I met today’s guest at a conference in 2018 about decentering whiteness in yoga and mindfulness spaces. She was a keynote speaker and hearing her story and experience not only moved me, but really helped to anchor in so much of what we’ve been learning and exploring about racism, oppression, and liberation here on the show over the last two years, so I was pumped when she agreed to come on.
Michelle Cassandra Johnson is a social justice activist, anti-racism trainer, author and yoga teacher. Her big truth was around needing to shed layers and let go to create space for different opportunities and energies.
In this conversation we talked specifically about creating liberatory spaces, decreasing suffering and doing things differently in western yoga environments. She walked us through how justice is possible if we really live into the principles of yoga, shared her perspective on oneness, holding things at the same time, why she prefers to say “safer” space than safe space, and the kinds of microaggressions that are common for black people in yoga classes.
We also talked about her book, Skill In Action, how she’s delivering her work in the world currently and how repair actually happens.
This is a deep and thorough chat, enjoy and share, especially with your yoga friends!
From Michelle Cassandra Johnson:
I have a deep understanding of how trauma impacts the mind, body, spirit and heart. My awareness of the world through my experience as a black woman allows me to know, first hand how privilege and power operate. I understand the toll that oppression can take on individuals and the collective physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
I am a social justice warrior, empath, yoga teacher and practitioner and an intuitive healer. Whether in an anti-oppression training, yoga space, individual or group intuitive healing session, healing and wholeness are at the center of how I approach all of my work in the world. I’ve spent many years on the front lines of justice movements craving a space for healing through ritual, ceremony and sacred practice. While working in many non-profits with missions focused on justice I didn’t find a space that centered healing as a tool to create justice. So, I created my own space and way of working.
I create healing spaces in many different ways working with individuals and groups. I lead anti-racism trainings,yoga workshops focused on the intersection of justice and yoga and I offer intuitive healing sessions to support social justice workers, healers and activists who are on the front lines and struggling with how to sustain themselves as they do their good work in the world.
I have a background as a licensed clinical social worker and I have been teaching yoga for ten years. I began my own teacher training in 2014 and recently wrote a book about yoga and justice, Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. I inspire change that allows people to stand in their humanity and wholeness in a world that fragments most of us. There are myriad of ways to work with me. I hope to support you on your healing journey and path towards wholeness in whatever capacity allows you to live your fullest life.
Connect with Michelle:
What You’ll Hear:
8:31 The truth of letting go in allowing other opportunities to enter
11:52 What can be done differently in yoga spaces to create a more inclusive experience
15:35 We can’t escape grief and suffering so it’s important that we acknowledge it
18:40 Culture has taught people of color to doubt their experiences with inclusion
19:39 Oneness and connection is an absolute truth
23:05 Microaggressions within the yoga community.
38:54 Should people of color and other marginalized groups go into other spaces or create their own
39:33 Trying to create conditions that allow for a safer space than the dominant culture creates.
43:33 Considering the validity of the belief that dominance does not guarantee safety for the person who is dominant
45:53 The need for a repair model for when we cause harm
46:00 Safety does not equal comfort
49:30 Dominant culture encourages us to hold onto grief which not sustainable
50:45 Whiteness oppresses everybody
Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga to Create a Just World by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Transverse: A Divination Deck Deck to Respond to Grief and Loss by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Transformative Courses: The Radical Act of Self-Care
Click here to watch/listen or scroll upward to listen only:
“We can’t forget that the world isn’t set up for everyone to be free.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
“Saying we’re one is different than creating conditions that will allow us to live as one.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
“If I believe I know what safety looks like for everyone, I’m creating harm in that moment.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
“It’s important for me to recognize the way in which I’m connected to everyone and our humanity, our shared humanity. It’s also important for me to know that we’re moving in very different ways based on our identities and how the culture and dominant culture responds to our identities.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
“Whiteness says that comfort equals safety.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
“To be in a space where whiteness is a topic of conversation and not what’s running the room.” -Elizabeth DiAlto
“White people need to understand that it’s harming you too, so you need to have a stake in this response to it.” -Michelle Cassandra Johnson
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