This year, and in 2010, I presented my fitness research-in-progress as a workshop, rather than reading a paper. (See my blog about Inspiration from NWSA.) I write about my 2010 workshop in Women and Fitness in American Culture, which helped inspire me to write the book. My presentation this year was "Organic Dance, Fitness, and Self-Care as a Practice for Effecting Change." I had about a dozen women who were brave enough to come dance with me at 9:25 in the morning. They were warm and encouraging and brought me much joy. I introduced some basic ideas, we danced, and we discussed. They had great questions that will help me to continue to develop my work.
But this year, there were more opportunities for fitness than I expected, and I could not make it to all of them. I missed a presentation: "Decolonizing Fitness: The Cultural Production of 'Fit' Latina Bodies." I'm hoping to connect with the author post-conference to hear more. I also missed a Roundtable: "Investigating Gender and Health from a Feminist Perspective Within a Women's Studies Department." Faculty members from the University of Michigan's Gender and Health minor talked about their curriculum and their students who proceed to "feminist-inflected careers." I'm bummed to have missed these two presentations; however, the reason I missed them was because of what I was able to attend.
The real highlight of this conference for me was the yoga class and workshop that took place on Saturday morning. At the Hilton hotel (the official hotel of the conference), Becky Thompson (of Simmons College) offered a yoga class "for everyone" at 7 a.m. I made sure my alarm was set! Three years ago I had encouraged NWSA to offer yoga and fitness classes on my conference evaluation form. I even offered to teach, but I never heard back and I haven't been able to attend the conference again until this year. With connections to NWSA leadership, Becky was more successful and, for the first time ever, yoga was a part of the NWSA program. I could not be more excited.
If it hadn't been for this yoga class, I would not have seen the related workshop on the program. In fact, even after I knew about the workshop, I had trouble finding it in the program because of its title("It's in the Breath, This Strength") and location (bottom on one page, continuing on to another). But after a quick shower and a smoothie, I attended the 9:25 workshop where Michele Tracy Berger (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Diane Harriford (Vassar College) joined Becky to talk about their experience with yoga. It was so inspiring to hear about their work, but it was also encouraging to hear other women talk about the split they feel between academia and this other world of yoga/fitness.
Each of these women, and the participants in this workshop, shared some of the ways in which yoga is being used toward social justice, and how we might better use yoga toward these purposes. Until I attended this workshop (and read sites like Decolonizing Yoga and books like 21st-Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice), I felt rather isolated in the work of promoting social justice through yoga. This is a topic I broach in Women and Fitness in American Culture. Yoga is often seen as--and practiced as--an individual fitness pursuit or an individual path toward spiritual enlightenment. For me, yoga has always been so much more. For many of my students, it is so much more.
Since this workshop had the support of NWSA's president, vice-president, and treasurer, I can only assume that yoga will continue to have a place at NWSA. And I can hope that my work might inspire them/us to open up our discussions of yoga and social justice/self-care to consider fitness more generally. This is, in fact, one of the agendas of Women and Fitness in American Culture. So, I'll keep doing the work(out), and look for opportunities to work in solidarity.