We Need a Secretary of Yoga with Chelsea Jackson Roberts

Jun 11, 2020

If yoga means union, if we as practitioners aspire to see the interconnectedness of all, then how could it not be political practice? Dr. Chelsea Jackson Smith’s most recent research explores the lived experiences of Black teen yoga practitioners and their use of yoga and storytelling for critical identity development. Today’s conversation doesn’t shy away from suffering, liberation, power, and privilege — and a call for a new cabinet-level position.

 On the show today, I am thrilled to host my friend Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. Chelsea received her Ph.D. from Emory University in 2014. Relying on ethnography and narrative inquiry as her primary research methods, Chelsea explores the lived experiences of individuals across multiple communities. Her most recent research utilizes the lived experiences of Black teen yoga practitioners who use yoga and storytelling as mediums for critical literacy development.

Chelsea is also currently a certified yoga teacher studying under the guidance of her beloved teacher Ma Jaya. Chelsea also completed two additional yoga trainings in Atlanta and New York City, specifically for instructors who work with children and teens. It was during Chelsea’s most recent training on Restorative Justice at the University of Wisconsin that she began making connections between the value of storytelling, critical literacy development, and yoga.

Funded by grants from Emory and Spellman College, Chelsea created a Yoga, Literature, and Art camp for teen girls in 2013. Integrating literature, art, storytelling, and yoga, Chelsea worked with a host of volunteer yoga teachers and teen girls over the course of two weeks guided by a curriculum grounded in her educational training, observations, and experiences with yoga, literacy, and youth.

On the show today, we discuss the meaning of yoga, the importance of re-instilling values into our culture, the experience of Chelsea’s camp for teen girls and much more.

Chelsea Roberts: I am Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts.

Jeff Krasno: You're a doctor.

Chelsea Roberts: I am.

Jeff Krasno: That's very intimidating.

Chelsea Roberts: A PhD ... I'm an educator. I'm an educational researcher and I'm a yoga teacher. I teach yoga teachers in pre-service teachers trainings while they're actual yoga teachers. And I specifically look at the ways in which our yoga practice impacts how we engage the world, whether it's our relationships, how we use our voice, the activism that we participate in. And so I'm a former school teacher. I come from a public school education background, and I'm moved from that into teaching yoga.

Jeff Krasno: And you seem uncommonly happy. If you're going to be this happy all the time, then I need to go get another espresso.

Chelsea Roberts: Well, I think that the yoga practice certainly makes me aware of the joy that sometimes is not brought to the surface. And I do know that it has impacted my awareness and how I express myself through my smiles or through the warmness that I hopefully provide to people so that we can connect and have conversations that bring us even closer together.

Jeff Krasno: So tell me a little bit about your journey into yoga and kind of the inflection points in your life that led you to make the decisions to become a teacher and a doctor.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah. So I found yoga, or yoga found me. I share this story. I always get excited to share that I was a park ranger in Carlsbad, New Mexico when I was in college. And I was actually reading a Rodney Yee book and trying to teach myself how to practice yoga, how to do yoga. It wasn't until after I graduated from college that I actually stepped into my first yoga class for several reasons. I was intimidated, I was scared. I wasn't comfortable in my body, but the first class that I had ever gone into was a hot yoga class. I actually started my practice through Bikram yoga. That was my introduction, and sometimes I critique myself in that. And I also see the value in how I've arrived to a practice that has opened up so much. So for me, I encourage people to allow the practice to work through them wherever it's found and wherever it finds them.

Chelsea Roberts: And so I totally thought that this was just a physical workout. It was the same to me as going and lifting weights or going for a jog. And while people can find their meditation in those activities, yoga for me was just so intentional about being connected to my body, being present, speaking my truth, hearing the truths of others that I knew that this was a little bit different than any other exercise I had engaged before.

