Occupy.

I don’t know exactly where I first picked this up, but I think it’s generally understood among yoga teachers that it is best to avoid making overtly political statements (while teaching, at least).  I know that several of the books I read while training (and since) made this point.  We don’t want to run the risk of alienating students; we are here to serve whoever shows up to practice, regardless of beliefs or ideology.  Generally, I agree with this.  As a teacher, I am obligated to teach anyone who shows up for class, and make sure that everyone feels welcome and safe.  The point of teaching yoga is not to wave a banner or rile up my students into a frenzy of righteousness or anger.  The whole point of the practice is to CALM YOUR SHIT DOWN (Patañjali, 1:2 – translation mine, obviously).  If I’m not helping my students with that, if I’m taking actions that run counter to that, then I’ve failed, pretty much completely, as a yoga teacher.

But.

Yoga also equips me with an understanding of right and wrong (not so much “thou shalt not,” more “work hard on avoiding these pitfalls”), and another way to fail as a teacher would be to neglect to impart this understanding to my students, or to fail to let it drive my practice both on an off the mat.  This creates a dilemma.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen images of police officers beating the stuffing out of people who have gathered to protest peacefully; I have read scornful opinion pieces about the Occupy movement in the Wall Street Journal and the vile, hateful reader comments which follow these pieces; I have thought more and more about how the deck is stacked in favour of those who need assistance the least.  And I wonder what my role is, as a yoga student, as a yoga teacher.  What I’m seeing here is wrong; clearly wrong.  Physically assaulting peaceful protesters violates the most basic principle of self-restraint in yoga:  ahimsa, non-violence.  Warping your words in such a way that you can call those who stand up in support of the vast majority your enemy violates satya, honesty.  And creating a system in which the rich get richer on the backs of the poor differs from petty thievery only in scale and deviousness; it violates asteya, not stealing.  Every time I sign in to facebook or check the news I am treated to more visions of these affronts to basic human decency.  I see them through the lens of yoga practice because that is the underpinning for my moral understanding of the world, but my interpretation is not unique to yoga.  It only requires a sense of compassion for the suffering of others.

I can’t pretend to be impartial on this.  I’m not about to start lecturing on police brutality and the failures of capitalism on those (unfortunately infrequent) occasions when I do teach a class, but neither am I going to hide the fact that I support what the protesters in Zuccotti Park are standing up for.  To hide my support would serve no one.  Yoga, as I’ve said before, is not a mild practice of spewing platitudes and pabulum; it’s fierce, and requires honesty on the part of both teachers and students.

Also, please see the open letter from Occupy Samsara.

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