Reflecting on Our Community’s Name
And how we can minimize harm and practice radical inclusivity
By Kim Thai (she/her)
In the coming weeks, GaneshSpace will be changing our name. We are excited, hopeful, and proud to have moved toward this decision through deep inquiry. As excited as we are to make our announcement, it’s vital that we contextualize it within our own accountability and growth — why and how we’re making this change — to be radically transparent with you, our community, who has been our backbone for years.
That process began five years ago, before our community was born. I was sitting on the banks of the Ganga when I first heard the story of Ganesha in full. I had been immersed in the devotional practices of Bhakti in Rishikesh, India for a few days and felt viscerally connected to the prayers and intentions that had been left on yoga mats and altars in the birthplace of yoga. My teacher, Felipe Gonzalez, introduced me to the remover of obstacles, the guardian of transitions and passageways, and the scribe for the story of humanity.
I was at a crossroads in my life. I had just been laid off from the high-paying corporate job that I thought was the dream I had spent 10 years working towards. As I was working a soulless corporate job, navigating spreadsheets and feeling unfulfilled, I found immense refuge in my 200HR yoga teacher training, which ignited my passion and commitment to the practice in ways I hadn’t felt before.
But it also began a search for a community where I could invite all the parts of myself into my healing journey. I often found myself in predominantly thin, white, cis, straight yoga spaces that reeked of palo santo and affluence. My heart yearned for a place, a community where I wasn’t confronted with feelings of otherness, where I could dive deeper into the dark places that told me I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t belong.
That afternoon in Rishikesh, as I laid in my puddle of sweat, my body exhausted and invigorated by the asana practice I had just finished, I thought, “What if I started my own community? A place where “the other” could be at home with themself and others, where we could all heal together just exactly as we are with no pretenses, no gurus, no expectations to be anything other than ourselves?”
Inspired by Ganesha’s story, looking to the remover of obstacles and the shepherd of new beginnings, I named our community space after him.
Early on, I got mixed feedback on naming our community GaneshSpace. Some folks across the Indian diaspora told me that it was an act of reverence, while others told me it was disrespectful. And despite the huge strides our community has made in the last five years — now directly serving 2,000 people annually — my heart has always been heavy with the thought that our name has potentially caused harm to others.
So let me take this opportunity to apologize, from the depths of me and on behalf of our team, for the harm caused by our organization’s name. I was not skillful or aware enough at the time to see how our name was alienating to South Asian folks who felt it was appropriative and to those who felt excluded from spaces that center Hinduism which upholds a caste system. I’ve also seen over time how it was alienating to non-South Asian folks as well who thought we were an exclusively Hindu organization.
Since that time in India, I have been honored to have an incredible group of teachers and board members join our mission to create a radically inclusive world. Not only have they brought their hearts and wisdom, but their unique lived experiences and perspectives have made our community and programming rich and organically diverse in ways that I could never have imagined.
As a group, we felt that our name’s impact did not match our intention and the complexity of holding the name in our hearts and spirit left us conflicted. We decided that we could not stand by our name if our mission was ultimately rooted and based in radical inclusivity, compassion, and love.
After a deep reflective process conducted of more than six months, our organization has a new name – one that was crafted collectively by our team, workshopped with our most active community members, and ultimately chosen by majority vote of our board and Founding Teachers.
As much as we’ve grown, as we continue to evolve, and as meaningful as these big changes are, it is also important to acknowledge the constant: you, our community. You have continued to show up and see the heart of our mission, as we, I, continued to learn and grow. Thank you for your grace, your understanding, and this teaching.
Our deep hope in sharing our journey and this process is to invite a deeper and wider discussion among yoga teachers, meditation teachers and anyone in the industrial wellness complex who might be capitalizing on these ancient practices. For us, as an organization, we have and will continue to commit to:
- Uplifting and supporting South Asian yoga teachers;
- Offering community conversation on the nuances of the South Asian diaspora;
- Donating proceeds to marginalized communities in India; and
- Finding ways to authentically honor Ganesha and other yogic practices.
We will be announcing our new name in the coming weeks. Between now and then, we are holding a period of reflection and conversation within the community and invite you to reflect on the following:
- If you are a yoga teacher or any kind of mindfulness teacher, where have there been gaps between your intentions and your impact?
- How have you culturally appropriated yoga and other Eastern spiritual practices? In which ways could you have potentially caused harm? What feelings come up for you when reflecting this?
