Yoga Chat: Returning to the Dominican Republic to teach Yoga

Our marketing guru, Patricia, sat down with our resident yoga instructor, Moraima to discuss her return to her birth country, the Dominican Republic and teaching Yoga in Cabarete. They discuss cultural adjustments from New York City to the DR, what drove her to return and the meaning of home.

Interview has been condensed below. Watch the video above for the full details.

Patricia: How did it feel for you as a woman of color to return to your home country?

Moraima: I didn’t think much about the woman of color part when I returned; I just thought I am coming back home. Maybe I won’t have some of the same experiences that I do in New York or living in the United States because here race operates differently. So I didn’t think about it much but I try to be aware about colorism, the history of colonialism and even American imperialism in this country so I would say that you kind of have to be willfully ignorant about the way color works here because it is evident. Even though I am a woman of color, I am light-skinned, so there are certain privileges that come to me, especially coming from New York, educated, highly independent, there are certain clashes that happen with the culture. But overall it [returning to the DR) has been smooth and I just feel at home.

P: What kind of clashes did you have?

M: Very small cultural shifts, I’ve talked about it recently as well, it can be as simple as the lifestyle change. I am coming from a big city where things move at a fast pace, so the first few weeks I had to adapt completely and just kind of slow down, which has been really good for my health but sometimes I would find myself getting irritated at the pace of things, which is kind of a ridiculous thing to complain about, so I have slowed down. But overall, I think, culturally there are a few things that need work here and I am aware that I am saying that from a privileged place so I try to just take it as it comes. Whenever I approach something or I try to put my input on something, I try to be aware of where I am coming from so that I am not disrespectful to the culture that I belong to but I have to admit that I am in both worlds, I want to tread carefully when it comes to that.

P: You are from the US, from New York, can you remember what you were excited about before coming to Cabarete?

M: I was excited about the sun. I think the first day here I took a shower and went right to the beach. I was looking forward to slowing down, I didn’t realize to what extend right but I wanted to just take it easy for a bit, relax and work on things that I care about.

P: What was driving you to return? We’ve been talking about slowing down but you could have done that in another island.

M: Well, because I left when I was so young, and I didn’t have a choice, my parents did it because it was what was best for our family at the time but I have always wanted to come back and reconnect. I have always felt a pull to spend some time here, to go around the country, to really live what it’s like to be Dominican in the DR.

P: Was it easy for you to connect with the local Dominican community?

M: In a lot of ways yes because I speak Spanish and I do speak the Dominican dialect but in some ways, there are some things about me that stand out as American. I don’t know how but some people can tell right away that I am not, maybe fully Dominican, that there is something about me that is foreign just from looking at me and then others that don’t at all. I have been told that I speak Spanish too pretty. I think if you make even just a slight effort, Dominicans are so welcoming, it’s kind of hard, you have to be outright disrespectful.

P: After nine months of being here, where do you feel like home, in the US or here in the DR?

M: I don’t want to be cheesy, but I think home is wherever I am. I don’t think of home as one spot. But I do think that I am split in half in a lot ways. Immigrant children will say this often; they got one foot there, one foot here. Yeah, there are a lot of things about me that are both.

P: Cabarete is very international but apart from that, how do you feel being in the DR where being black is the norm?

M: In the US, race is thought of as very strictly black and white so when I got here it sort of shifted to Colorism which is what affects the island more. Colorism is the preference towards anything closer to white and since this country is vastly black, it presents itself in ways that are a little bit more sinister and also it can be pretty primitive. Basic things like somebody telling you, you walk down the street with your curly hair, which does not happen in Cabarete but you can see it in other cities of the country, to comb your hair—

P: — a Dominican said that?

M: Yes. So it’s a little easier cause I know that whatever I am battling when it comes to race or Colorism I know that it ultimately is going to help more people, it seems like something even more valuable, am I making sense?

P: No –

M: Hahaha okay, if I have to have teaching moment where I educate someone, hey what you are saying you’ve been taught this way but it’s actually hurtful, it feels more valuable because I know that it will affect a lot more people because the population here is largely underrepresented. Whereas in New York, if I have to teach another white person why trying to grab someone’s hair without their permission is inappropriate, it feels like I am in a black hole. Never ending. Make sense?

P: okay, yes, while here is just a lack of education, lack of—

M: —lack of resources. All of this sounds really dense and stuff but I would say overall life here is pretty light. You don’t have to be in that world 24/7 and it can feel that way, like all consuming, when you are in a country where you are the minority

P: The perceived minority maybe—

M: —yes

P: Yes, where people keep you oppressed. So another very white question, what can white privileged yogis, because you are our yoga teacher, do to nurture and enable a diverse inclusive community where our brothers and sisters of color feel safe and heard? It’s a big question.

M: Yes, there’s a lot of layers. I think I’ve recommended to you the Yoga is Dead podcast, and I recommend it to everyone, they are going to give you a much better breakdown of what yogis can do, of what a studio owner can do. But I can bring it back to Cabarete. I noticed that there are a lot of yoga teachers here, I mean Cabarete is really interesting in that it is so international, there are a lot of expat communities, visitors who come back and forth so it has a range of people. When I go to Santo Domingo, I know of maybe three to five yoga studios, and here [Cabarete] there might be that same amount plus 15, 20 other yoga teachers currently living, offering classes here and there. I have not noticed or maybe I am ignorant of it, any active teachers trying to actually reach out to the local Dominican community and I understand that there are some challenges, especially if you don’t speak the language but I want to encourage everyone to be careful because in a way it can seem that you are taking advantage of this ideal place that you know you can attract yoga students because who doesn’t want to practice yoga here right? But you are just taking advantage of the location and you are not spreading yoga the way you should be doing to the local community.

P: Yes, and this would imply to go there—

M: —to get out of your comfort zone. It’s not going to be easy in a country that has a lot of misconceptions about yoga, that is coming from a deeply Christian and religious background, that there is a lot of ignorance and lack of understanding to what it actually is. And this is something that I want to work on myself, so I am not cleaning my hands off it but I think that if you are going to call yourself a yoga teacher in a developing country, who are you actually teaching yoga to?

P: is there anything else you would like to add to our conversation? About the last eight months? How is it now, when you compare it when you arrived and eight months later?

M: I think there is a reason why so many people want to either come back regularly or want to live here, I mean everything in your life improves, my health has improved, the way that I eat, from eating locally because things aren’t imported as much, from having vitamin D everyday. So I think this is a great place for anyone to kind of reset and come back to, and I am really grateful that I found a place that I know values some of the things that I do, both at The Yoga Loft and at the eXtreme Collective. There are certain things that I do not have explain, or battle with. So that has been really refreshing. And I have enjoyed every single student that has come through the yoga loft, they have taught me a lot, and I hope I have taught them, whether its visitors, or some of the locals or expats that come through.

Want to experience Dominican culture? at The Yoga Loft, we offer caribbean yoga retreats year-round with many activities options to get that Vitamin D.