Yoga as Activism
Processing the election of Donald Trump
Happy 2017! I know it’s customary to write about resolutions and other new year stuff. And I’m a huge fan of using bolstering my intentions by tapping into the collective optimism that a new year brings. And at the same time we have yet to address a little something… Trump. We’ve all had some breathing time, the holidays are passed, maybe we can weave the efficient momentum of a new year into at least processing the fact that Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States.
No matter where you are on the political spectrum, it is a vital time to be a #yogactivist. How do we address the vast divisiveness that is eroding our ability to see connection in our neighbors despite our politics? In the aftermath of this reality, how do we process Trump’s election–as yoga teachers and students living for the most part, from a vantage point of privilege? Since I’m still grappling myself, I thought I’d simply share my own experience. I thought I could also open a dialogue on staying the course as environmentalists, human rights protectors and continue to fight the good fight with our eyes open.
Where were you when Trump was elected?
I found out about Trump’s win at 4:30 a.m. I then drove solo for 3 hours from our home near San Jose, Costa Rica to the Advanced Teacher Training at Blue Spirit in Nosara and began to process the news. My heart hadn’t sunk that heavy into my gut since Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and then lost based on electoral votes.
Part of being a yogi is supplanting denial with our ability to feel. Look no further than Instagram or Facebook feeds to see that we often “like” the ‘happy-cheery-yay!’ version of yoga far more than the more subtle side of our emotional spectrum. And yet denial of dark emotions can develop into more corrosive states of being – anxiety, depression and pain to name a few.
So I got into the car and drove. I looked at the trees that give to us all without asking for anything in return. I thought, “who is going to protect you from human greed through much-needed environmental policy?” And I cried. I thought about a dear friend who is Muslim and thought about mean-spirited border guards armed with power to feed racist leanings. I thought about black people in the U.S. who gave and give so much to shape the country and now face even greater risk of racial violence and hate crimes than before Trump’s win.
Once I arrived at the training we were all present to feeling. The mood was mostly shared melancholy.
Is Yoga a Political Act
That day Matthew Remski gave a lecture. He re-jigged his entire workshop to place the processing of the election results within the context of a discussion of modern day yoga.
We asked ourselves as a group: does our practice necessarily speak up for civil rights? Is practicing yoga necessarily a political act? Are yoga studios politically charged environments? My answer to all 3 for our community was a strong “yes” and a simultaneous “no”.
The Buddha called practice moving against the stream. The 7 Pillars of Moksha Modo Yoga are politically charged. Our two main community campaigns (Speak Your Peace in September and Grow Your Yoga in May) are forces for civil rights support. At the heart of those 12-year-old campaigns and our Karma class program is the ability to use our practice in community to reach beyond our mats to people, places or issues that are calling for support, and that mean something to us as individuals. Our community unites around the idea that if we are practicing our Pillars, we are by definition working off-our-mats for whatever it is that we believe in. This doesn’t mean we all believe the same thing, but that we all share a belief that part of our practice is karma yoga (action), or Reaching Out.
So why not say that the studios are necessarily politically charged? It became clear in 2012 that sometimes what we may think of as “shared views” isolates students in pockets of our community where, for example, working on an oil rig is feeding their family. We had themed Speak Your Peace around protesting the TransCanada Pipeline and some students that worked for the oil industry felt shut out of their hitherto welcoming community. This was a community-wide lesson on balancing Outreach with our Be Accessible Pillar. Reaching Out was Shutting Out and this was a mistake.
Turning Feeling into Action
After my pity-party boo-hoo fest about Trump I started to read. I felt angry at Trump supporters. Then I felt furious at Alt-right groups and racist spew that makes its way into mainstream media. I felt the sting of being the only Jewish girl in my class in a racist high school environment, and it brought up that anger. And when I brought my fury to my mat and sat with it, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I thought of the conditions that contribute to being raised to hate. I thought of some of the youth I’ve been privileged to meet or hear about with Laura Sygrove, at incarceration centers involved in New Leaf Yoga programs. No one signs up to suck. No one wakes up to dream of a life as a gang member. No one signs up for racist parents or limited education that excludes basic lessons on human rights. I remembered the 2012 pipeline discussion and compassion began to rise up through the anger. I remember reading the Dalai Lama speak of China as ‘my friend, the enemy.’ Divisiveness is never the answer. I vowed to think of the intention of connection, to listen, learn, use my voice, and act peacefully for justice whenever I felt hate.
Since election day, I turned to teachings from elders and academics I respect. I walked through the forest and listened to The Lakota Way. I read Jared Diamond’s newest book The World Until Yesterday. I researched who was doing the best work on the Dakota Access Pipeline and donated. I listened, read and increased my monthly donation to Democracynow.org. I talked to friends that I respect.
If you were like many and have been run over by the holidays and haven’t taken the time to process, I hope you allow yourself the space to feel, even amidst the fantastically wonderful energy of January. Yoga allows us to feel it all. And yes, even yogis get angry.
We ask a trick question at every Level 1 training in our introduction to the 7 Pillars and the Yamas and Niyamas: “Would you teach a class at the head offices of an unethical business like Bayer-Monsanto?”
It’s a trick question because we hope that we can all be ninja yogis and share peace in such a way that we can truly hone our skillful means, what the Buddha called upaya-kaushalya. With the intention to bring even the Bayer-Monsanto exec to a place where deep and true inner-ethics rise to the surface. This is where the world can change by dedicating ourselves this year more than ever, to our off-the-mat work wherever that work takes us.
Maybe we can find a middle ground. Moksha Modo act as a neutral place and a true space of respite. At the same time we share articles and news that moves us through our group platforms or even below in the comments. When we hear a story from a voice that isn’t being heard, we pass it on. Maybe we can speak more clearly through the social images we share that every Moksha/ Modo studio believes that #blacklivesmatter. Maybe we can ask under-represented individuals in our community how we can as teachers create a more welcoming space. Maybe you are one of these people and you can educate us on how we can be more inclusive and accessible as a community either in comments or by writing email@example.com.
In 2010, the theme of our Annual General Meeting for studio owners was Creating an Army of Peace. We are to this day, and always have been, an army of peace. Let’s mobilize yogis. There are times when I still get bummed about Trump. I also feel that we can have, collectively, as Obama titled his 2nd book, the audacity to hope. We can use this hope to fight peacefully, with yoga as our weapon, for the battles we choose to fight. We can fight peacefully just as the brave WaterKeepers have at Standing Rock to a triumphant first victory. If there was ever a time to mobilize our peaceful army troops, to come together and speak out mindfully and with compassion on issues that are important to us as individuals…that time is now. My greatest hope is fueled by knowing that you are all out there doing what you are doing each and every day. Thank you for leading this army. I am forever grateful. Happy New year!
Sources for creating accessibility in our classes and anti-oppression resources:
Great Twitter feeds:
Add your resources in the comment section. Let’s keep this conversation alive and bring set a course for working and speaking up for what we believe in as individuals and communities.
Wishing you the happiest and most inspired year yet.