- In which ways can you take action to remedy the harm you potentially have caused? What commitments can you make to honoring the roots of these practices?
- In which ways can we honor and uplift the South Asian yoga teachers and the community at large
- How can we be radically inclusive — embracing that it is an ongoing process, just like any other spiritual journey?
Leave a comment on this post or send us an email at email@example.com.
Thank you for being a part of our journey and holding the space for myself and our team to grow along the way.
With love and gratitude,
Founder and Executive Director
From our Founding Teachers: Why was it important to you to change our community’s name?
“Reflecting on the book Trauma of Caste by Thenmozhi Soundararajan launched me deeper into my own inquiry of caste abolition and where I lie on that spectrum of privilege. Knowing that Queer, Muslim and Dalit people, whose voices matter, and whose voices I can uplift from my vantage point and from my privilege, may feel ostracized by our name, which activated me to advocate for a change. I feel like that holds me accountable to push to see what creating inclusive spaces that keep caste abolition and inclusivity in mind looks like in action. I’m so thankful that GaneshSpace is a place where I can witness that happen. Yoga inspired this space, but now some folks have deepened their examination of their own lineages, practices, and rituals. Kim is such a cornerstone of this space and dove into Buddhism and what reconnecting with her ancestry looks like. As the space expands, and as the people who have created the space expands, why not let the name reflect that? It’s so brave and amazing to watch it go down.”
— Meesha Sharma (they/she), Founding Teacher
“It’s important to recognize that some things are larger than us. This name change was important because it was a reflection of The Divine alignment needed for our sangha to grow in a respectful and collective manner. After all the brainstorming, the realest part of our community is the collective and infinite truth that is underneath. Woven into its fabric is joy, liberation, happiness, acceptance and so much more! It’s an important reminder that The Divine plan is the greatest one. Hari Om!”
— Sunaina Mahdav Dāsī (they/them), Founding Teacher
“Svadhyaya comes to mind. Our constant practice of self-study, self-inquiry, honoring the questions, holding the questions, and putting into practice what we teach – Intent vs Impact. Learning as we continue to build as an organization, and to evolve and grow. Because we are changing our name, it doesn’t mean that we still don’t honor Ganesha. Our inspiration, what we honor and revere at our altars, and our prayers will continue to be held deep within our hearts. We trust that what we create and share with the collective and world will be a mirror of this and continue to honor the teachings of Ganesha.”
— Linda Lopes (she/her), Founding Teacher
“The intentions, inspiration, and origin of our organization was in the right place but, I think when harm is done, it’s important to take accountability. The responses to our name were an opportunity for us to look at our practices, the way we conduct and present ourselves to the world, and make our organization more inclusive. Instead of being specific to a lineage, ancestry, technique, or philosophy, we’re working toward something that is universal. Ultimately, we are trying to create this community of diverse individuals and bring it in a way that is harmonious and unified.”
— Felipe Gonzalez (he/him), Founding Teacher
“As an organization, and as individuals who are rooted in practices of listening, learning, taking action, and in practices of doing the least harm possible, our name incited continued conversations to the point that it was time for us to take action; to rename in a way that encompasses what we do in an inclusive and accessible way for people. Because we come from many lineages, backgrounds, and traditions that we practice, I think it makes the most sense for us to take that step at this point.”
— Tisha Samuels (she/her), Founding Teacher
“Working on GaneshSpace’s social media meant I was one of the first people to field people’s questions and comments. When we first received an inquiry about the organization’s name, the commenter’s points all made a lot of sense to me. I thought, how would I feel if I came across an organization who was named after an Orisha? Beyond and in addition to appropriation, I felt that the name was perhaps a bit unclear – it always seemed to warrant an explanation. There is much work to be done in the wellness world against how spirituality and spiritual practices are capitalized upon. It is my hope that our new name will better illustrate the work we do here as a community to uplift liberation through mindfulness and social justice.”
— Kristina Lopez (she/they), Founding Teacher
“Changing our name signifies growth, and the sharing transparency of why the old name is no longer appropriate. When you rename something whether it is a friend or yourself it represents a nuanced and public affection — and this is what I feel this name change to be. What is queerer or more liberating than being able to change something that has become so engraved in stone? This change comes with a critical lens and forgiveness, growth and most of all JOY. Our intention is weaved throughout this thoughtful tapestry of pivoting. Thank you for witnessing and supporting this transition.”
— Crow Miller (he/him), Founding Teacher