I have invited two guest presenters to write about this month’s theme. Today we are featuring Melanie Klein, a writer and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. May we continue recognizing prejudice that prevents us from opening our hearts.
When I started practicing yoga in 1996, I saw many different bodies, bodies from varying backgrounds and social locations, on the mat – and those bodies were not cloaked in designer yoga gear nor were they paying $20+ for drop-in classes. And I was fortunate enough to practice with Bryan Kest in a studio he ran (and continues to run) on donation basis. By offering classes on donation, many of the divisions that have become commonplace and often unrecognized in yoga studio culture were minimized.
By eliminating the steep financial hurdle that bars many yogis (and potential yogis) from creating a consistent practice in a group setting, there also existed a greater degree of diversity than I have seen in most yoga studios in the last fifteen years. Not only did the accessibility and diversity create a colorful and inspiring atmosphere that consistently nurtured my practice for many years, it was a welcoming space to yogis from many walks of life.
Through unexamined biases, structural inequality and unsafe or unwelcoming spaces, people are often unable to access the benefits of a yoga practice. Or they may feel yoga is simply not for them. And yoga should be for all people, no matter their financial means, age, race or ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, size or dis/ability.
Every body is a yoga body.
Prejudice is a belief or pre-judgment that may (or may not) result in discriminatory action. Prejudice is connected to power and privilege with dominant groups oppressing subordinate groups in both covert and overt ways. Prejudice not only lives inside us, it is systematic and woven into the fabric of society often making it invisible or taken-for-granted. Most privileged groups are largely unaware of their advantages and are often unknowingly contributing to the oppression of others through that lack of awareness.
Social change requires awareness plus action.
Raising consciousness and living consciously is the practice of yoga.
For the month of October, the residents of the Integral Yoga Institute have chosen to practice recognizing the forms of prejudice in ourselves that prevent us from opening our hearts to all and, in the process, preventing or slowing social change.
While we may be able to detect and identify internalized and unexamined prejudice in our heart through awareness, we must also work mindfully in community to elevate the collective vibration of society.
Here are a few ways to practice this intention of identifying (and obliterating) prejudice and working as allies and comrades in solidarity and love.
— Examine your own privilege. This may be challenging, if not painful, and may induce feelings of shame or guilt but this is a necessary step. Meditate on how YOU benefit from the existing power structures that are sexist, racist, able-ist, size-ist, classist, heteronormative and ageist.
— Be an ally by opening your heart and listening.
— Do the work. Allow your increased awareness to move you into action, however that may play out for you.
— Ask yourself how you can contribute to an accessible, welcoming space for all without tokenizing anyone.
— Recognize the humanity in everyone.
— Identify how your experience connects you to others and how it differs.
— Practice on and off the mat. Cultivate mindfulness on and off the cushion.
— Allow your practice to grow your heart, make you vulnerable and willing to work actively as a member of a wider community.
The practice of yoga has the potential to create both personal and social transformation. The practice of yoga has the potential to elevate us to our highest good and create equity for all.
Diverse yogis on the mat? This is what yoga (should) look/s like.
Raising consciousness and living mindfully? This is what a yogi (should) look/s like.
Communing and creating solidarity? This is what yoga community (should) look/s like.
Meet Melanie Klein:
Melanie Klein is a writer, speaker and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.
Photo credit: Sarit Z. Rogers// Sarit Photography.