Spring 2024

In this issue of Orion, we chart a life punctuated by rituals—from childbirth to coming of age to marriage to burial—all written in the material of nature: leaves, flowers, fire, water, food, seeds, and soil. And what emerges from this study—which touches upon Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Yoruba, and more—is a sense that ritual, for all its rhetoric of the supernatural, brings us into intimacy with nature. Inside:

  • Liz Tracy looks at the practice of Santeria through the lens of Beyonce’s Lemonade
  • Marie Mutsuki Mockett gets sick at Japan’s Gion Matsuri plague festival
  • Leslie Jamison takes in the view from New York City windows in her new column Viewfinder
  • Ross Gay remembers Trugoy from De La Soul in his new column Where You Heard It 
  • Deesha Philyaw writes fiction with a voice from the beyond

And much more, now printed on 100% recycled paper!


The Practice of Contradiction

Chris Ensey/Unsplash

DADIMA PRACTICES yoga every day. 

She had been studying abroad in London and just returned to India when she began her practice, around the same time she married a naval officer. His mother suggested she drop out of college after the wedding, which she did. That was the year her first son was born, soon followed by her second, my father. 

Each of these days, Dadima did yoga. When she left Bombay in 1980 to go to Colorado while her husband stayed behind shipping butchered sheep to the Middle East, she practiced. While she raised two teenage boys in a white town in a red state, she practiced. When the cold winters alone grew dark and heavy and she longed for home, she returned to the large rug in her bedroom to ground her body and breathe. Rooting is an essential part of yoga. You root to rise. The root chakra, at the base of your spine, is your foundation for safety and security. When you ground through your roots, you are more balanced, more stable, able to move with more grace. 

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I picked up yoga as a teenager, one of the only desi kids in a white school in Colorado. It was a way to take some deep breaths, tap into my lineage, and extend into my growing limbs. As a young queer person, it was also one of the few spaces where I felt I could truly occupy my entire body. I was an angsty third culture kid without much sense of a homeland in a hippie town whose offerings of peace and enlightenment came bundled in overpriced prayer flags or bushels of white sage and joints tucked behind the ears of snowboarding Buddhists and Deadhead yogis. I would take what I could get. 

Most of the yoga I know has been taught to me by white people. My early instructors were YouTube personalities, gym teachers, or ski bums working second jobs. They taught me the basic choreography, the cats, the cows, the downward and upward dogs, and bookended every class with a raspy namaste. But I was years into my practice before I heard a teacher use the Sanskrit words for the asanas, before I learned that there’s more to yoga than stretching and deep breaths. One International Yoga Day, I joined a friend for a core-toning yoga class at our local studio. The instructor declared the holiday a centuries-old celebration of peace and love. I balked. Prime Minister Narendra Modi invented yoga day in 2014 as part of his authoritarian, Hindu-nationalist, caste-supremacist agenda in India. Yoga can be violent too. 

When you ground through your roots, you are more balanced, more stable, able to move with more grace.

Yoga became popular in America in the 1960s. Though it has been a spiritual practice in India for millennia, its popularity in the West is largely focused on asana or the physical shapes. The man credited for this, B.K.S. Iyengar, was one of the first people to teach yoga to westerners. His emphasis on physical alignment and willingness to embrace props set the stage for the future of the practice, one laden with matching workout sets, hundred-dollar accessories, and “six easy yoga postures to tone your abs.” It’d be easy for me to be annoyed at Iyengar for this if Dadima hadn’t recently told me that the yoga studio she joined in Bombay decades ago was the Iyengar Yogashraya. The same force that brought yoga to U.S. hippies also made it accessible to my grandmother. It gave her a space where she could take control of her own body. The same force has also made it accessible to me. Our practices, though different, are grown from the same root. 

A few years ago, my cousin and I joined Dadima’s yoga practice. Our moves were slightly different, but mostly the same. Surya namaskar, she said. My Americanized brain struggled to interpret the Sanskrit and convert it to my meager Hindi. Sun salutations, I’d think, as she chaturanga’d into upward dog. While she kicked her legs over her head to stretch her lower back, we flailed like overturned cockroaches. Even though I’d been practicing yoga for eight years, next to my eighty-year-old grandmother, I felt like a baby deer or a cartoon elephant perpetually slipping on a banana peel. 

The meaning of the word yoga in Sanskrit can be translated to “yoke” or “unite”: to unite the mind with the body and the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. I like the idea that yoga may also unite my white and brown selves, who sometimes feel tension with one another. Sometimes I catch the right wave and find my flow. Like my grandmother, I move slowly and in silence. Asanas drift through my mind in Sanskrit and English. Other times, no words at all. The practice of unifying is a challenge, never complete. There is always tension to sit with, to lean into. The trick is to just keep breathing.

Priya Subberwal is a writer and environmentalist currently based in Missoula, Montana.