Harm Reduction. To reduce the harm that yoga teachers may unknowingly cause in the yoga classroom, due to lack of training or awareness of power and trauma. Due to marketing and the commodification of yoga, many communities feel dissuaded from practicing, or that it is intended for bodies unlike their own. It is our hope that due to the impact of this training (and further inquiry into practicing justice), more people of color, disabled people, queer people, trans people, non-English speakers, and fat people will retain and feel empowered, nourished, and welcomed within their yoga practice spaces.
Power and Solidarity. To provide awareness of inevitable power dynamics in yoga classes and ways of providing solidarity- when we look at and get to talk about “diversity and yoga,” it seems like a lot of us want to “help.” We want to be clear that our goal is not to help make helpers more helpful; what we actually want to do is draw on the limitless possibility of yoga for practicing justice, for transforming our relationships to privilege and oppression, and for redistributing power and leadership in healing the suffering our communities are facing.
Yoga is Justice. Both yoga and justice pursuits are about liberation-- collective and individual. To be practicing yoga is to be practicing justice-- it is a lifelong inquiry, exploration, and commitment. This training is thus intended to be a stone on your path, perhaps opening new doors.
Who teaches yoga? We want to increase how many different communities feel comfortable in or entitled to a yoga class or space, that yoga IS for them. Through this studio or YTT including this training in what they offer, it is our hope that that in itself will draw people of various experiences into the training and practice of yoga, and thus there will become a wider array of human diversity that represent and teach yoga.
The honor and power of being considered a teacher. Yoga teachers have power in a classroom. We have the honor of taking the seat of the teacher, and sitting in the lineages of spiritual seekers who have also been seen as teachers. We seek to use our power for good-- for the liberation of all beings and creatures, and pursue that with gratitude and responsibility for those who came before us.
Being aware of our skill-sets, and teaching from what we know. The role of yoga teacher can include the skills of (or be projected onto us by students to have the skills of) physical therapist, psychotherapist, massage therapist, trauma specialist, nutrition expert, yoga philosopher, energy healer, Sanskrit scholar, DJ, fashion icon. We need to learn to be clear on what we know and what we don’t know, and comfortable communicating that to students. It can be alluring to not defy the expectations of the role, but that is irresponsible to the tradition of yoga, ourselves, and our students, and can cause great harm.
More training is needed. Yoga teachers are asked to hold space for students’ bodies, hearts, and souls, and that takes time, intention, and practice. Traditionally, assuming this role involved a lifetime of work and study. In 200 hours of training, one becomes “certified” to hold this, which is inadequate training for holding all of humanity given the histories of violence and separation that surround us. It is our hope that this helps you understand what you do not know, which communities or experiences that you are unfamiliar with, and to seek further learning as a responsible yogi.
Acknowledging our differences. On the path to oneness, we need to recognize the particular experience each of us have, and not universalize what it is to be human. We all come from different upbringings, communities, values, and life philosophies and bring this into how we teach yoga. Once we become aware of this, we step more clearly into our authentic selves, which allows our students to step bravely into themselves. We are all inherently connected, come from the same source, and have divinity within us, AND we are all treated differently in the world and on our mats due to our identities and life experiences.
Healing hurts. We have all been hurt by others; we have all hurt others-- and hurt people hurt people. We have all hurt people with power or privilege, and we have all been hurt by power or privilege. Power and privilege establish separation, which divides all of us in our humanity and the greater web of interdependence. Oppressions directly or indirectly hurt all of us, and in the journey towards and aspiration of Samadhi, we have to reconcile and forgive all of the hurts of humanity.
Not the be-all, end-all. This training is the tip of the iceberg, and it could be extended into a weekend- or week-long course. There will be loose ends, and many questions-- it is our hope that those questions are a fertile land of growth.
Where this came from. This training evolved out of Off the Mat, Into the World, the Yoga Service Council, the Lineage Project, and other “yoga service” organizations that have been involved in this work. It also evolves out of the countless traditions of justice that involve spiritual practice-- from the work of Gandhi, Freedom Summers, the Black Panthers, seed-saving movements, worker-owned cooperatives all over the world, organic food movement, ACT UP, etc-- the spiritual work sustains the justice work, and the justice work propels our spiritual development. We did not create this training-- it evolved out of previous justice work and spiritual attainment.
Where we are going. We offer this training to YTTs and yoga studios all over the country for all the reasons listed above. Later on, we will do a training of trainers, to involve more people in conducting this training, because we alone cannot fulfill the demand for this work. Eventually, we intend yoga to be a practice and community of justice-workers, and change-makers.