Yoga for the Movement

February 22, 2017

I live in Orange County, an area not necessarily known for its progressivism. The day after the election, I strolled by ladies of leisure brunching on patios that bore massive TRUMP signs. As I passed their expansive gardens, they toasted one another and smiled, eyeing me with a mixture of boastfulness and wariness.

At the time, a local yoga studio I frequented just so happened to be directly across the street from Trump’s regional headquarters. Every time I went to a class there, before and after I did a practice to find my center, I was confronted with this grisly new political reality. I was demoralized. But, like many others, I was also galvanized.

I organized a series of donation-based workshops that I called Yoga for the Movement. The goal was to offer yoga classes that provided a means for grappling with the election of a man who was at best apathetic, and at worst hostile to immigrants, women, and people of color. In the workshops we interrogated:

  • How can we understand these events as both expected within our misogynistic, racist and xenophobic society, but, more importantly, as a motivator to social action?
  • How can yoga—including studying landmark yoga texts, understanding the 8-limbed path, and practicing with mindful dedication—support our social justice work?

Each workshop began with a 10-minute meditation, and incorporated pranayama, asana practice, and small-group discussion. The topic of discussion varied by week. During the first week, we discussed what brought us to yoga, and kept us coming back. Most people stated that yoga helped them to feel freer, more at ease in their own skin. I shared my story, as described in my #whatayogilookslike article in Yoga International. Then, I communicated my desire for yoga to be treated as a practice whose benefits could extend beyond personal liberation. I read them an excerpt from the inimitable Audre Lorde, who explained that self-care practices like yoga, can be used not just to ease our individual suffering, but also to shore up our resources in the struggle for social equality. We each attested to a type of social action, the work towards local social justice initiatives, that we were going to be engaged with for the next week. We ended with an hour-long slow flow.

For week 2, I wanted to draw more from yoga scriptures to guide our discussion. I briefly introduced the yoga sutras, and the concept of “tapas” or “heat,” self-discipline, and right effort. The discussion centered around reminding practitioners that the fight for equality will not be won overnight. We have to remain dedicated, not over-exerting ourselves in the beginning, or under-efforting when more is needed from us. We discussed our social justice activities of the past week, and what we will be doing to sustain our engagement for the coming weeks. We ended with a heat-building asana practice.

The final class took place the day after the record-breaking Women’s Marches. Each one of us had been to a march. We focused on the yogic principle of “satya” or truth. We asked ourselves if we have been touting “fake news” about what we will do, or are capable of staying with our intentions in this environment. We discussed times in which we have lied to ourselves—by over or underestimating ourselves. We considered the words of Jack Kornfield in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and mulled over what we each might realistically bring to justice movements after the exhilaration of the monumental protests. We ended with nodi shodhana pranayama practice to calm and settle mind, and a twist-based asana practice to de-stress and remove toxins.

100% of the proceeds from these events were donated to #NoDAPL and Black Lives Matter. In addition to the modest financial contribution we collectively made, the workshops served as a series of justice-oriented community-building events.

Yoga for the Movement will be coming to L.A. in the spring of 2017. Sign up for the YBIC newsletter for dates and details!


 

Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research examines how race, gender, and class are inscribed on the body, such that the body itself can be marshaled to maintain social hierarchies. Her articles and essays are featured in venues including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Feminist Media Studies, Truthout independent news and opinion, and The Feminist Wire. Her book, Thin, White, and Saved: Fat Stigma and the Fear of the Big Black Body will be published by NYU press. A 200hr CYT, Sabrina is also on the leadership team for the Yoga and Body Image Coalition .

One Comment

  1. Thank you for offering this work and for writing about it. The combination of the doing (in the teaching) and the being (in the writing) is inspirational to me. I hope you choose to offer a series again here in Orange County. I applied to be part of this summer’s Social Justice School of Embodied Leadership hosted by generative somatics (http://www.generativesomatics.org/). This year, they seek people to attend who are part of the same team, or community. If you are interested, please check it out. Tho the application deadline has passed, I am sure we could seek an exception. I would value the chance to do some of that work together with you.–Abby from University Hills

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