The Yoga Community Must Shelve Both Idealism and Politeness to Loudly and Publicly Endorse Obama. Right Now. Who’s In?

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on Nov 1, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

by Matthew Remski

Approaching the eve of this critical election, I’ve been bothered by two political stances within the yoga demographic. One is etheric to the point of dissociation: “Whatever change we desire will only come through a change in consciousness.” The other is flaccid and polite to the point of meaninglessness: “Yogis can use the political process to express their values, off the mat.”

Here’s the problem: neither are adequately muscular to the task of preventing a hateful, mendacious plutocrat who evades taxes to tithe to a racist jabberwocky church from seizing the reins of power. My question to the yoga community at large is: why have we not seen a single prominent teacher or yoga organization formally and publicly endorse the Obama-Biden ticket? Do we not want to get our hands too dirty? Are we too busy pretending It’s All Good? Are we even a community at all?


The etheric-dissociative posture

The first stance – the etheric-dissociative – was called out recently by Derek Beres in a critique of a Marianne Williamson’s pseudo-political tweet: “No matter who wins the election, we need a collective leap in consciousness in order to take our country and our world in the direction of peace and love.” Williamson isn’t a yoga person per se, but according to my Facebook feed, she ranks high amongst many yogis’ oft-quoted sources of inspiration, along with the catatonic Eckhart Tolle and the insanely prolific Rumi. Beres does a great job in taking down her vague, apolitical, high-ground cop-out, and demanding that she and other prominent voices stop obscuring the real with the ideal, and show a little pragmatic leadership with regard to what we can do with the votes we have.

I’m afraid Beres wasted a little digital ink on his critique, because Williamson is not actually speaking politically at all. She is appropriating the language of a “political moment” to advance her brand of holier-than-thou dissociation that only people blind to their privilege can afford. Simply replace the phrase “wins the election” with any other verbal clause, and my point is clear:

“No matter who guides our foreign policy, we need a collective leap in consciousness…”

“No matter who wins American Idol, we need a collective leap in consciousness…”

“No matter who controls our food supply, we need a collective leap in consciousness…”

“No matter who walks the dog, we need a collective leap in consciousness…”

Williamson has but one Course-in-Miracles-inflected song, and she’ll sing it in the same key before and after November 6th. There is no room for history when you’re high on the power of now. Her job is not to rally political consciousness, but to maintain her constituents’ dissociation through the emotional onslaught of a very dirty campaign in an increasingly desperate political landscape. Her job is distinctly anti-political, and she’s doing it quite well. Douglas Brooks indirectly describes how she rolls in his recent critique of the nivrtti posture in spirituality:

In contemporary yoga such voices of nivrtti often resort to two strategies of criticism meant to proffer the superiority of taking a “higher” and “spiritual” path that contrasts with the conflicting views and uncertainties of a mundane human reality.  The two strategies are covertly (or not) coupled with certain logic of superiority.  It goes like this: any effort to express views that might be contentious, disputed, or cause conflict are deemed (1) the work of the “lower” features of an Ego—n.b., the capital “E” works a certain magic meant to express the authority of the claim that Ego=culprit in the equation that affirms (2) silence in the role of our better angel for “spiritual” accomplishment.  So, it is implied, to become silent and so serene beyond measurable response is set apart as the higher path of a “true” yogin.  The “spiritual” then becomes the apolitical.  But even a little more candor reveals that this apolitical spiritual path—revered as superior is more an effort to keep one’s politics private, to silence the process of a more honest conversation precisely because it could complicate or challenge relationships.  The next bit of legerdemain is to assert that this unifying view of the “true” nature of reality not only transcends any contentions but also manages to render everyone’s individual opinions equally true so that there is no need to have the challenging conversations in the open.  Just go inside and everything will be better.


The flaccid-polite posture

Off the Mat, Into the World has set itself up as a 501(c)3 non-profit, which means it cannot engage in political speech. This is an effective structure for fundraising, and for broadcasting the non-denominational brand of yogic self-regulation and empathy-building tools to the broadest audience. But it also creates a kind of hamstrung speech that wastes a lot of time in stating the obvious and avoiding the necessary conflict of the day. This is painfully clear in OTM’s affiliate programme, YogaVotes, which duplicates the efforts of other non-partisan voting-drive initiatives, like the League of Women Voters, which themselves court a predominantly progressive demographic, but can never call a spade a spade. Watching the intelligent and strong representatives of YogaVotes contort themselves around their deep internal desire to bury Romney under a thousand gallons of Kali’s flaming bile makes me squirm. (Please correct me, YV-ers if this is my projection.)

