I recently took a 16-day trip to Haiti. I was so excited about this trip. Excited about seeing family, about the turquoise waters, the fresh cooked fish and lobster right out of the sea, the crazy chaotic traffic, and last but not least, I was excited to take my yoga practice with me. While on the plane, I could not help but to imagine myself next to the blue waters, next to the green plants, next to the rocky roads doing yoga. Waking up every morning indulging myself in the practice and in the culture.
Before leaving, I purchased a yoga travel towel/mat that would allow me to easily whip it out and break a 15-20 min session. My plan was to do 30 minutes of practice 3 days a week in the morning, and about 15-20 minutes in the evening either on the beach, in the woods, or in various locations where we would be staying. This was my goal. After working months and months on strengthening my body and my mind, I was determined to stick to this plan. I would also be lying if I didn’t mention my plan of capturing a picture of a pose in the most beautiful corners in Haiti.
After about a couple of days in Haiti practicing, I quickly learned that yoga is not accepted in the Haitian community. I found neighbors hiding behind trees staring at me, going above and beyond to see what I was doing. Many even brought their loved ones to watch me. While on the beach, the locals gazed at me with weary, questionable eyes. I could sense that they were getting uncomfortable. I was getting uncomfortable. This may seem like a good thing to some reading this, but I did not feel that the stares were good stares. I felt as though I was being judged and criticized. The feeling I felt was not a good feeling. I quickly started thinking of voodoo.
My cousins even told me to be careful doing it in public because many will mistake it for voodoo. A few days after she said that, while practicing in my home in Port Au Prince, many of the neighbors grew inquisitive. I was asked by one of my aunts if I was doing voodoo. Word quickly spread across the neighborhood that I might be doing voodoo in my yard. Part of me wanted to continue to practice in an open space, such as my yard, the beach, and a park, but due to the respect I hold for the Haitian culture, I suspended my practice outdoors.
I do not blame the people for accusing me of doing voodoo. Quite honestly, I do not care. I know what I was doing; my family and friends know what I was doing. Voodoo is very popular in Haiti, and is still practiced today. If they know very little about yoga, and see a girl standing on her head for a very long time, and meditating then they have every right to start wondering what in the world is this girl doing. I suspended my practice because I did not want the people to feel uncomfortable. There are many churches nearby and the people in our neighborhood are very spiritual people. We even have a church in the neighborhood, and I definitely did not want to bring conflicting views. The spiritual beliefs about yoga are already questionable and contradicting. Those who are familiar with yoga may also ‘assume’ that I am not a Christian because of yoga’s spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. And those who are not familiar with yoga may assume it is a form of voodoo (btw, I am very much a Christian). Knowing the background and the history of yoga, of voodoo, and of Haiti I was able to maintain my composure, and do what I thought was right, which was to stop my practice in open places. In all honesty, I certainly did not foresee any of this happening, nor did I thought it would be a problem. Somehow, that never crossed my mind.
However, I do regret a few things. I regret not speaking with the people, not asking them questions, and not informing them on what I was doing. I was given many teachable moments and did not take advantage of them. Once I explained what yoga was to my cousins, and even showed them a few asanas and flows, they grew interested. I even caught one of my cousins doing the standing up and laying down version of cat-cow. She has back pain in the mornings, and she said it helps her when she gets up. I smiled every time I caught her doing her cat/cow.
My next trip to Haiti, I will for sure take a few yoga mats with me, and even prepare pamphlets written in creole informing the people on yoga. While practicing, whenever I catch strangers peeping at me, I will politely hand them a pamphlet, and a yoga mat and ask them to join me. Perhaps this will make us all feel less uncomfortable and more appreciative of learning new things with new people.
Namaste Friends, and don't forget to like, comment, and share!