Earlier this month I made a difficult–and exciting!–decision to stop teaching yoga for the most part and take a full time job with UltraViolet to work on gender equity issues. As I transition, I’ve been thinking of how yoga has shaped (and continues to shape) me as an activist and as a person, and what I take from my practice to my work.
I often think of something one of my teachers, Devarshi Hartman, told me. He said that yoga has the potential to make people feel things at a higher degree than they feel in their day to day life. Many of us–intentionally or unintentionally, for helpful reasons of self-preservation, or due to avoidance–don’t experience intensity. We may avoid conflict, stay away from the bad news of the world, and steer clear of things that make our body uncomfortable (I’ve certainly done all of those things).
So yoga. Imagine: you’re in chair pose, or wheel pose, or a lunge and your body is feeling things – like, hard things, like quads shaking, brow furrowing, sweat prickling things – at a level 6 or a level 7. You’re asked to take a deep breath. Breath into the sensation. Yah – INTO the sensation – INTO that intensity. And then it’s a level 8 or 9. And then you start feeling other things, emotional things, at a level 8 or a level 9. Yoga asks you to stay with it as it bubbles up. To breath with it. To see your own depth and marvel at what you can hold, without judgement or expectation.
That – to me – has been a revelation. There are moments for DOING, marching, agitating, educating, organizing. But yoga can be a time for observing and feeling and being – something so many of us are missing.
A few weeks ago a woman walked into my class. I asked how she was doing and she said “fine” “but I have this ache and this pain” “and my friend called me the other day, she may have cancer” “and I just heard about another shooting in the neighborhood where I work” and the tears began to fall. Tears that she didn’t even know she was holding back until she stepped into the space we shared. Because those things are sad and frustrating. They can make you feel helpless. They are so hard to sit with and, unless they are directly affecting your life, easier to avoid (even if they are directly affecting your life – they may be easier to avoid).
I believe deeply in the power of sitting and moving with those hard things. Looking at them, feeling them, and allowing their depth to change you. 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in her life. It’s illegal to be gay in 80+ countries. A black person is shot by the police or vigilante in this country every 28 hours. We’re literally destroying this planet. Try as we may to ignore them, these realities of sexism, heterosexism, racism, colonialism – of our wildly unequal society – exist and shape how we experience the world.
Yoga, whether you like it or not, makes you feel things. Yoga, if you give it a half a chance, will change you. Because it’s a practice that has been developed (and continues to develop) by generations of deep individuals AND because it’s an invitation into your own body, the things you hold, the things you’ve pushed down.
I’m an organizer and a campaigner. I believe in building people power to combat injustice and in strategically winning victories. Since I was in high school I’ve had a sense for seeing how power is held by whom and, through my work, I’ve been fortunate to see how communities can come together to take it back. But until the last year and a half, I didn’t consider what that meant in my own body. My work was all external. This past year and a half of focusing on yoga has reminded me that we hold injustices in our own bodies – that our own bodies can be a site for resistance and for healing.
I share this because . . . well, because shallow yoga is all around us. Almost always skinny, almost always white, almost always feminine-presenting, almost always wearing Lululemon or other designer clothing yoga is ubiquitous. *Note: I’m not blind to the fact that I just described myself.* But that’s not all (or most, or much) of what yoga is to me or can be. I share as an invitation to breath into sensation, to feel uncomfortable, to sense the scary and powerful person you are, and to let it change you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, omg, seriously thank you, to every student I’ve had, and every studio owner/space that let me teach. I have learned so very much. I will continue practicing, writing, and teaching on occasion. You can sign up for my newsletter to here about upcoming events.