Do we really need, as YogaVotes claims on its homepage, to “awaken a new demographic of mindful voters—sparking higher voter turnout among the 20 million Americans who practice yoga”? Is yoga culture some ninth-grade classroom sleeping through Civics? Not from what I’ve seen. The vast majority of studio owners and practitioners I know are firmly progressive in their politics. And while progressivism does not translate into votes for Obama without a lot of kicking and screaming, it does translate into a strategic voting stance against regressive chaos. So why, I ask, with our sentiments and our privileged economic status and all of us hanging around the studio water cooler after class worried about reversals in health care coverage and women’s rights and environmental hooliganism, is the most visible political arm of yoga culture this toothless display of bendy niceness?

Be Scofield has done a great job of pointing out how there is nothing inherently progressive about mindfulness culture, and that OTM has accomplished its strongest branding success (providing quickie asana-snacks at both Republican and Democrat conventions) precisely by playing on the political neutrality of transcendent practices. He goes further to show that practicing yoga doesn’t necessarily make one progressive, citing the fact that corporate structures from Goldman Sachs to the U.S. military are using yoga to improve imperial efficiency. And of course we know that yoga culture itself is dotted by some very loud-mouthed libertarians like Lululemon owner Chip Wilson, who spouts as much Ayn Rand nonsense as Paul Ryan does, but whose power, thankfully, is limited to no-chafe gusset-design. Oops – and hiring conditions in his Chinese factories.

I don’t have a survey, but anecdotally it feels like Wilson and Republican flunkies who enjoy backbends are a small and self-absorbed minority in contemporary yoga. I’d say about 20%. Scofield may be right that yoga doesn’t make you a good person, but I’m willing to bet that there are far more genuinely good people than narcissist plutocrats practicing yoga. So I think we can stand a lot more than breathless requests to actually vote. That bar is way too low for what we’re capable of. We need our own Yoga Super PAC, so we can throw the fire with the best of them. The times call for a lot more Arjuna; a lot less Patanjali.


The Editorials of Yoga Culture are Blog Posts: Endorse Now

There is no broader organizing structure for contemporary yoga culture than the blogosphere. Popular yoga blogs have upwards of 50K regular readers each. While it would be great to hear that prominent teachers (let’s say: everyone on the faculty list for the next Yoga Journal Conference) were all actively endorsing an Anyone-but-Romney position, this would hold less democratic sway than if bloggers endorsed in the same way that the print newspapers do.

Here’s my suggested platform, which I think makes sense for the majority of the yoga demographic:

— Given that Mitt Romney’s discernible platform stands to set socio-economic justice, women’s rights, ecological stewardship, scientific research and foreign relations back by several generations, and

— Given that much more of his platform is actually indiscernible due to his pathological lying and opportunism, and

— Given that he is an ordained operative in an exclusionary religious institution rife with the anti-rationalism, anti-environmentalism, and magical thinking that is anathema to the culture of yogic inquiry:

— Incumbent President Obama remains the better and at least known choice, and should be passionately supported by yoga practitioners.

Simple, no? Anyone disagree? I know: I apologize to third-party advocates. Obama is not a perfect choice, given his mediocre record on human rights, upholding international law, and environmental progress. But the immediate legislative impact of a Romney administration is a far heavier price to pay than the ground we lose in reshaping the electoral landscape. Remember Nader, 2000, Florida. It’s not worth it.

I call on all yoga news outlets, magazines, blogs and bloggers, including those who publish and post to this site, to use your soapboxes in these last days to do what we haven’t been brave enough to do so far, caught as we have been between transcendent and politeness reflexes: weave our politics and practice into a bright braid of passion:

1.    Please reply below if you intend to endorse.

2.    Endorse Obama on your blog or online publication. Two sentences would do it.

3.    Provide the link to your endorsement in a follow-up comment to this post.

Make one post, between now and Monday. One brief but firm endorsement for the obvious choice. One single gesture that will mark the beginning of a shift in yoga culture towards greater courage, participation, and the dirty work of integrity.


