Don’t Be Fooled: Here’s the Truth About Yoga

You might look at the above photo and think you’re seeing “yoga.” You’re not. Yoga is actually a concept meaning “union.” It has 8 categories of experiential practice called “limbs.” Each limb explores the body, mind, breath, senses, heart, Spirit, and the way we act in the world, with others and our environment, respectively. The intention of exploring these limbs collectively is what the texts and great teachers of yoga assert will bring about this “unified,” “whole” or connected state within us. When you consider that we humans are dimensional, i.e. made up of various aspects as well, including a body, mind, heart, and Spirit (feel free to decode the meaning of that word in the way that supports you best), yoga is an ancient and genius form of technology from India designed to help us learn to compassionately hold the discomfort and work through the tension that occurs when life circumstances cause these elements of ourselves to be discordant. Yoga is intended to help bring about our harmonious and optimal functioning so we can go about living our best lives.

Racism: A Social Agreement Designed to Break Us

Racism is a social construct, a set of explicit and implicit agreements that uphold life as we all understand it. Racism thoroughly informs the systems that we exist within, i.e. educational, criminal justice, welfare, political, healthcare, etc. most of which are broken.  Racism elevates one group of people above another based on skin color, which is in itself an irrational and untrue distortion of reality. Racism has the impact of fragmenting, in fact traumatizing, even if only vicariously, the harmony among body, mind, spirit and heart (I can’t breathe). None of us can escape the trauma of racism, but white people, particularly white, cis-gendered males, benefit materially from this social construct, while everyone else’s life hangs in some slight to extreme degree of imbalance as we work to liberate ourselves from a deck stacked against us, all because of a false construct called white supremacy. Make no mistake about it: racism depraves, dehumanizes and distorts all racist perpetrators spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally without anti-racism engagement, repair and the making of amends. And yoga could be more universally engaged with by practitioners to heal that depravity.

Democracy: An Inspired Political Construct? We Have Yet to See.

Democracy is also one of the systems that we exist within. It was designed by America’s original revolutionaries to skillfully hold the tension of the many and divergent views held by America’s citizens. These revolutionaries ran from European monarchies which allowed solely a singular governing view and directive. In America, they shared the hope of fulfilling their diverse needs and dreams by coming to a “unifying agreement” (law)  that satisfied the majority, not just one king or one land-owning group. Right now, we are fighting to uphold both a unified and free state within individual and collective black bodies, minds, hearts and Spirits in America. (Watch a moving example of this here in which Kamala Harris and Cory Booker oppose an amendment proposed by Rand Paul on anti-lynching legislation.) We are also fighting to prevent the destruction of our democratic technology that is designed to honor the views of all its citizens through its national representatives. Today it is clear that this fight is an urgent one because no one can escape the suffering caused by the laws of our nation’s past and present and their destructive impact on Black lives like those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, not even by going to the yoga studio. Finally, it seems that the world is waking up about our collective liberation being dependent on the democratic freedom to fight for what’s right.

And Now the Practice of Yoga Begins

If you are a yoga teacher or practitioner and do not see the connection between the technology of yoga and the powerful impact it should be having on our conversations and how to take action with regard to race, protest, democracy, the capacity for Black people to be allowed the dignity to live whole and free lives, as yoga aims to support us to do, consider that your yoga practice has not really begun yet. In fact, you’ve been treacherous, even if well-meaning. If you are going to call yourself a yogi, you need to get some skin in the game, and take ownership of the fact that the conflict between race and democracy is your issue, too. In the same way you are willing to work your butt off to achieve some wild and crazy-looking arm balance, which has no intrinsic benefit to you if we’re being honest, why wouldn’t you commit yourself to working for racial and social justice?

The heart of yoga is breath (the life force that animates the body), compassionate, “right action” toward self and others, and navigating challenging times like these with a passionate and committed heart. We begin life with our first breath, and life ends with our last. If yoga practitioners can not see the importance of fighting for the right to breathe, for the breath and bodies of Black people, you are not yogis.