As part of the Yoga + Social Justice training that I am thrilled to be able to participate in at Laughing Lotus San Francisco, I was required to fill out a detailed and thought-provoking questionairre. As part of Radical Self-Care for Radical Action (#RSC4RA), I am documenting every element of this training for this blog! I am writing this now from San Francisco, two hours away from joining the training myself. I missed the first day and, unfortunately, Jasmine’s class this morning because of train troubles and needing to be in NYC an extra day, but such is life. In the spirit of this training and RSC4RA, I am setting an intention for the day: gentleness + calm.
Anyways, I want to share with you some of my answers to the deep questions asked of me by the organizers of this training. Here goes…
What is social justice to you?
Social justice is a collective understanding that all members of society deserve to and should be treated with dignity and respect. It is the belief that all people deserve everything needed for physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Yet social justice does not stop at that understanding. Rather, that understanding translates to direct action that bridges gaps so that individuals become closer to obtaining all that they need to be Whole and have their existence in the world affirmed.
What is your understanding of privilege?
To this day when I think of privilege I still think of the Peggy McIntosh article on “invisible backpacks” that we all carry. I probably read it for the first time when I was in middle school and realized that my own backpack contained within it the fact that I’ve never been in a situation where my basic needs were not filled. With that privilege comes a complete lack of understanding for what that is like for others. I remember when I filled my first emergency food box as part of my AmeriCorps work and was told that I filled it with the bare minimum. My supervisor told me that when people are in crisis – when they lack in their basic needs – we need to approach our service work from a place of abundance. That was when I realized as well that my own privilege informs my biases. In this new year, my primary intention involves learning when to listen versus when to speak up, and in doing so, to call myself and others out – in the most gentle and implicit ways – on our privilege.
How do you navigate privilege and/or social justice as a yoga instructor?
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. So, for me, I navigate social justice as a yoga teacher by not teaching yoga full time. I don’t yet know if that is the right decision for me, but what it does mean is that I get to infuse my day-job as a third grade teacher with as much yoga (both the asana and a yogic attitude) as I can. This comes with practice. Through practicing at Laughing Lotus NYC I am able to refuel so that I can give to others. I have had times when I’ve had very little to give because I wasn’t refueling. This is a tension I find in my activist and teaching life in general: taking the time to fuel up so that I can respond rather than react to all the various chaotic life that comes up when immersed in service.
What is the relationship between yoga and social justice and privilege?
During this new era, I believe that we need to keep activism and social justice efforts continuous and sustainable; we cannot afford burnout. While burnout and activism have had close relationships to one another, so have healing practices and social change methodologies. We need to learn how to systematically refuel during these trying times. Yoga is a thoughtful, spiritual, emotional, and physical way of refueling so we can approach Social Justice Work from a place of intentionality and responsiveness.
What are three Yogic teachings or practices that bridge Yoga and Social Justice?
- Tapas – steady discipline (this means writing down actions – representatives to call! – in my planner, and carefully planning out the lessons I’ll teach).
- Aparigraha – non-possessiveness – as a way not to hoard conversations around social justice. As mentioned previously, my intention for the new year is to gauge when I need to listen versus when I need to speak up. Also, determine when I need to speak up and do so thoughtfully. And then, I intend to act from that space. I think it is imperative to act with intention. To act unintentionally is to act carelessly, and we can’t afford carelessness. I also want to acknowledge my own privilege and my own unique experiences. I want to use them to be a better listener anda better activist…which are really one in the same.
- Setting an Intention – As a yoga teacher and a practitioner, the asana practice offers me a specific time and ritual around intention-setting and asking myself (in the post-election words of writer Elizabeth Gilbert), “Who do I want to be in this situation?”