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Bringing people together, making them feel good, and sending them home a little lighter and more open-hearted while building connections is the reason I became a yoga teacher and the inspiration for the work I am doing now.
Over the years, I came to understand that commercial yoga is part of a system, a system that only a few people can afford. I understood that without even consciously knowing that I was playing into it. And there is nothing wrong with that. Most of us are born into a certain set of circumstances, and one way or another we adapt to the local culture. There is nothing wrong with being able to afford a yoga studio membership and practicing yoga three or five times a week—in fact, that’s what paid my bills for years.
Yet there is a bubble-like mentality surrounding yoga communities, which are usually structured around a yoga studio or a teacher or a methodology. That is the full menu; that is all they have to offer.
But I think a yoga community is so much more than that.
Take a look at what is happening beyond the two-mile radius of your most commonly visited shops, restaurants, and yoga studios, and you enter the twilight zone. How can we hold the concept of a yoga community accountable once we realize that our privileged “yoga community mentality” excludes much of the demographic around us?
How can we continue to perfect our handstands if we know that many in our neighborhoods are going hungry?
What good do we bring to the world by hosting international retreats if we don’t even know the struggles of those living nearby?
How can we share phrases like “One love,” ”All one,” “Love is love” when the only place that we experience such feelings is on a rubber mat?
Why are we so eager to support our local yoga studio when we ignore our local shelters?
How can we continue to practice a practice of liberation seeing the chains that bind so many?
Don’t get me wrong—we do need to support the neighborhood studio. But it is also our responsibility as practitioners of yoga to plant the seeds for a better future and, whenever possible, to help facilitate the road to freedom for those forgotten or neglected.
We can’t expect to take a 60 or a 75-minute yoga class and think the world is beautiful and that’s it for the day.
You can’t have access to something as powerful as yoga and just use it like a Band-Aid for wounded egos.
These practices are life-changing.
These practices can and will have tremendous benefits for the coming generations.
These practices, shared with everyone, especially the neglected and marginalized, could change the future.
As a community activist who engages with shelters, hospitals, hospices, underprivileged communities, and first responders, and is constantly trying to bring the therapeutic effects of yoga and mindfulness practices to those who typically don’t fit the stereotype, I realized that my yoga community has a lot of work and soul searching to do. Cacao ceremonies, handstands, ecstatic chanting, and two-week teacher trainings won’t cut it. That’s not an identity. That’s not why these practices are given to us.
Yoga is not a passive state of being. It is active and action-oriented; it defies all paradigms, biases, judgments, and barriers and truly places all of us as equals. My well-being is not more or less important than yours.
Don’t get me wrong—I still want you to go to your local studio or gym, take a class, and be happy. But I also want you to think big. How can we contribute to the expansion of our practices?
Can we suggest that our local studio organize a fundraiser?
Can we suggest that our favorite instructor goes to teach at a shelter?
Can our yogi friends support a local nonprofit?
Can we be more selective about where we invest our yoga dollars?
Can we make it part of the practice to perfect not only our asanas but also how we see the world and perhaps expand our idea of well-being to underprivileged communities?
There is a big blind spot in the yoga communities as we now know them.
Lots of you know that it’s time for a change. A change is coming. And the time is now.