For over twenty-seven years I have taught yoga in Southern California. There have been some wonderful times as well as some very challenging times. I have been with students going through cancer, death, divorce, job loss and economic disasters. I have shared deep emotions and suffering with people. I have helped to create a space that was free of judgment and politics. I have been enshrouded with the sobs of despair and the agony of someone's physical pain.
Over the course of these many years I have always tried to create a safe space for my students to come to where everyone was equally accepted. This space was a place of healing and growth. We laughed together. We cried together. We embraced each other. We encouraged each other through difficult times. We turned off our cell phones and attempted to quiet our inner world from the many distractions of life.
Yoga was always a safe haven for myself and others to come to when the world was falling apart. This safe space has been a place for students to enter into and forget about the drama and suffering in the outside world. It was a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews could practice side by side without judgment. Heavy people and skinny people could lay their mats down next to each other. Neither athletic people nor couch potatoes had a favored status. Conservatives and Liberals could come together without having to protect themselves from one another. It did not matter what your job was or your political background. Gun owners and pacifists did not care about their political agendas while they were in class.
We would embrace each other in a shared safe space so that each person was treated equally and fairly without judgment or condemnation. We practiced together with one common goal. Over all, we practiced acceptance.
As of late I find that shared safe space has been removed. More and more yoga studios, yoga teachers, managers, owners and corporations are turning the yoga space into a political arena. They are using their studios to support activist campaigns and to politically charge the yoga environment. They are supporting one group while condemning another group. They are engaging in a common societal movement of jumping on the band wagon for political correctness. They are forcing their views and opinions onto others who might not see the world in the same manner. They are creating a polarization of the yoga world as they are "weaponizing" the yoga community.
We all have social interests that give us passion. There is nothing wrong with believing in a cause. The problem arises when you bring your particular cause to work you will almost always offend someone who does not see the world how you do.
When you politicize the yoga world you isolate some people, shame others for not seeing things your way and create an "us or them" mentality. This black or white thinking has very little acceptance to it. When you campaign for social causes you forget that there are others who are not in your court and do not agree with you. You are blinded by your own campaign and you begin to exclude those who are not in favor.
Acceptance means not judging someone because they are different from you. Acceptance is about having empathy and compassion for those who do not walk the same journey as you might. Acceptance is about letting go of having to win or dominate a conversion or a topic because your ego might be involved.
Instead of social activism we can have an even more important mission as yoga teachers and that is to be caring listeners and practice acceptance. Instead of condemning one movement and supporting another it might be more important to be silent and just listen. When you pick sides in a debate you always end up isolating someone. When did yoga begin to be about picking sides and rallying for causes? The yoga world instead should be free of politics so that everyone, not just the favored party, gets to feel safe.
Politics and social reform have no business in the yoga community. While many yogis might disagree with this statement, they are just practicing black and white thinking. Instead, the yoga community would be better served to shove the political agenda aside and learn to be present and accepting of everyone.