June 19, 2020

Dear Yoga Community, we can’t Meditate our Way out of This. We must Speak Up.

Thank you for reaching out to me. 

Thank you for your support and willingness to take online classes with me. I am sorry that I can’t offer more at this point in time. I want you to know this is not because I don’t care about you—it is because I do care about you. 

Your health is more important to me than a few dollars. Your trust in me over the last years has always been based on the belief that I am here to support your practice (on and off the mat). Your trust is all I have as a teacher, and I don’t want to jeopardize that.

I shared my story and inspired you to work on yourself. At the same time, you shared thoughts, feelings, and emotions that taught me a lot about myself. 

You put my feet back on the ground at times when I thought that constant yoga practice and a few smoothies could heal the world. When I told you to meditate, you reminded me of your three kids and the two jobs you have to deal with. You told me about your abusive partner, and I felt your pain. You noticed when I was struggling. I learned that there are situations in life where “letting it flow” is not a good idea. Thank you. 

I know that yoga is a powerful way to improve our well-being. Often we hear people making fun of western medicine—they suggest that alternative methods of treatment are superior to science-based approaches. This has always been part of the yoga community. 

Up to a certain degree, I still agree with that. There are amazing ways of treating particular health conditions with nutrition, exercise, and sometimes plant medicine. At the same time, I would like to warn you about money-driven shamans and other “healers” who suggest having all the answers to questions you never asked. I am not sure if it’s a lack of information, narcissism, recklessness, or a mix of all of them. But I think it is dangerous and puts our society at risk as a whole. 

I would love to tell you that good vibes will protect you from the virus. Of course I would like to share classes with you and see you in person. If I knew anyone who could treat COVID-19 with a miraculous plant, I would tell you!

The reality is that I am not a doctor. I happen to be a yoga teacher and political scientist, which is an odd combination to many people. Today, instead of offering a physical practice, I would like to share this thought with you: 

Do you remember when you started practicing yoga? It felt exhausting and awkward, right?

Nevertheless, you decided to continue attending classes. You improved your well-being by taking care of your physical body. Many of us made different food choices and implemented mindfulness into our daily lives when we started yoga. It was not always easy, but it was worth the effort. Some of us truly mastered the art of self-care but lost connection with the bigger picture that we are part of. I am guilty of that myself. 

“Yoga is more than just a physical practice.” What does that actually mean? 

Patanjali describes yoga as the eight-limbed path. Almost all modern yoga refers to his writings. The yamas (ethical vows in the yogic tradition) are the first limb. 

Let’s have a look at two of them: 

Ahimsa (peacefulness) is often used as an excuse to avoid politics, confrontation, and doubts. The choice to be kind to everyone sounds good, but what does it actually mean? 

Are we supposed to stay silent when others get harmed? At what point is our definition of kindness part of a bigger problem? 

The articles I wrote around BLM are stirring up controversial discussions. Some people have been extremely offended and asked me to be silent. They feel that protests are a threat to public order and want things to be normal again. I was accused of spreading hate after I pointed out Candace Owen’s questionable role within the far-right movement. Others shamed me for not following the newest conspiracies around 5G, Bill Gates, and aliens. Throughout it all, I have tried to be respectful toward all people criticizing me. Countless people begged me to be “less political” in the comment section. 

This brings us to the second yama: satya (truthfulness). It reminds us to speak our truth and asks us not to spread false information—that is where things get complicated.

How do we balance ahimsa and satya? 

Truth hurts, but at what point is the benefit of truth outweighing the suffering it might cause? It is our challenge to find a balance between these two basic principles of yoga. 

Finding our truth is not always easy. It is challenging to make up our minds about recent events if we don’t have an idea of the bigger picture (especially when statements are taken out of context). That makes it almost impossible to see the agenda behind them. The more we already know about the implications of certain arguments, the easier it will be to recognize them. Knowledge gives us the peace of mind we are looking for. 

Going back and forth in discussions, reading literature, watching the news, and other ways of gathering information are exhausting. Listening to politicians can be more challenging to many of us than holding a handstand for five minutes. 

Yoga is not a religion. It is a practice. We are not born with any of these skills, but we learn and evolve by practicing them.

As we can’t meet up for yoga classes and work on our handstands, we could shift the focus toward other aspects of our practice. It is time to address the blind spots that we have created by over proportionally focusing on our physical body for far too long. 

We are more than self-entitled smoothie drinking cheerleaders who preach “good vibes only.”

Let’s use this time for reflection about our role in society. What are we able to do to make things better? When is it time to speak our truth? What price are we willing to pay for that? 

As long as we don’t practice our ability to process information and put them into perspective, we run danger falling for charlatans. That is where the second limb of yoga niyama comes in.

The first niyama is shaucha (clearness of mind, speech, and body). As long as our mind is unstable, we are not able to properly process information. 

Once our second niyama, santosha (acceptance of others), is out of control, we start distrusting everyone around us. The combination of feeling agitated and not trusting anyone is the breeding ground for conspiracies and negativity.  

Everything has its time. Right now, I don’t feel like talking about arm-balance sequences with you. I would like to talk about our role as a yoga community and its blindspots addressing injustice, racism, and poverty. Why is that a problem? 

Why is it that minorities are an even smaller minority within the yoga community?

How come some people in our community believe COVID-19 is a hoax and drift toward alternative right-wing conspiracies?

Are we part of the problem?

I know that it is tempting to go back to our old normal. Since studios reopened all around the world, I have noticed a large drop in students taking my online classes. It didn’t make it easier to do what I think is the right thing to do and makes me even more thankful for all of you that are still tuning in. 

I am just as sad as you are, and I am missing all of you. Staying at home for three months is a challenge to me, as it is to you. Being criticized and ridiculed for my choices caused a lot of pain. People laughing at me for wearing a face mask is troubling. It is hard to do the right thing, and it hurts at times, but it doesn’t make it wrong. 

There is no space for politics in my yoga classes, but once the physical practice is over, there is much more to explore about the world we are living in. Let’s be part of the solution and not of the problem. It starts by acknowledging that there are problems. 

I care for you, and I want you to be safe. Let’s work on ourselves and take the yamas and niyamas as a reminder that personal growth does not end after our yoga class or pause because I don’t show up to teach public classes. 

It has never been more challenging, but speaking truth is part of our practice. 

I am looking forward to seeing you again one day. 

You are not alone. I am with you. We are all in this together. 

A yoga teacher. 

Sat Nam.

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