Fundamentally, yoga is a powerful tool for social justice: it teaches people how to re-claim and develop their potential, life skills, physical and mental resilience, and the spark in them that won’t be marginalized. We all deserve access to opportunities for education, health care, our sense of place, esteem, and a connection with healthy community. Yoga provides these opportunities inherently.
My passion for teaching yoga as a social justice tool (and what created the foundation for Living Yoga in 1998 and the DAYA Foundation in 2012) is based on the following principles:
- When human beings are marginalized, shunned, isolated, or institutionalized we all suffer.
- Those who are pushed to the margins, or the shadows, represent the shadow side of our very selves, our culture and our communities. That which we can shun, is that which we shun in ourselves too.
- Those who are pushed to the shadows have critical things to teach us. We need to learn from them, about their experiences of life and belonging (or the lost sense of belonging).
- When humans don’t feel they have a voice, they will act from a place of powerlessness and they will experience psychological pain that profoundly shapes their survival strategies.
- If we are to bring about a balanced community, one that supports the needs of all of its members and enables each of us to grow into our interpersonal and psychological, as well as spiritual, potentials, re-engaging these community members is essential.
- When we go in to the margins to offer support, we’re also going in to learn how to break down barriers, integrate our personal shadow, listen to the unheard voices of our brothers and sisters, and catalyze their potential to awaken their sense of place and belonging. We are also transforming how people see themselves as well as how others will come to see them. As we value these members of our community, we shape how the larger community values them too.
- Yoga teaches fundamental life skills. These life skills transform our mental and physical health.
- These life skills make us better individuals, family members, and community members.
- All members of our community deserve access to the life-enhancing practices of yoga.
- All members of our community have something to teach us about life, human suffering, and human potential.
- When community is created, healing happens, for it re-knits our experience of belonging.
From a young age, I was compelled to leverage my passion and spark on behalf of social justice. Starting with my own family system, I was compelled to understand the roots of anger, violence, depression, and interpersonal isolation. Living in Cambridge, Massachussetts during graduate school, I was able to more actively engage in community issues that extended beyond my personal experiences into homelessness, alcoholism, mental illness, extreme poverty, and the social systems that enabled communities to shun their most vulnerable members.
While working as an Art Therapist intern in a residential home for adults with chronic mental illness, I shared my practices of meditation and yoga for the first time. The residents were enthralled by the guided meditations and the yoga intervention tools, and they began to make daily requests for these “exercises.” The center in which I was interning was supported by funds from the government of Massachussetts and was, tragically, unable to remain open following the budget cuts of 1992. After months of taking my clients to City Hall (on the subway – no easy feat!) to advocate for the center’s survival, this budget cut was a blow to my clients and to my own sense of place in the world. They became homeless people who would most likely end up lost in the system or in prison, and I became unemployed. To read more on this topic, check out the articles I wrote on this disappointing and life changing event, Taking Back the Shadow and Yoga for Freedom.
This event was a turning point for me. I left Cambridge to go out into the world searching for the sense of place that I had lost. I was frustrated, disillusioned, curious, and felt alone and without direction. Following my thumb and the recommendations of fellow travelers, I backpacked and hitchhiked throughout the country, primarily heading to powerfully scenic locations such as the Canyon de Chelley, Tuolumne Meadows, and Orcas Island. This period in my life led to the auspicious four years I would spend at Breitenbush Hot Springs. Essentially my second graduate school, I delved into yoga, meditation, and community; and fueled my personal fire for social justice. It was while living at Breitenbush that I grew more and more compelled to teach yoga as a tool for social justice.