How can the yoga community put into action its values of interconnectedness, love and respecting humanity? In this guest post, Cristien Storm explores.
It is nine o’clock on a rainy Tuesday night and I’m tired and hungry. I want to go home and eat dinner. Instead, I sit with a young mother whose call to a crisis line connected her with in-home counseling and to me.
She sits on the edge of a brown faux-leather couch, silently crying. Her husband is in the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center where he has been held for two months waiting to find out if he qualifies for asylum. If he does not, he will be deported. If he is deported, the mother tells me she will no longer have any hope and she will follow through with her plan to kill herself.
I want to rip out my heart and hand it to her.
I want to send an army of badass ninjas to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center to smuggle her husband back home. I want anybody who has ever voted to deport “illegals” to look this little girl in the eyes as they explain why she has to grow up without a father. I want them to hold her gaze as they explain how a human being can be “illegal.”
We sit in silence.
For years, I’ve listened in yoga class as teachers talk about the interconnectedness of all living beings. I believe we are all interconnected. I do not, however, at this moment, feel interconnected with the young mother who sits on the end of a faux-brown leather couch, looking down at her hands folded neatly in her lap. I feel a million miles away, lost in a cloud of privilege.
I get to go home tonight. My family is not being ripped apart by inhumane immigration policies that do not reflect the interdependence of every US citizen on the millions of immigrants living, working and paying taxes in this country. I feel helpless and small, ineffective and brutally stripped down to the core of my humanity.
She will not tell her me her suicide plan. Only that she has one and that her daughter will be safe if she decides to do it.
I want to tell her, Think of your daughter growing up without a mother and a father.
But I know everyone has said this to her for the past forty-eight hours. She does not need to be told to think of her daughter. She needs her own pain witnessed, seen, held. And she needs some badass immigration lawyer or the aforementioned ninjas.
As I sit with a young mother holding her suicide plan like a talisman, doubt nibbles deep inside my core. Believing in interconnectedness seems a frail gesture.
It is not enough to feel connected. We have to act as if we believe we are connected.
There is talk in my yoga classes about the need to take yogic principles off the mat. Most of these discussions remain focused on being kind to one another and helping ourselves as individuals, reflecting the idea that reducing our suffering allows us to help others more. Please put on your own oxygen mask first. I get it. There is truth is this. But it is not enough.
Acts of kindness are important, critical even, to repairing a sense of disconnection from one another. But they are not enough to interrupt and alter deeply entrenched systems of inequity. Some people say yoga is not political but spiritual. This is not true. Yoga is political and spiritual. Taking a yoga class cannot be done outside of social structures that impact people in myriad ways.
Yoga studios and those making money off the business of yoga would do well to recognize that Samadhi, or a sense of oneness and connection with the universe and all living beings, is also about solidarity. Being connected with the world means being engaged in the world and engagement is a deeply political and social act.
The United States is bursting at its Lululemon seams with yogis seeking enlightenment, sending out love, good energy, and a focused intention that beings not suffer. Given the realities of marginalization, systemic barriers and ongoing structural inequities in this country, it is critical that social justice minded actions back up good vibes and good intentions.
It will take more than donating money or lamenting immigration policies and clicking support icons on Moveon.org sites and then going to a 5 pm yoga class after work to create meaningful social change. The very concepts of yoga can be used to mobilize individuals, teachers, students, studio owners to act in real time tangible ways to interrupt suffering.
This is what yoga means to me, where the yogic grit meets the road of social justice.
I am not saying that each and every yoga class needs to always actively engage in political actions. I am suggesting, however, that when a community, that represents a multimillion dollar industry, centers around values of interconnectedness, love and respecting the humanity in all of us that it is important to take those values seriously, on and off the mat.
The baby girl giggles as she picks up a Minnie Mouse pillow, shakes it with delight and stuffs a bright red corner in her mouth. Her mother and I watch as she laughs and tosses the pillow on the carpet. Her mother smiles at her daughter and reaches out her arms. Her daughter waddles towards her, grinning.
I understand my actions matter. That the impact of my convictions will be weighed not by how I feel, but how I act. I will go home, eat dinner and send out loving kindness towards this family and every being who is suffering. Then I will roll up my sleeves and find ways to act in solidarity, address the massive inequities some communities face and work to create more justice in the world.
About the writer: Cristien Storm has written and performed all her life, starting with short political rants about grade school social hierarchies and on to performances with powerhouses including Lydia lunch, Exene Cervenka and Joan Jett. She is the author of Living In liberation: Boundary Setting, Self-Care & Social Change and three chapbooks Eye of the Storm, Passing Go and Moments. Her poetry has been included on various recordings including Heart of a Dog, Stop Rape Now and The Art of Self Defense. She has had the privilege of performing with many amazing artists and is grateful to each and every one whose commitment to their passion makes the world a better place. Cristien is a co-founder and former Director of Home Alive, where she developed and facilitated self-defense and boundary setting curricula rooted in traditional marital arts and progressive liberation theory.