Matthew Remski is an author, yoga teacher, ayurvedic therapist and educator, co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto, and a new papa. He is a co-contributor to 21st Century Yoga. His new “remix” translation of Patanjali  –threads of yoga– is going to print right now. Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body:The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, says of the book: “I don’t know of any reading of the yoga sutras as wildly creative, as impassioned and as earnest as this. it engages Patanjali and the reader in an urgent, electrified conversation that weaves philosophy, symbolist poetry, psychoanalysis and cultural history. There’s a kind of delight and freshness in this book that is very rare in writing on yoga, and especially rare in writing on the yoga sutras. This is a Patanjali for postmoderns, less a translation than a startlingly relevant report on our current condition, through the prism of this ancient text.” Please check out Matthew’s site for more writings on Ayurveda and Yoga.




About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.


179 Responses to “The Yoga Community Must Shelve Both Idealism and Politeness to Loudly and Publicly Endorse Obama. Right Now. Who’s In?”

  1. matthew says:

    There's a verse in the Bhagavad Gita — can't remember where — in which I believe Krishna says that residing in a well-governed place is a prerequisite for meditation. That's what comes to mind for me.

  2. Joe Sparks says:

    2 things: Most people can only be encouraged to participate to vote if the encouraging is done on an individual basis. Talk to your friends and family.
    We need to heal from our own internalized oppressive behavior which helps one's effectiveness in social change and helps avoid mistaken strategies based on feelings, provided that one really engages in activity and doesn't settle for talking about it.
    This means taking a sharp, clear ( and patient) stand against sexist, racist, condescending, and invalidating statements and language of all kinds.

  3. matthew says:

    I'm with you, Joe. Do you have data for your first sentence?

  4. […] It was heartening for us to see Matthew Remski further this important dialogue in his most recent Elephant Journal post. In no uncertain terms, he called yoga leadership out on their pervasive apathy and general […]

  5. shyamdodge says:

    6 yogis endorse Obama on YogaBrains:

  6. shyamdodge says:

    you can find those pointy remarks here 😉

  7. Truth says:

    I agree with half your thesis, "That the yoga community must shelve both idealism and politeness." Also, I think the conversation about endorsing is more important than the actual endorsement and you should be commended for both facilitating and engaging in this process. But I don't think Yoga communities should be endorsing politicians.

    First of all, your just a yoga teacher. Your not more enlightened, better educated, politically informed, etc. Your endorsement carries no weight for me. To me, your endorsement is just adding to all the political bullshit I'm bombarded with all day. And it makes me not want to go to your class.

    Second, as a student, I don't need my yoga teacher to motivate me to vote or persuade me to vote for one particular person. I need my teacher to help guide me through the psychology of politics. Why are both sides so divided? Why do I feel so negative towards the other side? Why don't yogi's feel the same moral outrage towards both sides, as I do? Is there really anything yogic about this ego-identification process. Ever noticed how all the posts on EJ are anti-Romney, not pro-obama. Like we have to collectively share in this egoization process of casting off all things that don't jive with story of self. This story of what the yoga community is and what values it shares. I don't want my yoga community to be political, I want my yoga community to help me mentally deal with the political process this country goes through. I don't think it's a healthy one, and your endorsements play into it.

    Third, ever try to understand the other side? Maybe the GOP has some good points. There are plenty of women who will vote GOP. White, well educated women, like many in the yoga community. It's lazy to just see these women as unenlightened. What is it of there psychological makeup that they consider conservative issues more prescient that liberal ones. Are we just playing into Identity politics?

    Lastly, don't make the mistake that thinking your students are part of the yoga community. It may be good for a community of yoga teachers to participate in this group endorsement practice, but it could alienate your students, who many view yoga as an escape from political culture.

    So I think yogis and yoga teachers should be politically engaged, you shouldn't be afraid to talk about politics, but this endorsement thing is taking it too far. JMHO

  8. matthew says:

    This says a lot:

    "I don't want my yoga community to be political, I want my yoga community to help me mentally deal with the political process this country goes through."

