Who the F&%k am I to take up Space?

“Who the F&%k am I to take up space?”…

Oof! These words pack quite a punch and the inner critic likes to sling them often.

We are often taught in the ‘self-development’ world to get to know that inner critic voice and it can feel like the goal of the work is about making it quiet, somehow. Like having an inner critic is something programmed into us through some experience of unworthiness and it is a challenge to work through on the ‘spiritual path’*.

And Yes, this can so often be the case. We can beat ourselves up and judge ourselves for stuff that is totally out of our control. We can let ‘imposter syndrome’ completely stand in the way of sharing our gifts in the world.

Yet, what is called for is to give that critical voice some space to speak. To invite it in and to listen to it with wisdom and compassion. Sometimes it also holds its own wisdom.

So when this particular voice got very ‘shouty’ in my head I had to sit with it and listen to what it had to say.

Who AM I to take up space?

This wasn’t a message about skill, experience or knowledge. I have amassed that in spades over the last decade. It was a deep questioning of my role in sharing Yoga, in sharing teachings from a culture not my own, and making a living from them. It was a questioning of my platform and my role in educating people around human rights and social justice. In fact, it was a questioning of the very fabric of who I have become in my adult life…

So who is that?

Well… my journey into social justice work began before my deep dive into Yoga and Meditation. I became a human rights activist while studying Political Science at university, becoming a student leader in the Amnesty International movement. At that point in my life I was driven so purely by my deep feelings of what was right and wrong and I never questioned my place in the movement and my own position as a White, relatively wealthy (a generation into English middle class), cis-gendered, heterosexual Woman.

I gravitated to studying and writing about Western Imperialism and shining my light into those dark and murky places that continue to this day — US-backed coups in Latin America, Western media manipulation of our collective values, the role of rendition and torture in the West’s ‘war on terror”. I quite literally Raged against the Machine and mobilised other people to do the same. There was a fire burning and I had lots of inspiration to stoke it with.

Fast forward some years and my desire to search for more knowledge and deeper meaning — and to explore how I could be of most service in the world — led me to a Masters degree in International Development. We studied development projects and all of the practical stuff that goes with working for an NGO or a multilateral aid organisation… And, we also explored critical theories of development, decolonisation, participatory research (and the lack of it) and pulled apart the whole idea of development and modernisation as potentially another form of Western imperialism.

Good old White Saviourism.

Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), almost like a bible for me, can be looked at through the lens of an individual-centric, Western construct imposed on the rest of the world. SH*T!

Cue inner world turned upside down and let the unravelling begin.

I decided to dive into learning about Indigenous worldviews and philosophies. I started to explore the ways that I was a part of this system on my own ‘White Saviour’ horse. (I wonder if all those stories of the knights in shining armour saving the day have really taken roots in our psyche).

With the Masters degree finished I had no desire to use it in the ways that I had originally intended. And I am so grateful for that time and those learnings.

It was coincidentally (or very likely not) that at this time I had started to become more and more interested in Yoga and Mindfulness (something that I’d practiced on and off since my teens). I started to see correlations between the philosophy of Yoga and the concept of understanding ourselves better, becoming more aware and kinder to ourselves and others, and how that might impact also the ways that we interact and communicate as communities.

Jack Kornfield (my wonderful meditation teacher) says that it ‘is in our own hearts that we change the world’ and I saw, in teaching Yoga and Meditation, a different path to contribute and be of service. So I followed it.

It led me to complete multiple trainings as a yoga and meditation teacher, to leave my University Management job and eventually to co-owning a Yoga studio. I always strived to find ways to offer Yoga in an inclusive and accessible way, in a way that guided my community towards creating a more kind and just world outside of the Yoga classes we shared.

But I continued to feel an inner conflict with the way Yoga was being portrayed in the media versus what it is to me. On the one hand it is so wonderful that these ancient practices are getting so much widespread support as modalities for wellbeing. But what was getting lost as a result of that? And who was gaining from it? It was feeling increasingly difficult to be part of that world.

COVID hit in 2020 — a byproduct of which was a bunch of amazing people put their teachings online in a big way. I had the opportunity at this time (fuelled also by a reaction to the bushfires, environmental destruction and the Black Lives Matter movement) to learn from some incredible educators like Layla F. Saad, Mei Lai Swan, Susanna Barkataki and Rachel Cargyle. With a focus on the wellness space and the intersection of Yoga and Social Justice, their teachings shone a brighter light on the ways my own privilege plays out in these spaces.

I got uncomfortable as all hell doing the “Me and White Supremacy” challenge (by Layla F. Saad) and peeled back some more layers of my own unconscious biases.

Acknowledging the ways that I was enabled to take up space and have a platform, simply due to the body that I was born in, and coming to understand the ways that I perpetuate the colonisation of other cultures within the Wellness space, was mind-blowing. (I’ll talk more about this ‘reckoning’ in one of the other articles in this series.)

What a learning and an unlearning the last few years have been. There has been a real untethering from what have been my anchors.

Despite knowing that Yoga and Meditation are accessible and open to anyone and everyone, and that they CAN be taught with the deepest respect for their South Asian culture of origin, I have still found a deep conflict within. I was wielding a hefty sword at myself and, despite trying to navigate being a conscious business owner in this space, I was quite literally being torn apart by the need for the ‘business’ to grow and be financially viable as a partnership.

I could not at this time reconcile making a living from this practice that feels so sacred and ‘not mine to sell’. And by sharing this I am in no way projecting that onto anyone else. This is my path, my individual experience and we each have to find our own way. Letting that go for me has been a huge relief and has created space to explore these ideas at an even deeper level.

Which is where this story continues and why I have carved out this space to take up in order to share it, in the hope that some wisdom can be gathered up from it.

We are all so unique, yet we have overlapping paths, and when we’ve amassed a certain amount of knowledge and experience isn’t it a responsibility that comes with our privilege to share it in some way? These words might just resonate with you. They might sing with your cells in a way that makes your own truth and wisdom shine a little brighter, vibrate a little louder. Or just maybe, the words rub up against your beliefs in way that causes some friction, a little discomfort that wakes you up to how YOU are showing up with integrity. This is also an invitation to lean into that and explore.

Yet by taking up this space and using my voice I am of course risking getting it wrong or causing harm. So I’m taking each moment as it comes. Practicing humility, practicing non-attachment to the fruits of this sharing.

The rest of this series of articles will dig deeper into these themes. Of uncovering ancestry and the importance of knowing who we are, of working through the discomfort and shame of decolonising our own minds, of seeking truth and forgiveness after this reckoning and, of taking fierce hearted responsibility — together.

I hope you continue to join me in this journey of unraveling and recalibrating.

*I write spiritual path in inverted commas because I am yet to find a word that I am comfortable using to describe this life of commitment to something that deeply connects us all



Emily is a Yoga & Meditation Teacher, Mountain Hiker, Rock Music Lover, Human Rights Activist and Deeeeep Thinker. She writes about all these things and more.

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Emily Sara Rose

Emily is a Yoga & Meditation Teacher, Mountain Hiker, Rock Music Lover, Human Rights Activist and Deeeeep Thinker. She writes about all these things and more.