The yoga industry in the United Kingdom alone is worth more than £900 million. That is US $1.208 billion. The majority of yoga teachers in Europe and North America are white, able-bodied and cisgender. What does that signal to people differently identified about their place in yoga?

Dr Stacie C.C Graham

Dr Stacie C.C Graham

Today, more than ever, individuals have the capacity to ignite movements and effectively demand change. There are countless examples of this occurring, both with the help of social media as well as through individual acts that catch on in different pockets of the world.

For many yoga teachers and practitioners based in Europe and North America, it may seem far-fetched to claim that Yoga is in any way related to current social justice movements. It is.

My understanding of social justice encompasses everything from criminal justice reform to transformative justice, economic justice, health equity and labour justice. Social justice means more to me than equal access to wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society. Social justice is the promise of every member of society being held up, being held accountable and simply being held. Social justice means that each member of society has the right to pursue self-fulfilment (individual) and self-realization (relational) without being hindered in consequence of the multiple social identities they inhabit.

Throughout the day we make many assumptions. This is an important brain function without which we would be totally overwhelmed before even getting out of the bed. Assumptions are useful; however, they can also create divisions and perpetuate bias. If you are a yoga teacher, you likely make assumptions about the people in your classes. For example, that the students want to be there because they like (or love) yoga. That seems like a nice assumption to make. But it does not leave much room for people who are present and have yet to find something gratifying about the practice.

Words such as “bias”, “discrimination”, “oppression” and “privilege” often evoke strong reactions within us. However, we can no longer hide from these truths. Their real-life consequences serve as constant reminders why we must act, now. There is room for all of those emotions and others. I encourage you not to allow fear and difference to keep you from reading on, or worse, from doing the work.

Mettā is a Pali word that translates to “benevolence”. Mettā refers to the type of love that is not steeped in desire. It is fully accepting of what is. It removes the origin of suffering – the feeling of separateness. In Buddhist meditation traditions, mettā practice is referred to as loving-kindness practice. Hatred and aversion, which are closely linked, are considered the opposite of the state of love, or mettā. The profoundness of a regular and consistent loving-kindness meditation practice, especially when doing this work, cannot be overstated.

Even among yoga teachers and other wellness professionals, there will be cynics. It is important to make clear that I am not claiming that all problems of the world will be solved through meditation practice alone. Some institutions will have to go; others must be reinvented. The success of such grand transformations’ hinges on the willingness of the people to get the work done. To begin that work, we must build a consensus around, firstly, root causes of existing problems, and, secondly, the interventions that have the most potential to repair and rebuild. This work becomes possible when we are able to be truly present to (the needs, past hurts and future worries of) our fellow human beings and their communities.

Dr Stacie C.C Graham is a management consultant specialising in equity and inclusion, an executive coach, and a yoga and mindfulness teacher. Her wellness brand OYA: Body- Mind-Spirit Retreats is dedicated to building community with those who are often overlooked by mainstream wellness. Her new book Yoga As Resistance: Equity & Inclusion On and Off the Mat, published on 14th June available on Amazon and in all good book stores.

Tagged in