internet wanderings: yoga, social justice & service

internet wanderings: yoga, social justice & service

Hanging out on the internet and consuming media, especially as long-form writing, is pretty much my favourite thing to do. It’s almost part of my spiritual practice. It definitely informs my life and how I engage with the world. In my internet wanderings, even while IAYB was on hiatus, I find myself paying attention to how yoga is portrayed in mainstream media. This is a habit I developed while I was editing a yoga magazine, and I just haven’t been able to shake it.

Usually, the mainstream media perceives yoga as a neverending trend, constantly newsifying the latest strange incarnation, whether it’s goat yoga or Beyoncé-themed yoga (which, admittedly, I would love).  Last week, however, I had the pleasure of coming across a bunch of think pieces about yoga, social justice, and service, published on platforms ranging from millennial girl power empire, Bustle to a one-person blog from the far reaches of the UK. I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did!

The Yoga Community Neglects People of Color – The Very People Who Need Wellness the Most (Bustle)

If you are a white yoga practitioner or teacher, this is the most important piece you can read right now. It explores how systemic racism manifests in yoga communities, and the names the basic fact that the people who need yoga practice the most can’t access it.

The author, Bustle regular Gina M. Florio, tells us that people of colour experience more stress and mental unwellness than white people. She notes that 18.2 percent of black people experience emotional stress, compared with only 3.5 percent of white people. Fiore writes, “Studies have shown that people from marginalized communities who regularly experience discrimination are much more stressed out than the majority population. And it’s the kind of stress that has long-lasting physical and mental effects.”

To support her stance, Fiore centres the voices of body positivity activist Jessamyn Stanley, Nicole Cardoza of Yoga Foster, and internationally renowned teacher Faith Hunter. The three community leaders reflect on their experiences as black women in yoga spaces and offer suggestions for change.

I shared the article on the IAYB Facebook page, with the pull-quote: “It’s no secret that the yoga world is dominated by white people who come from a place of privilege.” This provoked some comments and discussion, and I ended up having a great dialogue with a woman who started off as defensive, then reflected on her reaction and vowed to do better. Love seeing this kind of transformation on the internet!

This piece is a reminder that those of us with power and privilege need to step aside and make space for others to access the practice.

Should We Mix Yoga and Social Justice? (Yoga International)

The title of this article is clearly answered by the Bustle article above. Activist and scholar Sabrina Strings of the Yoga + Social Justice Collaborative does more than simply answer the question. She affirms that yoga has strong social justice roots, is a tool for self-care, and can be of benefit to anybody involved in social justice movements.

Strings has given us thoughtful insight into an often-discussed (on the internet, anyway) question. She starts off by pointing out that yoga has the potential to “serve as a platform for the inevitable fight for social justice that will attend a Trump presidency.”

She continues on to tell us that not only are yoga’s breathwork and mind-calming meditation aspects acts of self-care, but yoga can be the philosophical and scriptural foundation for social action. Speaking with conviction, Strings cautions against telling people how to carry out their social justice actions and suggests, instead, “studying the foundational texts and building our practice with their aims in mind.”

This article is a powerful and thought-provoking read for anyone who is interested in the intersection of these two dynamic forces.

As for the IAYB take on the question the title poses: Hell yes, we should be mixing yoga and social justice, if there are huge segments of population that aren’t accessing the practice (not to mention other even more basic needs) because of a complex system of structural inequality. Even better, we should be teaching yoga as an act of social justice, doing our parts to make sure that all communities have access to wellness and healthy living practices.

#Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement (New Yorker)

I love it when the New Yorker fixes its gaze on anything related to yoga culture – and the #vanlife movement, millenials who travel around in vans and make a living posting their lives on social media, definitely intersects. This article gives it the perfect NYer treatment.

As the author notes, “Scroll through the images tagged #vanlife on Instagram and you’ll see plenty of photos that don’t have much to do with vehicles: starry skies, campfires, women in leggings doing yoga by the ocean.” The article centres on the couple who founded and capitalized on the hashtag, with several references to how, when they’re on the road, one half of the couple spends her afternoons in the van doing yoga and writing in her journal.

It’s easy to draw parallels between #vanlife and modern yoga culture: a concern with image and branding, a new agey aesthetic, and an entreprenurial spirit.  “…For all its twee escapism, vanlife is a trend born out of the recent recession. The generation that’s fuelling the trend has significantly more student debt and lower rates of homeownership than previous cohorts. The rise of contract and temporary labor has further eroded young people’s financial stability.”

There’s something kind of annoying and depressing about #vanlife, but the NYer examines it with curiousity and compassion (as well as an ironic detachment). The article is just what I’ve been craving lately: a rigorously researched and detailed insight into a fascinating subculture.

Once upon a time (Wildyoga blog)

A short while back, Theodora Wildcraft shared a video of her teaching yoga with special needs children and, as she noted, “it went a bit viral.” In this post, she tells the story of her journey for those who may be encountering her work for the first time or just want to learn more.

With an air of near defiance, Wildcraft states, “I know this film made a lot of you cry. I’m not sorry for that. That’s what happens when yoga teachers are reminded of what we’re really trying to do in the world. These children remind me of that all the time.

She started by working with one student intensively and learning by trial and error, discovering over time that she has an instinct for connecting with special needs children. Yet, she maintains a humble and grounded approach, never taking credit for his growth or change. “I hope I helped him breathe a little easier, and enjoy his body more, but I’d never claim to heal him.”

After the first student, Wildcraft continued working with other children from the respite centre and developing a whole approach. She teaches the children one-on-one, adapting the practice for each person. Her work expands the possibility of what a yoga practice can be: “I have students so impaired that all I can do is massage their aching backs and try and get some circulation going in their frozen feet. I have one young student whose sole experience of yoga this far is applying and smelling a series of roll-on perfumes. In the process she’s getting used to her hands and feet being touched, and she’s breathing deeply through her nose.”

Wildcraft’s teaching practice is proof that there is a yoga for every body, including those that are perceived or labeled as “disabled.”

Fail of the week

This Well+Good story on “The most flattering leggings for all sizes” which featured images of thin women and profiled products that only came in small sizes. As one commenter posted: “It makes me feel like you think of people my size as a freak (I’m a 2x-3x) and I. AM. NOT. I exercise regularly, I buy leggings that fit me and I USE them. I am really angry after reading this.” As we all should be.

Featured photo by Sergey Zolkin via Unsplash

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  1. This is great. Thank you!!