Tias Little on Yoga, Abortion, and Women’s Rights (VIDEO)

Via Yoga Modern
on Nov 10, 2011
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 Originally published by our elephriends over at Yoga Modern

Tias Little and Chelsea Roff dialogue about yoga, abortion, and women’s rights at the 2011 Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park:

Tias expands further:

I think it is fantastic what has taken place for women in the world of yoga today. Yoga has been a tremendous source of empowerment, inspiration and confidence building for dedicated female practitioners. In fact it is due to the sheer numbers of women practicing that yoga is being promulgated in North America and around the world today. If it weren’t for the volumes of women practicing yoga today, I might be out of a job!

The remarkable explosion of women in yoga today suggests the positive ways in which women are caring for their health, coming to know their bodies and nourishing their spirits. The ramifications of hundreds and thousands of women practicing yoga is that women accrue (familiar in yoga jargon) “core strength”. This involves not only a kind of physical centering — which leads to balance, poise and stable  bio-rhythms — but also a sense of independence.

Through yoga, women gain self-esteem and are empowered to decide what is best for themselves.


Creative Commons License photo credit: SMN

Concurrent with this rise in stature, there is a powerful movement afoot in America to undermine the autonomy and spirit of women. It is coming from the far right, is tied to a strict sense of Christian moral codes, and is making a political move for power. The two main issues stressed by the religious and political right are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. The objective is to over-turn Roe vs Wade (1973) and strip a woman of her right to forgo an unwanted pregnancy.

Already today, the assistance and guidance of  groups such as Planned Parenthood have been curtailed and so a woman’s access to counsel has been drastically diminished. The agenda of many within the Christian right is to re-establish the traditional family model. Combined with the anti-abortion agenda, this can only mean that women will be made to stay at home, bear children and play the role dictated for them in the Bible (as some would believe). Women are implored to be a good housewife — second to men.

The ethics around abortion are complex and subtle, especially when it comes to issues of non-violence (ahimsa). Yet when conception takes place inside a woman’s body, there can be  a myriad of potential factors that come to bear in a pregnancy, karmic forces that involve the struggle for identity and self-transformation.

my body is sacred
Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Rhodes

Arguments can be made that if a woman has an unwanted child, it perpetuates suffering and pain — and causes the cycle of samsara to spin faster. Yoga teachings aim to reduce physical, mental and emotional suffering. I think that a woman has to weigh carefully which of the two — having  a child, or having an abortion– perpetuates dhuka (suffering). She should have the freedom to make this choice, rather than have it made for her by state or federal law. True power suggests self-sovereignty, both in a democratic sense and in an inner (spiritual) sense.

In addition to the anti-abortion movement there is another fervor being stirred by Tea Party Republicans and evangelical interest groups today. The sentiment is homophobic and anti gay. This phobia tramples freedom of expression, freedom of personal preference. The quest under way to is to squelch same-sex marriage and by association, to squelch the vital expression of gay culture, one that is carried forth by artists, designers, performers and thinkers alike. With elections coming up in the United States in 2012, there are forerunners in the Republican Party — Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann– who have an agenda to douse the right-to-choose for gays and women alike. It will no doubt be a struggle for power, and at the center of it is an underlying agenda to undermine one’s fundamental right to choose.

The threat toward women’s rights (and certainly gay rights as well) is not limited to North America. The explosive changes in the Middle East will bring further questions to the surface of the role of women in society. Within the traditional gender roles in Muslim countries, women are the property of men and their rights of self expression severely restricted. The memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Iranian Azar Nafisi, is a remarkable testimony of the struggle of modern day women in Islamic nations to speak freely. In November of 2011, the head of the interim government of Libya  post Quaddafi, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, has proclaimed that polygamy become law (in accord with Sharia, Koran based Islamic law) to the outrage of women throughout Libya.

photo credit: babasteve

Not only in the celebratory world of yoga, but in society over the past forty years since the ERA movement in the 1970’s, women have been able to carve out greater freedom, greater possibilities than ever before. However in America today we are witnessing a backlash that could be a dire set back to women’s rights, influence and vitality.

I think that within yoga circles today, at the grassroots level—that is within community based yoga studios—there could be more active discussion of these issues. For a yoga teacher to speak in class about these issues is a delicate thing. I think that a teacher can potentially speak to these issues, carefully and skillfully, while underscoring the importance of developing a non-prejudiced, open-minded attitude toward all beings.

