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.

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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).

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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?

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