Yoga + Social Change: Diary of a Training

Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.
Gloria SteinemRevolution from Within

Day One

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For the past four years, I “worked” my toosh off as a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major studying the theories behind social change. Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga – you name it, I’ve read it. But it is only now, half a year out of college, that I am doing what I studied. As a Community Involvement Specialist (I LOVE my position title!) at a Title I elementary school, I am doing so much of it that I forget what I studied. There is, I am realizing, a dire need for praxis in basic needs work: action and reflection working in constant dialogue with one another. This I learned from Paulo Freire.

But I today I learned from Molly, the director of the Samarya Center in Seattle and a pioneer in creating a field out of yoga therapy. Her words were praxis embodied. She gave us concrete things and actions to reflect upon as we discussed social change, our own biases, defined our terms rigorously and truly thought about what effective action means. With everything that has been going on in this country, I could not imagine a better time to do this training. But then again, sh*t is always happening. It is always a good time for a training like this.

Molly’s words felt like college. They felt like academia, but they also felt real. The “yoga” component of the training was hardly addressed; it was implicit (which was good because in case you forgot I attended this training with a broken leg. As it should be. This training reminded me that I want my yoga teaching and practice to mirror my overall philosophy on yoga: that it is a bridge and a way of life. Yoga is a technique for getting to higher practices…like doing the work and actually serving people and causes. Yoga is not a full time job; it is not its own “yoga world,” as many blogs and clothing stores and studios talk about. Yoga is fueled by real experiences. Experiences of social change and action and reflection. This is the work.

This is the time, as much as ever, to become engaged. Not surprised, not despairing, not unhinged. Engaged.

Participate in the everyday possibilities all around you. Gain and hone the practice and skills needed to co- create, to share a burden, to have your voice heard, to put your money where your values are, to let others’ voices be heard, to encourage inclusion and open mindedness and heartedness.

You can practice these things every single day. Become engaged.

Practice in the straight away what you’ll use in the curve. You say you want a revolution? The revolution begins within. – Molly Lannon Kenny

Day Two

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On the second and last day of this training, I thought a lot about the ripple effect of change. As Molly and others talked, I reflected in my notebook about how we see ourselves change gradually through these practices. When I first started going to Pure Yoga six years ago, for example, I would go to a yoga class every Tuesday night that made what Molly labeled yesterday as “boundless compassion.” When we chanted, I literally felt my heart physically expand. I dedicated every wheel pose to being of greater service in the world. Then, I owuld walk the five blocks home and start yelling at my mother for “messing up” dinner.

I was sixteen and angry. But a seed of mindfulness had been planted.

Fast forward five years and my mother grew so inspired by how, after more time of letting the yoga integrate itself in my mind and heart, I became actually more compassionate and tranquil at home and school. And with with my friends. And in the activist groups I became a part of. In short, I became less angry. But more importantly, my mom now goes to yoga every day. She feels better because of it. The irony of this whole ripple effect phenomenon that I am describing is that I thought I was so incredibly, utterly (I only half-apologize for the adverbs) selfish to be doing so much “for myself.” At my first yoga class with my skewed chatarangas, I had no freaking idea that I would become a yoga teacher. Or work in the service sector in such a hardcore way. Or teach hundreds of people. Or teach students their first wheel poses…students hwo would then go on to become yoga teachers themselves. I did not know then just how unselfish these practices become when we keep doing the work.

This, to me, is where yoga and social change come together as a natural pairing, lovers that birth revolution.

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