September 15, 2008

In My Own Words: Ian Jerome Mair

Ian Jerome MairThere Are No Yellow People is the story of my odyssey in Asia. My name is Ian Jerome Mair, a Jamaican American resident, and I’ve been a yoga practitioner/instructor for almost thirty years. I first arrived in the United States at age 20, and I have lived here for approximately eighteen years. I have traveled extensively – several times to Europe, Africa, Canada, and Central America. There Are No Yellow People tells the story of my encounters with the cultures of the Far East.

When I was sixteen years old, I was first introduced to yoga by an American public television program. At that time, the broadcast was aired on the only television station in Jamaica. The program, hosted by Richard Hittleman, an American yoga instructor, captivated me. Soon, I began practicing yoga asanas and I followed the program every Wednesday afternoon. Within a few weeks, I purchased a hard cover edition of Mr. Hittleman's book, Yoga: 28-Day Exercise Plan. In hindsight, the influence of this program on my eager, impressionable mind appears to have been a harbinger of the course that my life would follow.

In 1993, I moved to Miami, where I continued my practice of yoga and started teaching yoga to friends and small groups. In 1997, I met Duncan Wong, a well-known yoga practitioner, and he immediately became my friend. Wong would return to Miami periodically to do workshops, and on our last meeting in Miami, in April 2005, he invited me to China to teach yoga.

The people whom I met during a 6- month sojourn in China and India were the inspiration for There Are No Yellow People. It is an account of, among other things, the unique experience of a Jamaican, a black man, teaching yoga in the fabled, but not well known city of Hang Zhou, Zhejiang Province, China. I might very well be the first black man to teach yoga in China. This book is a travelogue of my 4 -1/2 months experience in Hang Zhou, and Shanghai, and 6 weeks in India. Here, I share my personal experiences about working with people from a culture who had never had any contact with anyone from my racial or cultural background.

There Are No Yellow People presents me with an opportunity to share the dynamics of my engagement with two ancient cultures as they surge, full speed ahead, into the twenty-first century. I wrote about the impact, as I saw it, of rampant capitalism on the most communist of countries in the world, China, and arguably, the holiest country in the world, India. The tentacles of globalization, from cricket to Big Macs and Starbucks coffee, track their way throughout the narrative as I observe the commoditization of the spiritual practice of yoga through American influence. The education received and insights gained by socializing with mainly Chinese women as well as several men are also registered. The illumination of chance encounters with strangers and the disenchantment of prejudice from people with whom I am familiar are reflected in my travelogue.

The refreshing and enlightening experiences that I shared with fellow travelers from around the world serve to enrich my memoir. I share with readers my engagement with the landscape, the arctic tundra from 30,000 feet above, the bamboo forests and tea fields of Hang Zhou, and the mighty, mythic river Ganges. Born and raised in rural Jamaica, I reconnect with the flora of my childhood in the bamboo forests of China, half a world away. And my education in urban planning gives me the latitude to comment in a lucid and poignant manner on the cities of Shanghai and New Delhi, two of the most populous cities in the world.

There Are No Yellow People is about us, mankind, inhabiting this lonesome planet wrapped up in our garments of ethnicity, religion, race, nationality, politics, and class. It is about stripping away these illusions of separateness and identifying the common thread that weaves us together. This thread, I discovered, is as luminous and vital as the one sun and moon that shines upon all of us. I revisit the trivial, the magnanimous, the mystical, and the ordinary in this account. It is about myself, my battles with my demons and my spiritual quest, as I remain fully engaged with the world that I live in - the material, the physical, and the sensual. It is about my passions, my foibles, and my constant self-discovery.


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