The Yoga of Empowerment
I came to yoga right around the time I came to social justice work. For me, the two will always be inextricable—and that’s not because I was doing yoga while making calls on a phone bank.
It’s because at the root of both, I see a desire to be fully embodied—accepted and free.
What Yoga Has to Do With It
When I first became an activist, my yoga always came second. I thought I had far more “important” things to do than make time for a yoga class—or even just my own mat for a few minutes at the end of the day.
The work I did was primarily around women’s rights, and I lived that phrase “the personal is political.” What many people miss about this is that it’s not that everything that happens in my individual life is political but rather that things I view as personal problems (e.g. not liking my body) are often actually systemic (e.g. sexism).
Over time, I came to realize just how important it was for me to be grounded and in my body in order to organize for change. Because when we leave the body out of conversations about the world we’re working toward, we miss a great source of wisdom—both individually and collectively.
What Social Justice Has to Do With It
Just as yoga can inform social justice, the flip side is also true. In yoga, I’ve seen too many people give up their power, and it’s often due to some inverse of “the personal is political.” In the yoga world that flip side sometimes seems to get translated as: “Everyone else seems to be able to do x pose, or follows y teacher, so I probably should, too, or else I’ll ‘miss out’ on something valuable.”
The framework of lineage can be powerful; it’s a beautiful and humbling thing to know that you’re learning from your teacher, who learned from their teacher, who learned from their teacher, and so on.
However, lineage and a harmful idea of community can also be used to disempower—in the sensational stories we all know about—but also in more subtle and pernicious ways. Yoga students give up their power every time they do what a teacher asks them to, even when they’re pretty sure it’s not going to be right for their body.
The Yoga of Empowerment
I believe that both of these communities have much to teach each other. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in my life is how to stand on my own two feet—in my truth, integrity and boundaries—in my blend of internal alignment. This is something I’ve learned just about equally from both communities (among other places, of course).
As a teacher, I see my most important job as helping students tune into their inner teacher. As that personal connection muscle grows, it seems more possible to me that not only can individuals find more power in their own lives, but that they can also come together to work for the yoga community and world they want.