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mremski

WAWADIA: Injury, Touch, Abuse & Trauma in Modern Yoga


In many yoga spaces, teachers and students share the expectation that adjustments are a standard part of practice. But this aspect of modern yoga is marred by an uncomfortable history. At the dawn of the global movement in 1930s India, adjustments in key learning spaces such as the Mysore Palace merged with the somatics of corporal punishment. They conveyed assumptions about spiritualized pain and surrender, delivered through a pedagogy of unquestioned charisma and presumed consent. In combination, these factors have led to decades of blurred boundaries, sexualized touch, and general intrusion. If you’re a yoga teacher and you want to adjust people, this presentation will help you get square with this history first. It will help you think about how you will protect your students from it, especially in an unregulated industry. It will offer guidelines for moving forward in the creation of safe and student-driven yoga education.

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Getting to Know: Matthew Remski

Published on Yoga International
January 10, 2017

Part philosopher and part critic, Matthew Remski is a provocative, public, and trenchant voice in modern yoga. Exhibiting a poet’s proclivity for nuance and discovery, his What Are We Actually Doing In Asana (WAWADIA) project is a deep dive into the complexities facing teachers and yoga students today—examining topics as diverse and related as the psychological causes of injury and naive devotion to gurus.

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El problema del dolor en el yoga

publicación original: 9 de marzo de 2016
traducción del inglés: Atenea Acevedo
enlace al original

La versión original en inglés de este ensayo fue inicialmente publicada por Yoga International. Muchas gracias a Kat Heagburg por su apoyo editorial.

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Seguramente has oído diversas traducciones del componente haṭha en el vocablo haṭhayoga.

Una de las más citadas es «vigoroso». Hay quienes prefieren una interpretación más esotérica y dicen que ha y ṭha se refieren «al sol y a la luna», o a «inhalar y exhalar». Proponen, pues, que la práctica busca integrar fuerzas opuestas.

Según el estudioso del yoga Jason Birch, la interpretación esotérica probablemente sea un agregado posterior a los textos más tempranos sobre el haṭhayoga, de manera que el significado más antiguo sería «vigoroso».

Ahora bien, ¿qué tipo de «vigor» describieron quienes dieron origen al haṭhayoga?

Birch apunta que Monier-Williams, sanscritista de enorme influencia que vivió en el siglo XIX, y otros europeos que se especializaron en la cultura india en aquellos tiempos, «confundieron el haṭhayoga con las prácticas de ascetismo extremo (tapas) que aparecen en los purāṇas» o literatura épica. Juntos, plantearon la noción de que haṭha implicaba el vigor del esfuerzo violento o la propia flagelación.

Los vestigios de ese significado se conjugan con el heroísmo de la era moderna del fitness, cuyo lema es «si no duele, no sirve», y con la noción de buscar el «límite» de nuestra tolerancia… o ser presionados por los maestros para buscarlo y, casi siempre, encontrarlo en el rango máximo de movimiento de determinada articulación. Por lo general, el límite es visto como el posible umbral de una revelación, quizás porque la sombra que proyecta es el umbral de una lesión.

Sin embargo, como cuidadosamente señala Birch, la cantinela constante de los primeros manuales de haṭhayoga afirma que, si las prácticas se llevan a cabo śanaiḥ, śanaiḥ, es decir, «de manera gentil, gentil», el despertar espiritual será inevitable. En otras palabras, si tu práctica contiene suficiente gentileza, esa es la energía que te llevará al despertar.

De hecho, como apunta Birch, «La interpretación de haṭhayoga como “esfuerzo violento” queda refutada, en efecto, en el haṭhapradīpikā (1.15), que menciona al esfuerzo (prayasā) como uno de los seis factores que arruinan el haṭhayoga

Consciente o inconscientemente, muchos practicantes y maestros modernos están empezando a coquetear más y más con esta evocación de la «gentileza». Las prácticas restaurativas están adquiriendo auge y el yoga terapéutico se está perfilando como un ámbito mejor definido. El yoga nidra está ganando popularidad y cada vez más practicantes se hacen conscientes del espíritu nutricio del ayurveda. El maestro J. Brown incluso acuñó una frase que se ha convertido en slogan: «Gentle is the New Advanced» («Gentil» es el nuevo significado de «avanzado»).

Pero no todo el mundo quiere subirse al tren de la gentileza. El vigor que conduce al límite y más allá sigue siendo altamente valorado en el yoga moderno. Una de las razones detrás de ello es la casi absoluta integración de las asanas con el atletismo y la ansiedad en torno a la imagen corporal que encontramos en el mercado globalizado. No obstante, las causas más profundas se hallan en la ambivalencia transformadora de la psicología del dolor, la ausencia de gentileza en la historia inicial del yoga moderno y la continua resonancia de elementos de austeridad en la filosofía del yoga.

