Jacoby Ballard: Building a Welcoming Yoga Community

Jacoby Ballard talks about the tools and practices he uses to support and welcome marginalized groups into the yoga community.

This is an extension of the interview that first appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Yoga Journal. Here, learn more about the personal journey of Jacoby Ballard, a yoga and Buddhism teacher, and the tools and practices he uses to do social justice work and to support and welcome marginalized groups into the yoga community.

Seane Corn:As a trans yogi, have you had to face challenges in your work, life, and practice?
Jacoby Ballard: I’m among the more privileged of queer and definitely trans people, so I don’t pretend that my experiences reflect those of the whole trans community. But I’ve been fired for being trans. I’ve faced immense difficulty with my family for being trans, faced a lot of harassment for being trans, and then just micro-aggressions—the little things that are said and acted upon daily that demean the existence of transgender people.

See alsoSeane Corn Interviews Yoga Service Leader Hala Khouri

SC:Which of the tools you’ve cultivated through yoga or your Buddhist practices helps you to stay in your body, to not disassociate or react when you do get triggered by unconscious, or even cruel, behavior?
JB: I try to feel my body and actively touch my legs, almost massaging myself, taking a deep breath, looking around to orient myself. I’ve learned that it’s best not to speak in that moment when I have heat in my body and butterflies in my stomach when I am enraged. It’s not that I don’t have something valuable to say then, but the tone and the tempo with which I deliver my truth is not going to be well received because I am in that space of trauma. Once I feel the energy in my body calm down and feel myself fully back in the room and remind myself of my commitments in this work and in my life, I’m more able to deliver the message in a way that someone can hear it.

SC:What do you recommend for people who want to do social justice work but who are afraid they might not say or do the most conscious things?
JB: One of my greatest learnings around doing antiracist work is that you can’t be involved in working against racism and not make mistakes. So there’s the practice of asking for forgiveness, forgiving myself for mistakes I make, and self-reflecting, questioning, where do those comments and attitudes come from? Slowly, over time, we try to weed them out of ourselves, but we can do that largely through relationship.

See also Tessa Hicks Peterson: Social Justice, Yoga + Awareness of Inequalities

SC:What are the most important steps we as a community and really the mainstream yoga community can take to be more supportive of marginalized groups or others who might not feel comfortable or welcomed into the mainstream yoga community?
So often, the education about oppression and privilege is considered to be the labor of marginalized communities. What I learned as an ally is to educate myself about something that I don’t know about, to make that effort. I had a practice for about 10 years of only reading books by women of color because I knew that their books were not included in my education, and that’s a huge perspective of humanity that I was missing. Also, to have intentional relationships with people across differences, with a lot of humility and to know that it’s going to be hard—stuff is going to come up if it’s a truly honest relationship.

See alsoJacoby Ballard on Power, Privilege and Practice