Chelsea Roberts: And it came into fruition and taught me that when I years later experienced a huge tragedy in my life, and my best friend and former college roommate, Misty Carter, was murdered in Atlanta, Georgia. And at the time being 23, 24 years old, I had never experienced trauma of that magnitude. And I didn't have the tools or resources. I'm from Dayton, Ohio. I grew up very ... From a working class, middle class African American family, and I didn't necessarily know the tools available like therapy or seeing someone to support me. And so yoga for me was actually that therapy that even led me to open up to be okay to go to a therapist and sit down and have chats. And so for me, yoga, my arrival to yoga was definitely twofold in this journey. One physical and then one that got really deep.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, spiritually.

Chelsea Roberts: Spiritually, yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And you felt that the portal, the opening of the door came through the physical piece?

Chelsea Roberts: It did. It did for me.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: I don't know if ... No, I do know. There has not been any other practice that I've been in this embodied state that has opened me up in the way that yoga has.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. It's funny because there's a lot of, well we've got to demystify yoga to make it more accessible to more people because if we talk and extol the spiritual virtues of yoga, that's going to freak people out a little bit. Let's inch them in by kind of demystifying it and being like, oh yeah, yoga, it'll give you strength, flexibility. I suppose six pack abs, a high butt or whatever. And that worries me a little bit because we seem to be always demystifying everything. Even meditation, it's like, oh well we're really not going to talk about the consciousness piece. We're going to talk about meditation for optimal performance at work or meditation for sports. Look, the Seattle Seahawks started meditating and they won the Super Bowl. And in a way, as a culture we seem to shy away from things that are marketed as spiritual because that might seem off-putting to people.

Chelsea Roberts: Right, right.

Jeff Krasno: But it sounds like you started because okay, well this could be an exercise.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, I wanted to lose weight.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: That's why I started. And what you said is valid, and I think that context matters when we think about who and how we share yoga. And I think it's all about the communities that you choose to share this. And are you a part of the community? How can you engage the community? How can you learn what their community practices are? I did learn that in many ways, in hard ways of the lessons that I've learned along the way of being so excited about this thing that has impacted my life, that I'm like, I've got to tell everybody. Kind of like when I transformed into a vegetarian and I went home for Christmas. I'm like, everybody's eating tofu. Everybody's eating ... And I wanted to impose my experience with yoga or with food onto people who may not have been able to receive that message where they were.

Chelsea Roberts: Now I think that that happens in two different ways. There are some people who don't want to receive the message and they have all of the tools, resources, education to be able to understand what we talk about when we talk about yoga philosophy and the context of the sutras and how to live our lives in a way that will create the least amount of harm in this world. And then we have other communities where folks actually may not have the vantage point or the perspective or the experience to be able to arrive to see yoga in the most profound way. Yeah. So I do believe that context certainly matters. And that I was certainly met with yoga where I was ready to receive the message. And then I was really young too when I started the practice.

Jeff Krasno: I wanted to ask you what your definition of yoga is, but I might just read one if I can find it. Of course I probably can't because my notes are all jumbled up here. Okay, here's one. That yoga is a path to omniscience and enlightened consciousness enabling one to comprehend the impermanent, elusive, delusive and permanent true transcendent reality. So essentially that through the practice of yoga, you can become conscious of the things that I guess one might say are real, infinite, outside of time and space, outside of location and form the soul, consciousness, God, the spirit, whatever you want to call that. And the world of the 10000 things. This chair, your body, my body, Kylie, this table, anything that will essentially decay and return to dust.

Jeff Krasno: And that living as much as you can every day with that awareness of these things that are true and real and infinite, I might throw into that basket love, compassion, empathy versus living from the place of the impermanent, which is essentially this chair or my ego that tells me that I'm separate from you but separate from God. That I am what you think of me. That I am the resume, my resume or what I do or something like that.

Chelsea Roberts: Right.

Jeff Krasno: And I think that that is an interesting definition of yoga as a practice to cultivate that consciousness between what is real and true and what is essentially impermanent. What do you think about that?

