At a glance, the words bravery and courage are synonymous and often used interchangeably in the context of valiant acts. Jordan Smiley, co-director of Courageous Yoga in Denver, sheds light on the way he sees them diverge: their relationship to fear.
“To me, bravery is the ability to act instinctively with little regard for fear,” shares Smiley. “Whereas, courage is the willingness to move in accordance with what is right and true, from the heart, even and especially in the presence of fear. Bravery might be a trait. Because we can expand our tolerance of fear by learning to ground in the presence of strong physiological responses, courage can be trained; maybe it’s a virtue.”
In the last few years, conversations around privilege and colonization have catalyzed recognition of widespread injustices sewn throughout society and systems. By bringing these conversations into the yoga space, we are reminded how “yogic teachings challenge us to be non-harming, but also to be honest, accountable and authentically aware of and responsive to the issues in and around us, even if they make us feel afraid,” Smiley believes.
This demonstration of courage as a virtue inspired the name of Smiley’s practice space and community led by queer and Indigenous folks who are advised by BIPOC folks.
“Part of our work as a collective is not only seeing the way that all wellness spaces in the West are contoured for the white gaze, but also allowing our bodies to feel it,” he adds. “These small shifts are going to be what will bring forward the more just world we know is within us.”
Other examples of courageous shifts that Smiley, his co-director TJ Jaworski and the rest of their team are facilitating include sustainable decolonization efforts by way of making classes accessible and affordable to queer and Indigenous communities. In addition to offering pay-what-you-can structured pricing to individuals who identify as BIPOC and hosting two monthly affinity groups, the studio makes available the Pay it Forward Fund. This nonprofit mutual aid fund is community-sourced and goes to reduce the tuition of classes, one-on-one sessions, workshops and trainings for people of color.
What sets Courageous Yoga apart from the other yoga studios in the area is the standard to which leaders and students embody the teachings of yogic philosophy.“
The moral standard in the communities that I have been in is to prioritize being kind,” says Smiley, “and while it’s a good principle to value, if we want to live in a just and loving culture, being kind is just a start.”
Smiley, a Diné and Tewa Two-Spirit leader and story-keeper, understands that the Indigenous wisdom systems he’s been near share the same heart and, therefore, many of the same teachings as traditional Vedic teachings. Specifically, “that we are connected with all of the Earth’s beings, that our true nature is love and that the purpose of our lives can’t be understood with the mind or monetized.”
“Sometimes we forget, in the West, that yoga practices are indigenous to South Asia,” Smiley elaborates. “Meaning, they offer a wisdom that, in most cases, predates colonialism — which is the source of so much of our suffering here.”
Thoughtfully, Smiley goes on to explain that, by learning from non-white teachers (specifically Indigenous and South Asian teachers), we are lent the ability to “see ourselves from the inside and outside with fewer obstructions, to see the way white American culture has impacted us.”
Smiley understands that traveling a yogic path and actively partaking in its ancient practices liberates us not only from our ego and proverbial monkey mind. This practice leads us to “our collective liberation from our collective limitations, because our collective body shapes our personalities and vice versa,” he says. “The wonderful thing about the interdependence of self and collective is that everything we do makes an impact, and we can never know how wide and far-reaching even the smallest of changes can be.
Learn more or book a class at courageousyoga.us.
Photo by River + Root Photography.
Originally published in Winter + Spring 2022-23 issue.
Kelsey Foster is a Colorado native, born and raised in the Vail Valley. She found yoga in 2013 and never looked back. Kelsey completed a 200-hour RYT in 2018 and aims to make the practice accessible to all bodies. Now based in Golden, Kelsey spends her free time on her mountain bike, paddle board or deep in the mountains with her partner and her dog Bandit.