and of mixed European descent on my fathers side. I am a cis-gendered able-bodied light skinned woman and if I did not explicitly share my First Nations lineage, you would assume I was a white woman. I am a Social Worker and over the past ~7 years, I have worked with many different people across many different scopes of practice from DTES community work to prevention work in schools to working in long term care facilities for seniors.
I grew up without my Indigenous culture. Growing up, I did not have access to our language, our dances, our songs, our traditions. The beginnings of my education about my culture and my people was through academia, studying Social Work in a program that centred Indigenous voice and perspective. I liked school, I liked education and learning. I had a intellectualism that I kept close, it felt safe. When I learned about the painful history of colonization, I got angry and stayed angry for a while, but tried to keep that anger contained in academic pursuits, in heady conversations about anti-oppression and social justice and decolonization, not realizing my body also held that anger and trauma. It still does. When left unchecked, I still centre my intellectual experience. I stay in my head and I ignore my body until it screams at me and I can’t ignore it anymore.
What I have found in both my work as a Social Worker and my own personal work re-claiming my identity and my voice as an Indigenous person is that I have to take things slow and take things in my own time (on my body’s time). When my body insists I slow down and I refuse to listen, I get sick or I get debilitating pain in my body that slows me down anyway. I’ve learned to stop pushing my body past it’s limits and that means saying no and slowing down a lot more than I feel comfortable with. This can also make me unpopular in my Social Work practice, in social justice circles, and even within my own family where the unspoken norm is to go, go, GO, without stopping even when sick, tired, or in pain. In a world where we normalize over-work, being “sooooo busy”, and chronic stress, it’s hard to stand up for being slow and gentle.
I know, love, and work with many incredible thinkers, community builders, makers, creators, and warriors and I respect and honour their commitment to action. They inspire me with all the work they do for our communities. However, I often find that all this action creates a culture of being so busy and overwhelmed, that the bar is impossibly high. I wonder about who’s important voice we’re losing because of the impossible pressures we’ve created in our colonial capitalist society and then replicated in our social justice communities. Who loses access to community and social justice work because it’s so centred on what our bodies and minds can produce? When your worth is measured in how much you can get done for an organization or cause, what happens to folks that can’t keep up?
In my professional life as a Social Worker, I am constantly asked to do more and be more. Funding cuts, high turnover rates, increased caseloads and other insidious systemic issues make this work demanding and increasingly, unsustainable. I have witnessed other Social Workers and health care professionals burn out, get sick, and then be replaced by someone new. I have seen that cycle repeat itself over and over. It’s become normalized. We lose important voices in Social Work, usually the voices of BIPOC folks, because of the unsustainable demands of the work. When it becomes normal for organizations to lose workers to workplace stress and vicarious trauma, it’s easy to feel dispensable.
My work as a Social Worker and my work in re-claiming my identity is inextricably linked to collective healing. I have realized how important it is for me to listen to my body and let my body guide me. The work of healing myself is also a collective healing work. Body based therapies and practices are not frivolous acts of “self care” for only the privileged few, these are important times of collective healing. When I listen to my body, it usually has a lot to say. It takes strength and courage to listen to my body in a world that puts so much value on what our minds can produce.
I think of yin yoga as important collective healing. The act of slowing down, focusing on the breath, and listening to the body is needed across all sectors, but most importantly for people doing social justice work. This type of healing has sustained me in this work. It’s helped me remember that my body is a sacred site of wisdom. My personal resistance to our capitalist colonial white supremacist reality is to stay soft, slow, and gentle. My work in this world is to be a voice for the importance of listening and being with our bodies.