Chelsea Roberts: I think that that was amazing. That was an amazing definition. My definition of yoga, I keep it simple. That it means to unite, to yoke and essentially that is what you just described, that we are all connected. I love when Sean Korn explains that I cannot exist in this body, in this world without seeing myself or the shadows or the whatever it is that I want to hide. So whenever I come across people that may trigger me into a reaction that's emotional of anger or shame or anything, the things that I'm probably not smiling about that I know that this also exists in me. And I think that this is a way that we can even practice self-compassion for ourselves if we truly think that we can be kind to other people. We have to start with ourselves. And so for me, to come at, approach life in a way that has this lens of yoga, that we are all connected, that my liberation depends on your liberation, yours on mine, that it makes us know that we don't have a lot of time to waste.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, yes.

Chelsea Roberts: And yeah, we don't have a lot of time to waste. And for me, my practice reminds me of that each and every time. We both know and love Tracy Stanley, who is my yoga [inaudible 00:13:44] teacher, and where I used to shame myself about rest and resetting myself through my yoga [inaudible 00:13:52] practice, actually it awakens me more to life when I come out of my practice because it is exactly what you said. It's moving in between the space of being awake and drifting into not being fully conscious, but also in that realm of consciousness. 

Jeff Krasno: So you had a teacher, tell me a little bit about the prominent teacher in your life.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, sure. So as I said, I started my yoga practice with hot yoga, but then I ended up moving into meditation. And I really wanted to dive into it, and with a responsible teacher, which is key and essential for anybody who's practicing to make sure that you have a teacher who you trust. And I found Kashi Atlanta, Urban [inaudible 00:00:16:11], and my teacher Swami Jaya Davey. I met her teacher who then became my teacher, my Jaya, Sati Bhagavata who was this wild teacher who even her entree into yoga was very similar to mine. She was trying to lose weight.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, right. Where she ... I think I read that she enrolled in it, like old school.

Chelsea Roberts: Yes, yes, she's wild. She was wild. So my Jaya, Brooklyn, Jewish, this woman who traveled to India, fell in love with her teacher, [inaudible 00:16:50] who is the lineage that I am very connected to. And so Kashi Atlanta really taught me, just as you were saying that oneness, that separation is, it's an illusion. It's Maya. It is not real. And when we think about the pain and the suffering that that separation has caused across the globe between communities, between living beings, animals, nature as you said, it really ... Kashi was a place that really taught me what Seva was.

Chelsea Roberts: And that was selfless service of serving within our 200 hour teacher's training at the local homeless shelters. We have programs at the children's hospital where children who are terminally ill, we have an art project with them. So there's so many things that yoga encompasses that I think actually don't get a lot of shine. I don't think that the piece about Seva karma yoga, it is sometimes seeing that, again, this is this separate thing. This is this fragmented experience with yoga, but it's actually all a part. And for me, Kashi was a place that told me, taught me, showed me how Seva is very integrated into our yoga practice.

Jeff Krasno: Is that the ultimate goal of being human? Selfless service?

Chelsea Roberts: I hope so. I hope that ... How amazing would that be if everybody in the world walked in that manner, and exchanged information in that manner? I think that if we did get to the point where we saw within ourselves or cultivated compassion for ourselves in a way that we couldn't help but to share with the world, how could we not all want to be in the practice of selfless service? But as you said, once we get separate then there's dominance, then there's power over, there's people who don't have power and then selfless service becomes something that's mandated onto folks to then selflessly serve. And it's not fair and it's not equitable. And so when I think about this yoga practice, for me, it is a great tool for us to be reflective on the ways that we are separate within ourselves.

Chelsea Roberts: And we try to compartmentalize our aspects within the world. But I want to show up with my whole self. Sometimes I'm introverted, sometimes I'm quirky, sometimes I have a lot to say and you may get all of that in one session. And instead of me trying to silence a part of me that I think may not be acceptable, I want to be able to show up as my full and whole self. And so to me, that's the goal. And then in turn, hopefully selfless service becomes that extension so that the world can connect.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. 

