Yoga + Social Justice: The Preliminary Inner Work

YogaSocialJustice-HomePage4.jpgAs 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?”

written from stanza coffee in san francisco’s mission district, a convenient 1/2 block away from laughing lotus sf

 

2017 Intentions

Happy New Year!

While I am not the biggest fan of resolutions, I am a lover of intention-setting. I think that what deters me from setting resolutions is the idea that we somehow wake up radically different on one single day of the year. It denies the essential fact that change is a process. Intentions are inherently processual; they are all about setting an intention to begin a change or even a particular attitude that a change might represent. Intentions accept us where we are, as we are, and encourage us to be better – not “new” – versions of ourselves. So, without further ado, here are my intentions for the year to come. All I can try to diligently do is my best to infuse them into my everyday.

  1. 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. As I’ve clearly written about on this blog before, I believe we are entering (have entered?) a new wave of activism. 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 and a better activist…which are really one in the same.
  2. Live Lightly. These words are the lock screen on my iPhone and a fierce inspiration that came from another blogger, Miranda of Miranda’s Notebook. She writes,

    One big realisation I’ve had in living lightly is that everything is connected. What first started me on this journey was the desire to be more productive and fit more in my day. I then realised how closely productivity is linked, not only with good systems, but with my energy levels. You don’t have a great morning routine unless your evening routine ensures you’ve got a good night’s sleep. To have more energy, you need to exercise and eat right. Cleaning out your closets, developing your own style and living in a space that reflects your personal values and taste allows for organised, empowered living. Just as you can get trapped in a negative spiral of bad habits and unhealthy choices, so too can you be transformed by the positive cycle that starts with just one good habit, or one powerful statement like I want to be more productive.

  3. Embrace hyggeIt’s been getting a lot of buzz lately and I’ve personally found that there’s a reason for that. Hygge, which has no real direct translation from its Danish roots, is the epitome of what it means to be comfortable in our homes, and to make our homes soothing and comfortable places we’d want to be in. It involves sipping warm beverages, cozying up in corners with a good book, and lots and lots of blankets. Because it’s been getting so much buzz lately, it’s my pleasure to have culled together some resources on the subject: the Tea & Tattle Podcast has an episode entitled “All About Hygge,” The New York Times has a fabulous article on it, as does The New Yorker, and I have a Pinterest board entirely devoted to this art of getting cozy!
  4. Read 50 books. I set a Goodreads goal this year by joining their 2017 challenge!

What are your 2017 intentions? Broaden the possibilities of what this year can look like in the comments!

New Years Eve + New Years Day in Manhattan: An Alternative Ringing-In

When everyone else seems to be taking one back in Times Square anxiously awaiting the drop of a ball, thousands of New Yorkers have their eyes closed and their breath big in downward facing dog. When ringing 2014 in, I joined in this tradition and there’s no going back for me because really, it’s quite fun to show up fashionably late to a New Years Eve party (i.e. after midnight) and why not make a grand entrance with a fabulous post-yoga glow?

Here’s the Growing Up On OM guide to ringing in 2016.

NEW YEARS EVE

Harlem Yoga Studio 108 Sun Salutations

139.jpgFull disclosure: this is the NYE event I’m most excited about because I’ll be attending it and teaching some of the sun salutations at one of my true hOMe studios where I teach my weekly 5:45pm Saturday class. From my personal FB page:

SO INCREDIBLY EXCITED to ring in the New Year with lovely teachers and yogis. Very excited to lead some of the sun salutations in this event (a yoga nerd dream of mine). C’mon by and flow with us NYE – blog post to persuade you even more forthcoming!

