It makes sense that as more people seek greater authenticity in their yoga practice and greater equality in our culture, conversations pairing yoga and social justice are gaining steam. Social justice, in simple terms, is justice in society, including the distribution of wealth, opportunities, privileges and power. Discussions about yoga and social justice often have to do with diversity, equality, economics and accessibility of courses and instruction.
By the nature of their philosophies, yoga and social justice are a great fit, the five the ethical and spiritual guidelines described in the yamas and niyamas are easily applied to social justice topics. If a society collectively valued and practiced any one of the yamas consistently, it is easy to imagine most societal issues and injustices would melt away as they are starved of the hate, fear and greed that feed them. In fact, this seems to be true in places still somewhat isolated from Western values.
But that is not where we live.
Yet, things change, and perhaps it’s possible that as more people seek happiness and contentment outside of their jobs and the things they own, we will get there. There are definitely a lot of yogis out there working to affect change. Websites like Decolonizing Yoga have been created to help address and break down barriers caused by race, ethnicity, economic status and gender. Thanks to the internet, these ideas can reach isolated pockets where yoga studios and classes aren’t available, bringing yoga to isolated groups who need to know there is a world beyond their view.
In many poor urban areas socioeconomic issues such lack of access to recreation, wellness care, sick care, grocery stores, education and even familial support can lead to a myriad of problems. While yoga alone may not actually fix some of these problems, programs offering free classes in these areas have been shown to have a positive effect. As this catches on, more of these organizations are forming, and it’s common to find karma yogis offering classes for free or by donation. Anamargret Sanchez, founder of the Daily Offering Yoga Studio in Miami, FL hosts one free yoga class at her studio everyday. In Asheville, NC, volunteer yoga teachers comprise the entire teaching staff at Asheville Community Yoga Center, where students offer donations for classes at the rate they can afford—and they’re welcome to attend classes for free if they cannot pay.
There are even teacher trainings are designed with social justice as their main theme for those that want instruction on how to delve deeper into this connection. In North Carolina, Michelle Johnson’s yoga teacher training curriculum requires students to study topics such as power, privilege and oppression—as well participate in a karma yoga project that involves volunteer time and fundraising. The Los Angeles extension of Loyola Marymount University offers a professional certificate program in Yoga, Mindfulness and Social Change, incorporating topics like ecology, global peace and addiction recovery, among others.
There are so many aspects of social justice, and so many ways that bringing yoga into these conversations could be useful, it’s way more than any one blog post or Op-ed can possibly tackle. Yet, the fact that the discussion has started is exciting, and may illustrate shifts in both the yoga community and our culture, at least the very least is shows the beginnings of movement.
In what ways has your yoga practice influenced you to participate in social justice efforts?