    In what ways is your yoga community apart-from, beyond, above, or removed from its political reality? This is what I'm critiquing as a "dissociative" position.

    It's not like you can go to class and get away from politics. The floor you practice from was made by people paid a fair wage, or not.

    As for the many who "view yoga as an escape from political culture", I understand this as a therapeutic, but temporary necessity, and I say as much in my follow-up:

  9. matthew says:

    Following up on this post, reviewing and analyzing some of the sentiments expressed in the comment thread here:

    Thanks, all, for a really healthy discussion.

  10. Patricia Juarez says:

    It is beyond me that anyone other than the super wealthy would vote for Mitt.
    1. Shemas on the roof says it all. (dog)
    2. How could any one of color vote for him?
    3. Unless you want to reverse Roe v. Wade, why would any female vote for him?
    4. Want to heal the planet? Forget it, Mitt that's hilarious.

  11. […] People Who Practice Yoga (as well as It’s All Yoga, Baby, Matthew Remski, Yoga Brains, et […]

  12. Actually Matt, This is how I endorse or speak my mind. I guess I should have mentioned that.

  13. Great post! I found this post by Ben Ralston to be quite telling:

  14. FREE says:

    you just described the GOP agenda NOT Obama's you idiot!

  15. FREE says:

    Exactly who's "TRUTH" are you trying to get out there Truth? You think you know the "TRUTH"? Your 'TRUTH" is NOT my TRUTH thank you very much!

  16. […] week, Matthew Remski blogged on Elephant Journal a call for the yoga community to “shelve both idealism and politeness to loudly and publicly […]

  17. Sorry4yourdog says:

    Well governed country or well governed, orderly life?

    I would like to point out the fact that people experience samadhi or the absolute/brahman/etc. regardless of the political climate, and that their political views don't really impact their relationship with samadhi. It seems to me that to be involved in politics might pull you away from the practice due to increased passion in the mind. It's hard to make time to absorb oneself when one is absorbed in something other than the self.

    <–not enlightened yet, just an opinion.

  18. […] than ever before. From YogaVotes‘ non-partisan call to “Do yoga and vote,” to Matthew Remski’s callout to yoga bloggers for endorsement, to The Babarazzi’s anarchic refusal to endorse while insisting upon […]

  19. Sorry4yourdog says:

    Obama fighting against Monsanto? Hardly.

    As for Krishnamacharya, he tended to the RSS like a father to a child. It would reason that he could wholeheartedly endorse the RSS because he knew him personally, unlike the yoga community and ANY candidate.

    I also don't think the words smug and instructor should be in the same sentence, but in your case I'll make the exception. You sometimes end your posts with attacks on the other person's intelligence by demeaning them. Not nice.

  20. matthew says:

    Sorry: who did I demean? How?

  21. […] November 1, Matthew Remski initiated a conversation about yoga, politics and the 2012 presidential election that lit up the blogosphere. YogaBrains […]

  22. nunh says:

    Well said. Agreed.

  23. […] The Yoga Community Must Shelve Both Idealism and Politeness to Loudly and Publicly Endorse Obama. Ri… […]

  24. […] weeks since I became “the most dangerous man in yoga”, according to one over-excited commenter, by calling upon yoga culture to endorse Obama for another term. Aside from a lone barking-mad post that actually urged yogis not to vote, and a few pointed […]

  25. thedigitalseer says:

    Did you guys see the video featured last week called Shit Gurus Say ?

  26. Claudia says:

    Malcolm, I only wish that most of my neighbors and coworkers-not to mention my elected "representatives"-felt and thought the way you do. Life here in Long Island, NY would be
    so much better-because there would truly be hope for the future of our planet and the quality
    of life for all. But I must add that the one big taboo that every human has got to expose right
    this very minute is overpopulation and which is rampant in every nation on earth. Humans frantically put another billion here in just the last 10 years. Why? How can they not perceive how self destructive and stupid that is? How needlessly overreproducing drives up the cost of everything, making our earth sicker and uglier, accelerates global warming, while making the fat cats on Wall Street richer and richer. The Green party and all progressive thinking people need to enlighten their friends and families and colleagues about the horrible dangers of overpopulation and the root causes for this destructive behavior-if we are serious about saving ourselves and our world.