SAAPYA (South Asian Art and Perspectives on Yoga in America) is a small organization with big plans. Their work is centred around raising the profile of South Asian diasporic voices in North American yoga and working towards an integrated, inclusive and diverse yoga world. SAAPYA aims to accomplish this through South Asian-led workshops, trainings and panel discussions, as well as cultural production.
Like any small organization with big dreams, SAAPYA has taken to the internet to raise the cash to bring their vision to fruition. They’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to open a community yoga and art space in Brooklyn, and to develop the programming that will amplify their message.
SAAPYA founder Roopa Singh–a lawyer, yoga teacher, business owner and writer–answered a few questions about the campaign, SAAPYA’s vision, and why now is the time for the voices from the South Asian diaspora to be heard.
Tell us about the crowdfunding campaign and what you’re raising funds for?
SAAPYA isn’t only one of the first platforms for South Asian diasporic voices in yoga, but it is also an emerging voice in the arts and politics. The Indiegogo campaign is SAAPYA’s way of sharing an initial call for seed money, the kind that can get us much needed support towards opening a yoga studio space. Currently, I’m doing a lot of this work solo, even though the impact is wide. So, the goal is to raise around $20k, and there a few ways I know we are definitely going to meet that goal. The Indiegogo campaign is a great way for people who believe in the vision of this project to contribute. Also, I am actively in grant writing mode to support SAAPYA’s artistic vision. We really are so new, having launched only six months ago with a really impactful panel, co-hosted by TREE (Third Root Education Exchange). At this seeding stage, we are raising funds to continue to be grow, to root, to be able to be a stronger catalyst for alternative voices and perspectives in yoga. In the works now are a book, an anthology of essays, and also a photography and oral history project involving desi yoga teachers, and allied yoga teachers who support an increasingly diverse yoga future.
How is crowdfunding in line with SAAPYA’s community vision?
You know how yoga is generally translated as “to yolk,” or “union”? Well, SAAPYA is about creating stronger union, both personally and politically. So, crowdfunding is really a natural step. Given that SAAPYA is about strengthening community, we really feel it is important to allow communities to step forward with support. So far, the crowdfunder has been a great facilitator of connections. I just ran into a yoga teacher the other day at a happy hour honoring the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and it turns out she was one of our supporters, who upgraded her donation once we announced the awesome yoga mat bag perks. All of these community connections make a real difference to SAAPYA. Our launch event got people talking from coast to coast, and that is a good thing. It is each of the individuals who support who are helping to shape what SAAPYA will do in the near future, and hopefully, for generations to come.
What did you feel was missing in the North American yoga community when you decided to launch SAAPYA?
I am not alone when I say that what was/is missing in North American yoga are opportunities to illuminate the all too common experiences of racism, classism, ableism and on, that seem to be fostered and protected in the yoga industrial complex. If you think about the way yoga happens in the West, it is generally a class. You show up, you trust your self to the experience, you are guided by an instructor, and then you leave. Where in that equation is there support to say, hey wait a minute yoga teacher, it actually was harmful when you made a joke about how dirty India was when you went there on a spiritual tourism trip? Or, more broadly, how is it that the rising voices around the need for increased mindfulness and justice in yoga, get a seat at the table alongside those who are shaping yoga? What is also missing in yoga in the west is a degree of transparency around yoga governing bodies, or yoga certification bodies. Who gets appointed to organizations and corporations that control yoga in the west, what accountability standards do these bodies have to the larger public? These are not easy questions to ask or answer. As a lawyer and yoga teacher and artist, I am compelled to these challenging questions. Like the poet Rilke advised, I am learning to love the questions, in part by not letting them go.
Why is now the time for voices from the South Asian diaspora to be heard in North America?
The time is now because folks are already buzzing about the kind of work SAAPYA and a whole, awesome cohort of others are doing towards a more inclusive yoga future. The time is now because there is a whole diaspora of desi-americans who were born and/or raised in the the U.S., a hip hop and social media savvy generation who have a sense of what full citizenship rights could look like, and we are far less likely to accept a phenomenon like yoga teachers in “brown face” at a yoga studio than say our parent’s generation. The time is now because yoga is only going to spread more, and it is a pivotal moment in which we can still say, okay, how do we aim for a more inclusive and accessible yoga world?
If people can’t contribute financially to the campaign, how else can they support SAAPYA?
First, any amount is a sign of love, and we appreciate your contribution just as we value the concept of dana in the Buddhist context. That being said, please folks, continue to let us know you are out there, by liking our Facebook page, and by writing to SAAPYA@gmail.com. That was we can make sure you stay in the know about our latest releases of fun and educational civic and cultural media. Also, people can spread the good word, and tell others about SAAPYA’s campaign. They can attend our events, and share news about the books when they are published. Word of mouth is key at this stage!