It’s difficult to think about yoga and wellbeing these days when there is so much pain and suffering in the world.
Photo by Bär Baer
So much of western yoga is focused on the individual and how one can get healthier, be more relaxed, stronger, eat right, get enlightened, feel better, etc. It’s internally focused and urges us to forget about the problems of the outside world. It offers a retreat from everyday life and horrific news stories.
For some people, those who experience oppression, harassment, chronic pain and other stresses on a daily basis, self-care is a necessary antidote. And a regular practice of yoga in a space that feels safer than the outside world can be a valuable tool in being able to tackle daily life. More and more of us are feeling the pressure building up and yoga is a way to alleviate it and be more at ease when we are confronted in our everyday lives. Office places know that yoga helps to increase productivity of their workers, keep them happier and more compliant. But if we all keep retreating into ourselves, and learning how to go with the flow, who’s left to fight when injustice rears its ugly head?
Yoga selfies won’t change the fact that black people are being killed by police in massive numbers in the United States, right-wing anti-immigration movements like Pegida are popping up all over Europe, while thousands of people drown at sea trying to flee war and tyranny, Rom*nja people are being deported daily into the hands of people that would rather see them dead, people who practice the Muslim religion are shunned and treated poorly everywhere, an automatic weapon is sold to a homophobic citizen who slaughters 49 queer Latinx in one night, and nearly 300 people are bombed to death in Baghdad by a terrorist group and nobody in the western world blinks.
I met someone at a yoga teacher training a few weeks ago who reacted with a strong shock of awe when I told her that I live in a shared flat and prefer it to living with my partner or alone. She responded “what a completely different life!” I didn’t even go into the other things about my life that would make me seem even more foreign than she could imagine, like my queerness for instance. She couldn’t even imagine that someone would want to share their living situation. This makes me very sad for the state of the world. Instead of coming together we are distilling down into individual units, battling against all other external forces. I feel a growing fear closing in on itself. People are building bigger walls, gating communities, separating from one another, creating divisions, more national boundaries.
We come to yoga to shed those bad habits that hold us back, the Samskaras. But what if we were to think of our yoga practice in connection to the world? What if we worked on yoga not for our individual self and wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the world? What if, we as individual practitioners were to see ourselves as part of the world, moving and breathing with it, all of us together? What can yoga teach us about healing our communities and freeing the world from the Samskaras?
Laurie Penny has recently written an article about the relationship between self-care and its relationship to our ailing world. Michelle C. Johnson offers some ideas about how yoga and activism can come together through social justice. And Kinisha Correia writes about 4 yogis who practice Karma yoga, the yoga of service, to raise collective consciousness. Offering yoga to marginalized communities is one way to help heal those communities. But those of us with more privilege than others can take yoga out of the practice space and into our everyday life too.
We talk about mindfulness as a way to be more aware of how we are treating ourselves. For example, not sitting so long at a computer desk in a bad posture because it causes longterm pain. But what if we were to use mindfulness to be aware of how we treat other people? How can we be mindful of our own actions and privilege and make room for others and treat them with kindness and respect? We often talk about yoga as a way to heal the self in order to help others, but I feel that we are all so focused on the first part, that we never get to the second. How about we take yoga outside the box and use what we learn in a practical way? Make more space for BlPOC to speak, move and breathe, recognize the invisible work that others do, put our bodies in a protest, use our voices to show resistance to oppressive measures.
Juli offers Community Yoga classes at English Yoga Berlin, with an emphasis on creating a space for those who feel marginalized by mainstream yoga classes: sliding scale prices for no- / low-income earners, and a weekly queer yoga class.