Jeff Krasno: I wonder if yoga is essentially or meditation.

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: Yoga as meditation or yoga leading to meditation is essentially the tool, the key.

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: Out of perpetual suffering and the end product of that. Is right action, right work, selfless service.

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: I can buy into that. I like that.

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: So then the key is then how do you spread the practice?

Chelsea Roberts: Right? Right, yeah, I think it's being done in many ways. I love when teachers place emphasis on the yamas and niyamas.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: When you look at the different tools that were written in Pantanjali's Yoga-Sutras, before the physical practice even reached earthlings.

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Chelsea Roberts: So when I think about the and the yamas, niyamas ahimsa, truth, integrity, non-stealing and a lot of suffering comes from stealing. A lot.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: A lot of the suffering comes from folks having the desire because perhaps their community, we were just talking about food deserts. Are being starved of things that other communities may have in abundance or an exaggerated amount of. And so for me the suffering comes, when there is an imbalance or there's not equity or equality when it comes to resources in particular.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: And I'm just talking about resources, just basic living needs.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: That can start to move people, shift people emotionally, of the fear of not having enough or not having things to just survive. That's where suffering can be looked at from two angles, of the folks who don't have enough and the folks who are taking way too much. And that's where the suffering comes. One of my favorite writers and teachers is James Baldwin, my husband Shane and I share that mutual love, respect for him. Actually that's how we really connected. When I found out he was into James Baldwin.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, right.

Chelsea Roberts: And I was, I'm going to marry this man. And James Baldwin once said,

Jeff Krasno: I'm going to make a note to myself if it's that easy I'm going to get some and James Baldwin books right away.

Chelsea Roberts: And James Baldwin once said, in an interview, "The individual has to come to terms with their own suffering and be honest and grounded in the truth of where that suffering is coming from."

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: "And it's from that place and understanding of my own suffering that I can then in turn understand your suffering. And then we together use our suffering to move deeper into love." For me that is what suffering births, out of it. If it is actually confronted,

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Chelsea Roberts: It's uncomfortable. It brings up shame and guilt when you have to look. Oh, this person is suffering because of me. Oh my impact on the world is creating harm in this specific community or to animals or to the environment. When we come to terms with the amount of suffering that we actually put into the world, we can also come to terms with the suffering that we're experiencing. And again, that shows us how we are all connected. And how the liberation of all living beings are codependent. We are all interdependent in many ways.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Liberation,

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: That might be the, that is arguably the end goal.

Chelsea Roberts: It is. That's what happens with it in the Chittakasha and the crown chakra grow. Once you move through the chakras and you go up, that's hopefully, what it is. That's what, I thought, I hope that's why I'm doing this, in this lifetime because I want to be liberated. And in the event that I do come back again, in another form, I want to pick up where I left off and that's why I'm doing the work in this lifetime.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's beautiful. What are your personal goals? And I mean in this lifetime?

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know. Personal goals for me is to write a book,

Jeff Krasno: Oh.

Chelsea Roberts: To have a book that is accessible to the people. I'm a PhD, so I wrote a dissertation. I've written a lot of [journakal phonetic 00:06:19], and now I can't even talk. Journal articles.

Jeff Krasno: I like the journakal.

Chelsea Roberts: The journakal, we may have,

Jeff Krasno: That's a whole new thing. Someone buy that domain name.

Chelsea Roberts: Yes, a journakal.

Jeff Krasno: Journakal.com.

Chelsea Roberts: So I've written quite a bit, a very cerebral, very HETI academic writing. And it has been a longing in my heart's desire to write. And that was one of the reasons why I didn't even apply to tenure track positions. Because I knew the work that we were doing with yoga, literature and art camp.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: For teen girls. I knew that it had to get beyond academia. I knew that I had to go beyond just talking to the same people, the same professors and students,

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: And I wanted to go to the people.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: So writing a book, Jeff, that is the life goal.

Jeff Krasno: That's good. So this is a big debate that happens within in philosophical circles. So essentially the act of life versus the contemplative life.

