How I Taught Guatemalans To Stop Worrying About Kama Sutra And Love Yoga
Friday, May 20, 2011
“Come join us for yoga after work,” we would often ask them. We being gringos. They being Guatemalans.
At the educational development organization I work for in Guatemala, we have both local Guatemalans and international volunteers on staff. Since one of our international volunteers was a yoga instructor in a previous stateside life, we began offering weekly yoga classes at the end of the work day. Attendance was good, but always international. Always only international. Not one of the eighty Guatemalans staff members ever showed up.
It started to seem like the elitist gringo people´s yoga club. Despite the invitations to “Come join us for yoga!!!” the Guatemalans would only give us awkward smiles and give us a noncommittal, “Vamos a ver.” But whenever we vamos´d-a-ver´d we never ver´d any Guatemalan in the class.
We knew we could not force the Guatemalans into downward facing dog, so after work we merely donned our yoga attire and headed to the yoga room as the Guatemalans cast us awkward, shameful glances.
Finally, we got to the bottom their reluctance to Yoga. One of our long-term volunteers, sick of being a yoga elitist was talking to a group of our social workers. “Why don´t you come to Yoga ever?” She asked them. The social workers laughed uncomfortably and shook their heads. “You know,” she said, “Lots of athletes use Yoga to help them in sports,” she said, hoping their love of soccer (ahem, football) would make headway.
One of the social workers smirked at another and timidly joked, “Yeah, and I bet your wife would love all the new positions you´ll learn there.”
Suddenly it all made sense. The volunteer realized why the Guatemalans were so reluctant to come to Yoga. “You know,” she said “That Kama Sutra and yoga are not the same thing?”
The blank stares indicated that they had not known they were different things. So while we saw ourselves as innocently changing into sweats and caring mats under are arms to stretch our bodies and calm our minds, what the Guatemalans saw is that a bunch of gringos changing into comfortable sex clothes so that they could lock themselves in a room for an hour and practice different sex poses — not something anyone wanted to do with their coworkers after a hard day´s work (I´m not speaking for myself here).
With the newfound revelation that yoga is not Kama Sutra, yoga attendance is going through the roof, and cultural understanding is at an all-time high. As is usually the case when two cultures just don´t get what is going on with the other, there is some misunderstanding lurking beneath the surface.
In the case of yoga, the Guatemalans were sexualizing yoga in a way that had not been done since my ninth-grade gym teacher tried to teach us yoga until our raging hormones and sex jokes caused him to withdraw it from the curriculum. In this case, the Guatemalans learned that there´s nothing wrong with a little downward-facing-dog, and we learned the true meaning of Namaste.
About the Author
Luke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on Amazon.com) is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (@lukespartacus)