“You’re not beautiful anymore,” was the obnoxious, guttural response out of my stepmother’s mouth the first time I shaved my head. I was fourteen years old. My outrageous sense of self-expression had been bubbling underneath the surface for at least a year or two prior. I sewed studs and patches onto clothes that my parents were notorious for throwing in the trash. I listened to loud, fast, political punk music. I read zines about DIY culture. I had already been questioning my assumed gender identity for years. I knew at a very early age that I would not grow up to the conventional, long-haired, well-behaved Christian housewife that my parents hoped I would be.
The same day that I shaved my head for the first time, I rode my skateboard down the street to see one of my best friends who lived in our neighborhood. I knocked on the door, and when he opened it, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Jesus Christ.” He convinced me to let him re-shave my head, because clearly my first attempt at shaving on my own was atrocious. He smiled and laughed while trimming my hair. Once it was finally a “clean” shave, it felt acceptable at the very least to my skateboarding friends.
The names that the kids called me at school were ridiculous, but it never phased me. One day, the principal of the school approached me about my hair. “One day you will have to conform,” he said. I shrugged, turned my back, and walked away. Conforming was never my cup of tea.
Punk culture was my sanctuary. I was free to express my politics, sexuality, fashion, music, whatever else was on my mind in an environment with accepting, like-minded comrades. I had no other place in my life at the time that felt safe to express myself freely. My conservative, Christian family was clearly disgusted by my life choices, and any attempt on my part to explain or express myself to them directly ended in psychological (and sometimes physical) abuse. My parents’ church was no more accepting. My peers at school called me names, at times even attempted to start fights with me, to the extent that I often found myself in detention for various, unsavory social interactions. Where else could I feel safe as young, agnostic, queer, politically-conscious woman?
My punk community became my home.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was waiting tables at a health food cafe in my hometown. My coworker Billie invited me to a yoga class with her. I honestly had no idea what yoga was at the time, but I said sure, why not. I remember enjoying the class thoroughly, but the most powerful shift that I experienced was at the end of class during savasana. I vividly remember lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling, and thinking to myself, “I want to feel this way all of the time. And I want to help other people feel this way, too.” I sincerely believe it was the first time I had ever experienced a deep, parasympathetic state of relaxation in my mind, body, and breath. It was in that moment during my first savasana that I vowed to become a teacher of yoga.
Before discovering yoga, the only way I knew how to subdue the emotional/mental effects of my toxic, abusive household was to be inebriated. Drugs and alcohol were the only ways I knew how to cope with the incessant fight-or-flight response I experienced every single day. Practicing yoga was the first time I had ever felt as if maybe there was a way to cope with the circumstances of my life without getting high or drunk with my friends. The practice of yoga gave me hope at a time in my life when I had nothing left to hope for, no direction, no purpose in life.
Two years after my first yoga class, I moved out of my parents house, and into the infamous 309 punk house in Pensacola, Florida. I attended my first Hatha yoga teacher training, and enrolled in massage therapy school. At this time, I was only 18 years old. I was still such a young punkling at heart. But my attitude towards life had shifted. I was less angry than I used to be. I felt more comfortable and at ease in my own skin. I felt hopeful that I could recover from trauma, substance abuse, and depression. Furthermore, I felt hopeful that I could help others to heal from their own experiences through the practices of yoga, meditation, and alternative medicine.
It’s been 14 years since I became a healing arts practitioner. I still listen to The Cure, Joy Division, and plenty of other music from my punk years, but it’s not really about the music for me anymore. It’s not really about fashion, either (although I do still rock the shaved head, sometimes). It’s about knowing that my fundamental beliefs and values haven’t changed (despite the extent of my personal growth and transformation as a spiritual practitioner). At this point in my life, punk is more about the way of life, above all else.
Unfortunately, I still often struggle to strike a balance between these two worlds, communities, and belief systems in my life. Many of my punk friends are judgmental, or even critical, of my spiritual practices. Vice versa, I have worked at plenty of yoga studios and spas where my hairy armpits, tattoos, and shaved head were frowned upon. I dream of a world where these two parts of my life can intersect in both of my social and professional circles seamlessly. That dream world may not exist anytime soon, but I can still cross my fingers that someday, it will. In the meantime, my only hope is to continue to accept myself for who I am, and to continue to explore this intersection in my own life of punk, activism, and yoga.
In my own mind and heart, karma yoga is the perfect intersection of yoga and punk culture. Karma, meaning “action,” in this context refers to the pursuit of liberation by practicing “yoga off the mat.” It is a means of awakening, healing, and transformation that does not occur from simply meditating in a cave in the Himalayas. It is through performing actions that alleviate the suffering of others that you achieve both personal and collective liberation.
One of the reasons I was attracted to punk culture to begin with is the expression of personal freedom. In yoga, this pursuit is obtained through different methods, yet the end goal is the same. To experience freedom in our minds, in our hearts, in our lives, in our families, in our societies, in our world. I have been an activist and community organizer ever since I was a teenager, but it has only been the past few years that I began to consider my practice of yoga and my passion for social justice as having any point of intersection. Honestly, I think punk and yoga philosophy have more in common than most people realize. So, what if there was a way to achieve both ends through the same means?!
Last week, I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar to visit a friend and to renew my visa for Thailand. My friend was organizing a benefit show to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the Yangon punk and club scene. I arrived at the show, said hello to my friend Kyaw Kyaw, and found a place in the crowd. It felt nostalgic above all else, as I rarely go to punk shows anymore. I mean, let’s face it. I’m a single, working mother, living in the jungle in SE Asia with little to no “night life” on a regular basis.
After the show, Kyaw Kyaw introduced me to a few of his friends. He introduced me as “a punk yoga teacher.” I am almost 100% certain that no one has ever introduced me as such in my entire life, but to my own surprise, it was incredibly heartwarming and validating. I smiled at him, bowing internally in gratitude for the moment in which I felt, perhaps, that I had found a place, a time, a circumstance in my life where punk and yoga collide.
I am eternally grateful for all of the ways in which punk culture, activism, and yoga have uplifted me, nourished me, and saved my life (often from myself), more times than I can possibly remember. My hope is that I may continue to inspire others through my life, through my work, and through this journey of accepting my true Self.
Last but not least, #uptheyogapunks.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom.”