Jeff Krasno: So it's just, when I look at what you're doing,

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: What I'm seeing is okay, I have got some really powerful philosophical ideas based in yoga, but I'm not just going to be, sit in an academic environment and kind of spar with my other PhDs.

Chelsea Roberts: Right.

Jeff Krasno: I'm going to bring this out to the streets.

Chelsea Roberts: Right, right. And essentially that's what I'm hoping that folks take with their yoga practice. I think that yoga can be a very or yoga communities and as is practiced here in the Western world can be a very tricky or slippery slope to where you can get this tool. You get this practice and you're like, I'm feeling peace and zen, and I don't want this to go anywhere. So let me isolate myself.

Jeff Krasno: Right.

Chelsea Roberts: Let me go to the most exclusive place that I know, that folks who will actually probably trigger me into not being happy. And of course, you have to do what you need to do to support and maintain your own peace. But I also look at how yoga can be used, as this way, to create more separation and exclusivity. And only certain people, if you go to a particular place that you're going to see these particular people and this is your safe place.

Chelsea Roberts: I mean we have it and for folks of color, people of color. Yoga literature and art campus specifically for young women who self identify as young women of color. We needed to carve out a space for us to be safe and to practice this embodied and very intimate practice. We have to look at how exactly what you said, how we can use this practice and integrate it into society where it's actually needed.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: We can use it to interrogate our own bias, our own privilege, our own capacity to ignore and separate. And so for me, yeah, just like academics, I guess that is what I'm doing with yoga.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: I never thought about it like that, but yeah, I don't want to keep it to myself.

Jeff Krasno: Right.

Chelsea Roberts: I want to share it with the world.

Jeff Krasno: Right. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the camp,

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: The yoga, literature and art camp, how it was, how it germinated? How it grew?

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, very much.

Jeff Krasno: What happened? What actually happened?

Chelsea Roberts: What happened there? Yeah, so yoga, literature and art camp came out of my dissertation. I was an educator. Thought I would always be an educator, thought I was going to be a professor. And the girls, who were a part of my ethnographic case study told me otherwise.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Chelsea Roberts: When we were finished with the study, their parents, the community began to email Shane and I and asking when we were going to make this happen again. And so we were like, I guess we have an annual camp on our hands. But the thing was we didn't have the resources to sustain a camp.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: And so for me the biggest issue was one, having the resources, having a staff. And what we did was, saw that our community was ready to really step up and support. And so yoga, literature and art camp provides tuition, free experiences for young women who self identify as women of color, ages 13 through 17 and we expose them and introduce them to different types of yoga.

Chelsea Roberts: And then we also center different women who are, identify as women of color. So we've had Korean American women, Dominican women, African American women, Iranian, Indian women who all come and share their perspective and their lens of yoga. And the girls are now normalizing, seeing these teachers as wise master teachers.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: And so that was important and it was important to integrate the written word, the spoken word, in there. Because as a young woman, I remember growing up in Dayton, Ohio. In elementary school in the eighties and nineties. The late eighties and nineties that, I always remembered other characters being centered. And I didn't always see myself as the main character. A little girl who had the same skin as me or hair like me. It was important that we put all of those components into the program. Both art, we're at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. We are the only,

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: Whereas historically black college for women, where I graduated from, but we're the only museum in the world that houses only art from women from the Diaspora, the African Diaspora. So the girls are surrounded by their reflection in art. They're reading Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and they're practicing yoga with women of color.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: And so how amazing to have that be your experience at the age of 13 that's normal to see yourself, reflective. Regardless of what's going outside of those doors. They know that when they come into that space, they are being centered in their experiences and voices.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: So that's,

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, that's beautiful. And are they? Where, how does the art and literature manifest

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: Instantiate itself within.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: Within the experience? Are people writing?

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: Are they reading?

Chelsea Roberts: They're doing it all week.

Jeff Krasno: Are they sharing?