  • Teachers: a HYS variety!
  • 9:45pm – Midnight
  • $20

Come Ring in the New Year with deep breaths, Yoga, Community, and lots of LOVE! 10 PM through Midnight! Join many of your favorite HYS teachers and fellow Yogis as we celebrate the passing of 2015, and welcome 2016 with intention and open hearts. We will meet, ground, throw away what is not needed from the past year, and offer our intentions and wishes for 2016. Then together we will complete 108 Sun Salutations led by various teachers. We will end with a collective Metta meditation and then mingle and snack with healthy, nourishing food (and cookies!).

Why 108? The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. There are 108 Upanishads, and according to yogic tradition there are 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.

Register here or just show up at the door!

Integral Yoga Institute 108 Sun Salutations: Peace, Prayers + Loving Energy 

  • Teacher: Nalini Kuhnke
  • 5-6:30pm
  • By Donation

364.jpgWhat better way to welcome 2016 than to stretch, breathe, and celebrate Yoga with 108 sun salutations, led by the wonderful IYI teacher Nalini? Come and enjoy the sacred space of IYI’s Lotus Room as you join with other Yogis and Yoginis in this beautiful practice. Whatever you do for the rest of the evening, you’ll be refreshed, energized, and ready for a great new year.

Register here.

Laughing Lotus Let Magic Reign w. Victor

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  • Teacher: Victor Colletti
  • 10pm-Midnight
  • $60

Patti Smith was taught by her mother that the way she spent the first day of the year would influence the following 364 – so start YOUR 2016 off right with this two-hour intention-setting ceremony filled with fluid asana, chanting, powerful kriyas!

Register here.

NEW YEARS DAY

New Years Soul Sweat w. Dana Trixie Flynn

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  • 1-2:30pm
  • Laughing Lotus

 

Join Dana for a deep and beautiful fluid practice that rolls into a delicious gong bath. Let’s start the year off together with more energy and sweetness. All Levels.

New Years Day Yin Yoga Class

  • 3-4:30pm
  • Susan Derwin
  • Laughing Lotus

We will take time to ground, to release what is in the past, and to open up and create space and intention for the New Year!  Yin yoga is a more passive practice, utilizing props and gravity to facilitate lengthening of the connective tissue to increase mobility.  This class is open to all levels, including beginners.

@YogaGirl Virtual 108 Sun Salutations (Live from the Upper East Side)

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Happy New Year! May 2016 be happy, joyous + free!

Namaste,

Shira

written from the boca raton resort

2015 Intentions

via my friend georgia's fb page

via my friend georgia’s fb page

This year, I intend to

actively share my writing on shiraengel.com, other blogs + publications

heal with strength

be of service

proactively seek out help that i want + need (including mentors!) with courage + without shame

Inhaling & Exhaling: Courage & Grace Day Five

our lovely vegan cake celebration of our week together before we chanted each other's names as we collected our diplomas

our lovely vegan cake celebration of our week together before we chanted each other’s names as we collected our diplomas

dancing to keith's kirtan

dancing to keith’s kirtan

As tends to happen with these trainings, the question on the last day is about integration. For five days, we had inspiration at our fingertips with master classes in both the mornings and afternoons, chanting right after lunch, and one-on-one mentorship from two of the best teachers I know. You may notice at this point that I have italicized the in in the words that contain it in this post thus far (sorry for being redundant; I was an English major and linguistics fascinate me!). When I taught fifteen minutes of a class to teachers I have utmost respect for in the afternoon on our last day, I centered the practice around a quote I read years ago from a rather funny source: The Burlesque Handbook:

Inspiration means ‘to breathe in.’

And so this week we did a lot of inhaling. Upon leaving this training, I learned quickly, it was time to exhale the knowledge we gained and to harness it! I left with my heart feeling full and abundant and grateful and with concrete ways to integrate this practice into all my affairs. It was time to allow for the expansiveness of the exhale.

On the Thrill of Summer and My First-Ever Teaching Schedule in NYC!