Tias Little is yoga teacher, meditation instructor, and regular contributor at YogaModern.com. Tias is committed to teaching yoga as a contemplative path, leading to greater sensitivity, tolerance and deep understanding (prajna). His teaching combines the techniques of yoga that stem from the work of B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Tias is a long time student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the Dzogchen practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He is trained in Vipassana meditation and the Japanese Soto school of Zen Buddhism founded by Dogen. He currently studies koans within the Chan Buddhist traditions in China with Roshi Joan Sutherland. Tias earned a BA from Amherst College Mass in 1988 and a Masters degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College Santa Fe in 1998. Learn more about Tias’ classes, workshops, and teaching at prajnayoga.com


About Yoga Modern

Yoga Modern is an interactive online space that unites the yoga community in dialogue for global change. By exploring challenging questions through the lens of yoga, Yoga Modern cultivates meaningful conversation that inspires, educates, and connects communities. / Yoga Modern provides engaging, inquiry-based content around the deeper dimensions of yoga. Topics include, but are not limited to: asana, culture, philosophy, science, global affairs, health, and the arts. We invite yoga teachers, students, and notables from various backgrounds to write about universal aspects of our shared human existence. / Yoga Modern content reflects a sense of questioning and discovery. We feature rich, introspective writing that expresses how the yogic ideals apply in a modern world. We encourage writers to move beyond simple solutions, superficial summations, and showers of should’s. Yoga Modern is a space to come for heartfelt inspiration, deep inquiry, and ‘aha moments’ grounded in the joys and challenges of daily living.


10 Responses to “Tias Little on Yoga, Abortion, and Women’s Rights (VIDEO)”

  1. Posted to my Facebook page, Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn.

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  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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  3. Alli says:

    This debate seems not particularly due to the right or wrong of this issue (which infact would be futile as individual ethics are so varied and complex), but simply surrounds the right to choose. Everything I thought I believed around the abortion issue went out the window when recently I too fell pregnant and found myself in a position of considering whether to go through with this unplanned pregnancy. I was caught in a limbo of ethical turmoil and less than ideal social circumstances, let alone the early indications of health complications in the fetus, until I miscarried and my choice was taken away in an instant. Then all I wanted was to have my baby back. I realised that regardless of one's morals or the circumstance surrounding any decision, when our choice becomes void, we are instantly disempowered, which for many women sparks a plethora of painful reactions associated with our collective history as a sex oppressed. Thank you Tias for displaying here a rare understanding of women and their right to equality and self-sovereignty.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  5. yogijulian says:

    he is correct i think in so many ways – not sure about using yoga to proselytize. i think anyway most people who practice yoga are likely to be liberal/pro-choice anyway, so this comes a cross a little like an odd moment of preaching to the choir.

    my sense is that a committed teacher can be frank and open about saying at the end of a class "on a personal note i want to mention that this issue is on the ballot and IF you want to preserve a woman's right to choose, we need to get out the vote this month" or something similar.

    personally i feel that if you have these kinds of convictions it can be an authentic way both of expressing yourself in your community and of creating a community that self selects for shared values. so i would be less concerned with alienating and more with being graceful about the fact of what people are there for and that this is a moment of personal expression in the midst of an experience the students are paying for that has more to do with instruction in the practice…

    chelsea you also indirectly make a good point: i think we should be honest with ourselves about the ways in which our liberal, multicultural, contemporary american yogic zeitgeist actually has quite little in common with outdated yogic ideas tat have more in common with conservative christianity! if we seek to bow down to the letter of the classical yogic law without critical thinking we would technically find ourselves much more religious, moralistic, dualistic and conservative than most of us actually are…

  6. Chelsea says:

    "if we seek to bow down to the letter of the classical yogic law without critical thinking we would technically find ourselves much more religious, moralistic, dualistic and conservative than most of us actually are…"

    Touche, sir. I agree completely.

    I also think you make a good point about how expressing political opinions in yoga classes can be done in a respectful, intelligent way… but in all honesty I'm not sure I know too many yoga teachers who would be likely to do so. Most of the time when I hear yoga teachers speak about politics they do so in an incredibly evangelical and narrow-minded way. Political lectures are certainly not what I come to my yoga classes for, but I am also aware of the fact that I have every capability of turning around and walking out if I so desire.

  7. yogijulian says:

    i am with you – again i think his heart is in the right place, but the focus on getting yoga teachers involved in getting out the vote is probably preaching to the converted and a bit weird. so not sure it is a particularly meaningful/potent method of trying to effect change.

    yea there's this interesting line between authentic sincerity and using the platform in a way that tries people's patience. personally i wouldn't worry too much about alienating the massively liberal audience, more about a sense of the non sequitur!

  8. […] In this interview, Michael Stone and Pat Smith discuss the precept of non-harming as it applies to the issue of abortion. […]

  9. Mike Sullivan says:

    I think that you have misrepresented yoga teaching on suffering. Yoga aims to remove the kleshas, the causes of pain. Trying to avoid things in life we find unpleasant binds us to the kleshas. It is our dislike of pain that is to be reduced and removed, not the suffering associated with that pain. Trying to reduce suffering, rather than removing our dislike of that suffering, is a great hindrance to yoga. A correct yoga approach to an unplanned pregnancy would be acceptance of the situation and the removal of any dislike assocaitted with the situation, rather than the removal of the situation itself.

    Additionally, from a Yoga perspective, abortion has to be addressed from the principal of doing no harm to another. Once an entity is embedded at union it is unconscionable to destroy that entity. To do so would be acting in avidya and inhibiting union with ones essential nature.

  10. Mike Sullivan says:

    This pretty much sums up how spiritually lost humanity has become. Namaste, the light in me bows to the light to you, now gets redefined by pseudo yogis. Now it is Namaste, but the light in me need not bow to the light of the other one in my sacred womb because I am more important. Power to the ego. Thank god for the gurus.