Chelsea Roberts: We hire local artists. One of the things that we're very proud of is that we pay, all of our teachers quite well. We received the Here to be Grant from Lululemon. I'm a Global Yoga Ambassador with Lululemon and that has certainly been a journey. To be able to use a platform that has historically been critiqued for locking out certain body types. But now, me being the global ambassador, the first black woman, to be a global ambassador, the body type that I have. All of these things are important. And so here to be with Lululemon, they made a pretty significant contribution to yoga, literature and art camp. And so we hire artists, we hire yoga teachers,

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chelsea Roberts: We hire teachers, we hire community advocates who want to come in and do workshops with how to use your voice in society. Yeah, we integrate this. You got to come to a camp or see one of our documentaries.

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Chelsea Roberts: That we plan on making when you ask me what I want to do,

Jeff Krasno: Have a documentary-

Chelsea Roberts: Have a documentary for yoga, literature,

Jeff Krasno: I'm not sure I meet the criteria.

Chelsea Roberts: That's why I stopped myself.

Jeff Krasno: But I would, yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: And said maybe the documentary.

Jeff Krasno: Well, yes. I'd love to see the documentary.

Chelsea Roberts: But we do have community events that we do share and.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: Everyone is welcome. Everyone is welcome there. So I'll keep you posted on that.

Jeff Krasno: Fantastic. We're going to bring this to a very emotional transcendent moving finale in some fashion. So, obviously you do a lot of social justice work. You talked about this for a moment, where many people have had the response around their personal and spiritual practices, that this is my sacred space, don't bring your sullied world of politics or social justice into my sacred space. This is the place where I find center or I find connection and I don't want to deal with any of that stuff when I'm in this space.

Jeff Krasno: At some level, how can you blame people when you can turn on 24 hour news and its endless soundbites of absolutely immoral action men, what my wife calls men just swinging their genitalia around, with absolutely no sense of consciousness. I saw some tweet yesterday, and I'm not going to go into a whole Trump thing, but essentially, where he's talking about spending $2 trillion, $2 trillion on fancy new military equipment. I mean, I don't have to enumerate where that $2 trillion could have gone. You know what I mean? Only to use it as a means of retaliation, if a country that we unilaterally attacked the taxes back.

Jeff Krasno: So, I can understand why people need a safe space away from that world. At the same time, I think that era of don't put your chocolate in my peanut butter or whatever, don't put your politics in my yoga practice. I mean, for me, that's just got to be over.

Chelsea Roberts: Absolutely. I say how nice. What a luxury to be able to have the privilege to say don't bring politics or whatever it may be. I can't separate that. This body right here is political, just in its existence, especially on this land in particular. I mentioned to you earlier in our talking that Shane and I are really into ancestry and DNA. To know the historical context of suffering, of the trauma that I've inherited, of the segregation, of the apartheid that we've experienced on this land, that my parents even experienced in their lifetime as baby boomers, that it's important to know that we also don't use our yoga practice as Michelle Cassandra Johnson will reference spiritual bypassing to say, you know what? No, I don't see color or I don't see race, so why are they making a big deal about not having enough black yoga teachers on a lineup?

Chelsea Roberts: So, that travels with me everywhere I go. So I don't have the convenience or the luxury to say, "Hmm, not in my yoga practice." When I step into spaces, I have to deal with ... One time Jeff, I had just recently in the last year, I was showing up as one of the headlining teachers at a yoga conference and I was mistaken as the cleaning service within the room that I was about to teach in. Now this is right before I'm about to teach, that someone asked me was I going to throw away some things and tidy up the room. This was a real thing that happened to me, who actually is a very visible teacher on the surface.

Jeff Krasno: In 2019.

Chelsea Roberts: In 2019 this just happened. So for me, I don't have that luxury. I even come from spaces of privilege, in the fact that I have the educational degrees that I have or I have both of my parents in the home and they were both ... have Master's Degrees, whatever it may be. I hold my own privilege to where I could even buy into that and say, "Oh, no, I don't want to think about that here." But that's impossible, because going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are all connected. There is no way that people can turn off, I don't care how much they say that they don't see things happening, your body knows and your body experiences and feels it in whatever way it manifests.

