Yoga for Illegal Immigrants

The issue of illegal immigration is a tendentious one, generating deep cultural and ideological schisms with enormous economic and personal impact. Enter yoga classes for migrants hoping to cross the US-Mexican border; Jap Singh Khalsa in Mexico’s northern state of Coahuila is offering once-weekly yoga classes to Central Americans at a migrant shelter in hopes it will facilitate coping “with the stress of their arduous and often dangerous trek.” Singh teaches the migrants how to manage the physical and emotional stress of the journey in his yoga classes.

Roughly 150,000 undocumented Central Americans attempt to cross the border each year, driven by economic hardship and political corruption in their home countries and hopes of a better life in the US. In the US undocumented migrants are viewed differentially as economic boons and affliction, with outspoken and impassioned advocates compellingly supporting each.

All too often our shared humanity is left out of the conversation. Those resisting illegal immigration stateside are often fearful of the economic impact such workers wield, whose presence is believed to generate a dearth of well-paying jobs; migrants conversely are willing to risk death and grievous injury to earn wages considerably more than they would at home.

Given America’s status as a nation of immigrants, and economic incentives to those employing undocumented workers (i.e. cheap labor), the issue cannot solely be attributable to migrants (exclusive focus on deportation is equivalent to treating the symptoms rather than the root cause, which is rewarding capitalists for hiring the cheapest labor possible).

Yoga classes aimed at attenuating the suffering directly experienced by
migrants warrant broader implementation, on both sides of the border. In 2008, the Border Meetup Group, which aims to “make friends across cultural, political, societal, even emotional barriers,” set up a yoga class on both sides of the Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego border fence.  “The international group stretched and meditated before exchanging hugs through the fence bars.”

Of equal import is the potential of yoga to reduce xenophobia among those most likely to engender prejudice and discrimination towards migrants stateside. While yoga studies have not yet directly investigated linkages between empathy and yoga practice, self-compassion (closely correlated with empathy) was found to increase among a group of yoga teacher trainees.

What is your view on teaching yoga for immigrants or illegal aliens?  Have you noticed an increase in self-compassion or empathy after practicing yoga?

Comments 4

  1. Thank you for this article.

    Wow, I am thrilled to learn about Jap Singh Khalsa’s project. I am, however, bristling at the title of this article. What’s an ‘illegal alien’? It’s about time we start seeing people as people! We humans (all of us!) need skills and models of how to love one another, to find more balance in our lives, and live in integrity with our highest values. If that’s yoga in a place where people with privilege and power have drawn lines to keep the brown people off our stolen land , yes, yes, YES. Do we hold yoga as only for the monied, able to afford exorbitant studio prices? I love that Khalsa is out there, I love that people are taking their skills and energies to serve the people — ALL of them! I think too we all need to look at how we are willing to label others as ‘other’ and see what common expressions are loaded with meaning that we might not get behind on further inspection. These labels tend to betray xenophobia absorbed from the water we swim in and the air we breathe. Let’s all breathe cleaner air together!!

  2. I offer yoga class at a migrant camp in California to farmworkers. They live there only may through november but I am looking into another camp for the other months. Center for Farmworker Families is a non profit that I volunteer assist the director, Dr. Ann Lopez This amazing part of our Oneness here on Mother Earth (farmworkers and their families, other immigrants both documented and undocumented) need support and help. I hope yoga in some way can be of help and support. My heart flows with love when I have the honor to teach.

    1. masyoga, I would like to connect with you and pick out your brains. I’m am interested in doing something similar in Santa Barbara and Ventura county. You can call me at 805-895-3051

  3. Thank you for your article Tosca. Are these yoga classes on the border still going on? I feel that yoga has increased the compassion I have for others and myself. It is also helping to drop mindsets of negativity and lack.
    Sat Atma

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