Leaning into Discomfort

Early this year, I decided to speak openly about my experiences of discriminations. I travel to the US often, and the topic of racism and the systemic oppression is at the front line of their conversation. In our multicultural and racially diverse society, we believe and thrive to be living in a harmonious society. However, day to day insensitive comments are tossed around and I was fed up and tired of how I was treated.

I moved to Canada when I was 16 years old, and I became a permanent resident in 2015. Throughout teenage and early adulthood, I was trying to fit into the new environment.

I didn’t speak much English when I arrived. I wanted to assimilate and be a part of new culture.

I received insensitive comments from my high school peers regards to my heritage. One particular memory comes to mind. I was eating my favourite lunch “Onigiri” (riceball), and a friend of mine said my food is disgusting. I never brought Japanese food after the incident. I asked my mom to only make sandwiches.

I decided to pursue yoga teaching as my career in 2009. Since then, I had several occasions that I felt uncomfortable. However I never spoke up about it until this year. Because I wanted to assimilate. I wanted to be part of a community that it's openly embraced diversity and inclusion.

The health and wellness industry is predominately occupied by white population. Often time when I scroll through a roster of teachers at studios, clothing websites or magazines, the people who are representing the culture are white. I stepped into a class to teach without recognizing any diversities. Although Yoga culture claims to be an inclusive environment, I wasn’t seeing and experiencing it. I was mistaken by a receptionist and cleaning person as I waited students at the desk. I had been asked to change how I teach since I have an accent. But I never spoke up. I never stood up.

Even when I decided to openly start a conversation about diversity and inclusion, I wanted to avoid the word using “discrimination”. An anchor at CTV explained my experiences as discrimination and troubling during a TV interview. I felt awkward and uneasy. I thought what I experienced wasn’t racism and people were just insensitive and unaware. I was once again playing small and downplaying my experiences.

It’s hard to be on alert every second of our life to point out people’s insensitivity and ignorance. Personally I have fear of offending someone or not having a right language to communicate. However as a minority, I want to stand up, share my experiences and be an advocate for diversify and inclusion. If marginalized population doesn’t speak up about our struggles, how would the world understand and promote change? However, it’s important to cultivate and hold a safe space for conversations so that we feel safe to speak, heard and seen.

It’s been a journey to step into my own power, values and owning my story. I feel this is just a tip of the iceberg. The conversation has just started in our community and I’m hoping to organize more practice and conversation to improve the culture of health and wellness industry. It’s uncomfortable but I’m leaning in. Because I know I’m not the only one who had experienced discriminations. I want to create allies, not enemies, so that we can create a better world through yoga and activism.