Chelsea Roberts: So yeah, to the folks who say that they don't want politics in yoga, then I would say that you are a very privileged. I also know that it's going to take time and I don't necessarily think that every yoga teacher needs to be a political analyst or has to have a social justice component to their yoga teacher's training. But I do think that responsible yoga teachers will go out and find folks who are trained in this that can come. Just as we teach philosophy, anatomy, Ayurveda, all of the different components of yoga, I think that diversity, inclusion, all of these things, have to be integrated, because it's the world that we live in and people were impacted by the students who walk into your yoga studios are impacted by.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, I mean, if you actually are a teacher, or I said a student even, of yoga, and to you, yoga means union, it means connection, then how could it not be political?

Chelsea Roberts: Right, absolutely. What a wonderful framework that we have to be able to follow, even the Yamas and the Niyamas, when we are engaging in the world.

Jeff Krasno: Right.

Chelsea Roberts: If I'm practicing non-violence and I guarantee that all of the suffering that we're seeing and the oppression and the marginalization, it wouldn't happen if everybody practiced this, right?

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, yeah. Essentially, Yamas and Niyamas, do's and don'ts. Where that system can be so utilitarian and useful, I guess I would say, in this day and age, is to provide principles, moral guidelines for our works and actions while we are here on Earth. We live, as we were discussing, in a valueless society or at the best, one mired in relativism, where I can say, "Well, no, this is actually right." You can say no. Someone else who's got some power can stride into the room and say, "No, I'm going co-opting, moral principles or universal truth."

Jeff Krasno: Essentially when there are no moral guidelines, then we begin to create systems and structures to organize human lives that are devoid of principles. But if those systems and structures are essentially created to serve humans, how can they not be filled with principles and moral guidelines, universal truth, perennial presets, whatever you want to call it. These things are baked in to the Yamas and Niyamas, they're baked into the teachings of Christ, to the teachings of Mohammed, to the teachings of [inaudible 00:12:07]. It doesn't matter.

Chelsea Roberts: Right, right, right, right.

Jeff Krasno: Different mask, same face.

Chelsea Roberts: Yep, absolutely.

Jeff Krasno: That these are the principles that our culture, our society, our global society, so desperately needs, otherwise we're rudderless.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Krasno: Like I was saying, it's like nobody wakes up in the morning, even the oil and gas executive, and says, "I'm going to warm the globe today." No one goes into the office, be like, "Well, we've only got 415 parts per million of carbon. By the end of the day, we're going to have it at 430." Nobody says that. But in the absence of moral guidelines, that's just what happens.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, I was going to say, I hope no one says that, but the way that I experienced this world, it feels like people are. How robust this assault on humanity and extending 400 years ago and even more, there were intentional plans to keep people locked out. So yes, that is my hope that no one wakes up and hopefully we are evolving to a place of that, and there's still a lot of work to be done, right?

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, yeah.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: What I envision for this new decade moving forward-

Chelsea Roberts: Yes, 2020.

Jeff Krasno: That we're fresh here, we can make our reality in many ways. I mean, I've thought about this and I've talked about this before, is that 70,000 years ago, there was only 2,000 human beings left in East Africa. That's it, that's where we all came from at some point.

Chelsea Roberts: I found out in my DNA that I'm from there.

Jeff Krasno: Well, on some level we all are.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: So that it is not a question of our ability, it's our question of our will. What I envision and deeply, profoundly hope for is that values, principles, Yamas and Niyamas, the teachings of Christ, however you want to codify them, can become part of how we all view the world and become, essentially, instilled in the systems and structures that govern the stability of our human condition. Whether that's laws or regulations or how a business charter looks or your articles of incorporation, doesn't matter. But right now, we just don't have them.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, yeah. Yoga, do you see yoga as potentially being that?

Jeff Krasno: I hope so.

