Yoga for Countering Oppression

The issue of racism is so close to my heart because growing up it never made sense to me (I was very fortunate to go to school with friends of all colors) but also because I was a girl, am a woman, which has it's own baggage of systemic oppression and cultural conditioning which limits the full flowering of society’s potential.

lord-shiva sword.jpg

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and
ennobles the man who wields it.

It is a sword that heals.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How can work together to raise awareness about systemic oppression and the power of introspection to lead us to love in action in order to bring about an inclusive, respectful, united nation and world. As Dr. King said, "Love wins." Love and light always prevail, even after the darkest of times.

Why, when there is only one race, the human race, is the system is so slow to change?

The reason is deep. Human beings are complicated. In order to support healing and unity, we individuals must look deeply inside ourselves to see how we are internally divided. Doing this gives us a clue. Observing how we limit, shame, reject and abuse ourselves with our own thoughts and actions is the practice of Yoga. Ignorance, contrary to the popular saying, is the opposite of bliss because it allows us to turn away from reality the of suffering, our own and that of others.

But when we see clearly how we argue with and turn on ourselves (usually in the moment just before we shame or blame another), we expand in consciousness which leads to compassion and change.

Then we move into the experience of Yoga through Ahimsa, or not-harming, which extends from our core out into the world.

A couple of links, especially for my white bothers and sisters who may not fully grasp “why it’s still an issue” “after all this time”…

If you haven't read The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew, I encourage you to do so.  Click here or on the image for a free download:

If you haven't read The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew, I encourage you to do so.

Click here or on the image for a free download:

Also, I think it's amazing how Rod Serling's speech (Rod Serling was the creator of The Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes) at UCLA in 1966 could have easily been given yesterday. So relevant to our current social situation.

Here's the link:

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And an excerpt from MLK's Letter from Birmingham jail and a link to the whole thing:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was "well timed" according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "wait." It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration.

We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

#metoo #wetoo #yogatoo

I am actually not surprised that the #metoo movement also applies to the Yoga community. I have heard of the issues with BXX and JXX in the past and I have had my own experiences.

While the behavior described in the many stories Rachel Brathen has collected so far points to feelings of insecurity, inferiority and resentment in the psyche of the predator, stories like these are especially painful for me to read.  

Here’s a link to her blog post:

While I am not "surprised," my feelings of disgust, anger and sadness are intensified because of the nature of the setting in which these trespasses of trust & respect occurred and do occur.
As one woman states in her story, “It breaks my heart because I know how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be in yoga. That was the only place I really allowed myself to be so vulnerable.”
Because the physical practice of yoga is usually where we begin in the West, and because the business of Yoga in the USA very much capitalizes on the physical practice, male teachers who prey on young women in a physical way and violate what is expected to be a safe space, I consider to be particularly lamentable. I would like to see them lose their YA teaching certifications and be banned from teaching, if not forever, at least for a long, long time, like 30+ years long.
I feel sad. And also REALLY glad that all the women across all industries are sharing their stories (and men too).
All human beings, male and female, have the potential to grow huge egos that overpower their reason and restraint.
Having practiced and studied yoga for over 23 years, I have seen this truth in myself and others.
Yoga practitioners and teachers are human beings with their unique blends of strengths and limitations. Practice is important. And while, after 23 years of practice, I often still feel like a "beginner," I can say for certain that doing sun salutations, eating a raw, vegan diet, drinking green juice and perfecting your handstand is not going to lead you to the promised land.
True yoga practice is really, seriously challenging work and sometimes deeply painful. Opening oneself to meditate on and experience the darkest corner of the soul is powerful and brave as well as super scary and damn hard. I know this. If you do too, I've got your back.


Becoming aware of our patterns, experiencing our limitations, observing our conditioned thoughts and behavior can be surprising if not truly shocking.
Not all who practice and teach yoga are ready to do that, and some don't need to, but many will become ready and many find that they do need to.
With all that said, the transformation true yoga practice promises is TRULY possible.
And it is INTENTION that is the root of any significant transformation.
INTENTION, practiced #everydaymnday #everydamnminute, is what will open the doors to the recognition and experience of our true power and sense of empowerment. This requires slowing down, being kind and generous with ourselves, walking the middle path - not too loose, not to strict - and having the DESIRE - the desire to break through to the "other side", the dot above the line in the OM. Jai!



So it's important for us all to consider, "What do I truly want?" Do I want a great body? Do I want to become a star? Do I want to be perfectly pure? Do I want to have power over others? Or do I want to experience the genuine and lasting happiness that I, as a human being and magnificent miracle of creation, was born to experience?
And why? And what does that mean for me? And about me?
And how?
As far as teachers go, I have had my own experiences with idealizing "the teacher", the teacher being promoted as bigger-than-life, all-knowing, and "needed." Beware of this as you look for "Teacher." Be discriminating and trust your intuition.
I have learned I have many teachers - not just in the form of yoga instructors. I have learned to take what has value for me and leave the rest, to be able to say, "that's your issue, not mine."

If you have read this far, thank you for reading this post. Please share your own thoughts if you feel moved to do so.
I will be teaching a course in the new year on how EVERYONE can experience genuine and lasting fulfillment, happiness and bliss. This course will be grounded in classical yoga but will offer modern and accessible "translations" and exercises as well as coaching, community and loads of support for those who would like to do the work. I will post more about this over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I feel great love and admiration for all the women and men who are speaking up, for all my teachers and students, family and friends, and I offer my experience, encouragement and support in any way that I am able. Please reach out.
Keep sharing, keep listening, keep breathing -
Even breathing...
breathing in ...
love, compassion, joy, equanimity
breathing out ...
love, compassion, joy, equanimity

Peace -