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writing from a water taxi en route to the venice airport

I love summer. This is because I have bad both the best of times during the summer (practically incomparable and completely set aside from life the rest of the year – making all else seem mundane) and the worst of times (but the best of times have been so fantastic that they overcompensate for the worst of times in a way that redeems the entire season). I used to leave it up to chance: every other year is Great Summer; every other year is Sad Summer. But when I leave it up to chance like that, I lose my own opportunity to – to use a total cliche – take life by the reins and gallop (okay, I made that last one up, recalling my first of very few horseback riding lessons from ten summers ago). I had a great summer last summer: exhilarating, fulfilling, joyful, content. And this summer I will too! Opportunities already abound and I’m in New York this summer…maybe for the last summer in a while. I already went to Italy and have so much to look forward to.

One of these things is (drumroll please) A TEACHING SCHEDULE. Why is having a teaching schedule vital to my summer happiness and fulfillment, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

For the past 3 years, I have found boundless joy, energy, and satisfaction in teaching yoga at school. Confined to a college campus, I had a fixed community in which I could be of service through helping people move their bodies, release tension, and connect to cOMmunity. The last class I taught at school ended up teaching me two things:
1. Teaching gives me so much joy and being able to test tube this passion of mine in a college environment with such a thriving social component has made my first three years of teaching yoga deeply personal and enriching.
2. At the end of the class, I mentioned that the following week I’d be teaching a demo class at Harlem Yoga Studio so if anyone was in NYC, they should stop by. People came up to me with sheer enthusiasm about this prospect. This taught me a very important lesson: my “last class” at school was one of the “first classes” of a lifetime!

A week later, I was hired as a summer sub at Harlem Yoga Studio and given a full teaching schedule. A new shipment of Larabars (I’m an ambassador for that fantastic company) will arrive in July so there will be freebies to fuel the practice like at school. I hope to see some familiar faces, but almost more than that I am thrilled to meet new faces that will soon become familiar as well. And I also just found out that on the summer solstice (June 2oth) in the middle of Times Square, I’ll be assisting a ginormous class giving hands-on adjustments as per the fantastic Ali Cramer’s cue. This, I earnestly believe, is my Summer Dharma.

What’s yours?

Welcome + Intention-Setting

Yoga-world1

Hi world!

Yes, I understand that most blog templates pre-make your first sample post to begin with Hi world! but I, Shira, actually and truly mean it. I am saying hi to the world because this blog will document how I interact with it. All of it. In this week alone, I moved home to New York City from Connecticut. Tomorrow I fly out to Chicago on a whim. And on Sunday I leave to Rome, Florence, and Venice. So yes, I actually mean Hi world! and world, please say hi back.

On another note, welcome, welcome to this blog, a space for growing up nourished by an oft-confusing yoga-filled path. On Sunday, I graduated from college. Click on the link to find out more about that bittersweet experience; what is important for all readers of this blog to know is that throughout college, I blogged on the Tumblr Story of a College Yogi. That story ended four days ago, but this story – a story of growing up without the comforts of a campus is just beginning. Let’s grow up yogi together.

Here are my intentions for this new blog (and what you can expect):

  • I intend to write personal reflections (in yoga we call this svadhyaya, self-study) posts that document just how I am growing up as a college yogi.
  • I intend to provide a yogi’s guide to various cities, which chronicle yoga studios I attend classes I take, cafes I frequent, and various other elements of urban life that are important to a yogi’s day-to-day!
  • I intend to publish opinion pieces so that this blog can be a space where I and others may reflect on the current “yoga world” and how it can interact with the greater World.
  • I intend to publish guest posts and cross-blog posts that I write for other blogs and forums as well.
  • I intend to post playlists for the classes I teach, dharma talks, and general resources.
  • I intend to write about and chronicle the teacher trainings and workshops I take so that in some way, you all can take them as well via my take-aways.
  • I intend to post about organizations that do amazing work off the mat and embody the true essence of Yoga.

There is more to come, but for now, welcome and I am thrilled to explore this new forum!

 

Image via JewishYogaNetwork.org