Chelsea Roberts: Yeah, I hope so too.

Jeff Krasno: It's hard not to think about it in terms of government. Our government needs to change and be impacted, but on some level, I think we need a change of consciousness and then the government will change. But if we're working within the systems and structures that we already have, which is this kind of Republic that we live in, then we should have a cabinet level job that is about morality and values and principles.

Chelsea Roberts: Yep.

Jeff Krasno: That can be about health and wellbeing, but that can also, to be honest, just be about how do we instill the values of love, compassion, empathy, charity, forgiveness, persistence, looking at Shane, into everything that we do, so that then we are operating through that lens?

Chelsea Roberts: Yep.

Jeff Krasno: Otherwise we're rudderless. I'm not against market-driven economies or democracy. I mean, I'm a little bit more into social democracy than neo-liberalism, but what we have is essentially just an absence of that. So yeah, you should be secretary of yoga. How's that?

Chelsea Roberts: Well, thank you. I will take that position, I accept. But yeah, Jeff, exactly what you just said. As a public school teacher, former public school teacher, I look at the most vulnerable populations. For me, I was working in title one schools, predominantly black and brown communities, and they were youth. So when I think about the most vulnerable communities, I think about youth in particular and some of the youngest, brightest, most optimistic minds that are actually destroyed through public education in many ways.

Chelsea Roberts: So when I think about those ways of thinking and the access to even have a perspective like we're sharing right now, they happen in the arts. That's why we wanted it to be yoga literature and art camp. They happen through music, through art, through literature in many ways. That's the first thing to go in public education that is schooling the majority of the vulnerable populations.

Chelsea Roberts: So when you look at the folks who are experienced an infinite amount of suffering and what they're being starved of, that we have to be honest and grounded in the truth. My yoga practice is the thing that helps me get grounded in that, so that I don't become so frustrated with myself that this ain't working. That something I'm doing, but I'm like, "Look, Chelsea, you are a part of a larger system that was in many ways constructed to do exactly what it's doing."

Chelsea Roberts: So for me, I'm grateful for spaces and conversations like this, where perhaps I may not have been invited or been able to step into the doors of some places. It's the connections like these that invite others to come along as well. So I call on my community, introduce them to folks from your community and we become community. That's the way, to me, how I can run for secretary of yoga.

Jeff Krasno: Absolutely. I mean, forget secretary, you just be president. You should run for office. You ever thought about that?

Chelsea Roberts: Hey, we'll see.

Jeff Krasno: You're thinking about it, I can tell. Yeah, I mean, I think Gandhi said a society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Chelsea Roberts: Absolutely, absolutely.

Jeff Krasno: This is not what's happening. I think the point that you make about music and art and literature, really I can quantify that, potentially, up here as storytelling.

Chelsea Roberts: Absolutely, absolutely.

Jeff Krasno: These are the ways that we tell a story. As human beings, we're awfully good at storytelling. It's really the stories that we have told that are the underpinnings of how our society is organized in systems of cooperation. I mean, the ascent of Christianity over a very short period of time, for example, that's just storytelling. That's just us all coming together around a myth to create an imagined order. That creates, essentially, a system of how we interact with each other.

Chelsea Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.

Jeff Krasno: If Christianity blossomed and ballooned within, essentially, a very short of 30, 40 years, and then it became sort of, through proselytizing and kind of missionary-based stuff, became a dominant religion with Islam today, then who's to say that we can't create our own stories and our own systems?

Chelsea Roberts: Right, right. Absolutely. That's my hope, that we continue to get to tell each other's stories and tell our own stories. Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: Beautiful. Thank you, Chelsea.

Chelsea Roberts: Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Krasno: You're doing absolutely transcendent, beautiful work. It's an honor to host you and Shane here in Topanga and to be working on this project with you.

Chelsea Roberts: Same here. Thank you.

Jeff Krasno: I'm behind you all the way. Keep up the work.

Chelsea Roberts: Thank you.

Jeff Krasno: All right.

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