Apuntes básicos sobre la psicología del dolor

En contradicción a la lógica, es un hecho que el dolor experimentado en el entorno relativamente controlado de una clase de asanas puede resultar atractivo a algunos practicantes. A las personas con cierto grado de disociación puede brindarles un sentido de retorno al cuerpo. A las personas traumatizadas puede llevarlas a recrear sensaciones pasadas dentro de un escenario de mayor autonomía. El dolor elegido puede ser preferible al dolor infligido: tal vez accedamos a la capacidad de adaptarnos al dolor elegido desde un lugar de mayor claridad.

En el caso de quienes, desde la infancia, llevan grabadas en sus cerebros imágenes como la representación de la crucifixión o de Hanuman desgarrando su propio pecho para revelar a Ram y Sita, el dolor podría estar vinculado a expresiones de amor o indicios de iluminación. Si de niño te azotaron en las nalgas y te dijeron que era por tu bien, quizás asocies el dolor con la posibilidad de recuperar la mirada favorable de tu padre o madre.

Ariel Glucklich, académico dedicado a estudiar los usos religiosos del dolor, afirma que este puede dotar de significado al sufrimiento que no encuentra otra forma de expresión. La especialista en literatura Elaine Scarry subraya que el dolor trasciende la totalidad del lenguaje. No es de sorprender que el dolor se vincule con tal facilidad a la experiencia mística, esa combinación de lo inexpresable y lo secreto.

Si el dolor es una de las características de un «ajuste», también puede convertirse en una vía para que maestros y estudiantes exploren las fronteras del consentimiento y la rendición. De manera más sombría, el dolor proveniente de las manos de alguien en quien confiamos puede resignificar experiencias de dolor infligido a traición. Desde luego, si esta dinámica es inconsciente, es posible que maestro y estudiante estén simplemente reconstruyendo escenarios familiares de ejercicio de poder o incluso maltrato.

Actualmente, la mayoría de los maestros responsables advertirá a sus estudiantes de no buscar el dolor. Saben que ayudar a un estudiante a identificar por qué siente atracción por el dolor es una tarea que compete únicamente a un terapeuta calificado. Saben, también, que pretender interpretar lo que el dolor significa para otras personas equivale a adentrarse en un terreno peligroso.

Un poco de historia

Las raíces del yoga postural moderno están muy lejos de la gentileza. Los primeros estudiantes de T. Krishnamacharya aprendieron su arte en una olla de presión creada por un movimiento anticolonial hipermasculino e influido por el fisicalismo, donde el castigo físico constituía un mecanismo habitual de entrenamiento. El objetivo de despertar a través de la práctica de asanas estaba totalmente subordinado al objetivo de alcanzar la maestría física mediante incontables demostraciones que el propio Krishnamacharya después denominaría «propaganda».

En el transcurso de mis propias investigaciones, he llegado a creer que aquella breve y violenta época ha alcanzado una resonancia desproporcionada a través de la globalización del llamado cuerpo del yoga. Dicha resonancia se expresa en la obsesión performativa, el impulso maniático hacia la maestría física y la persistencia de técnicas para realizar ajustes invasivos. Una buena porción de la pedagogía del yoga sigue arrastrando la no reconocida sombra de la dinámica de un poder autoritario que en gran medida buscó moldear y disciplinar cuerpos infantiles según rígidos ideales sociopolíticos. La manifestación más común (y aparentemente benigna) de esa sombra se hace presente cada vez que un maestro de yoga indica a otros cuerpos lo que deben de hacer.

Todo gran avance en la pedagogía general del yoga en los últimos cincuenta años, incluidas, pero no solo, las aproximaciones terapéuticas de T.K.V. Desikachar, la teoría de las ondas espinales de Vanda Scaravelli, el «Freedom Style» de Erich Schiffman, los textos de Donna Farhi sobre la relación estudiante-maestro, y la aparición de tarjetitas u otros medios con que los estudiantes manifiestan su consentimiento para recibir ajustes, ha surgido como un replanteamiento o rechazo, consciente o inconsciente, de los métodos del Palacio de Mysore. Sin embargo, esta evolución sigue siendo marginal al yoga predominante, mismo que sigue fuertemente influido por las actitudes, si no es que las técnicas precisas, de los estudiantes más famosos de Krishnamacharya en la década de 1930.

¿Cuáles son dichas actitudes? (Dos pequeñas cuestiones sobre filosofía)

Primero, el cuerpo es visto como el instrumento del viaje interior del yo o sí mismo, y como señal de valiosa pertenencia social. El cuerpo ha de ser moldeado, esculpido, suavizado, limpiado y purificado. Se le somete a una progresión de secuencias, mantras, jugos, yerbas, purgas y enemas. Debe renovarse (y deconstruirse) continuamente para que el yo interno se vuelva más visible y el ciudadano externo más respetable. El dolor suele racionalizarse como parte inevitable de este proceso:

«El dolor es la debilidad abandonando el cuerpo»

«El dolor es tu gurú»

«El dolor es real»

Estas tres citas pertenecen a los tres maestros de yoga más influyentes del período de la globalización, es decir, después de la década de 1960.

El segundo punto puede entenderse mejor a partir de la etimología de la palabra mokṣa: «aflojar», «soltar» o «liberar». Esta palabra surge de milenios de literatura que emplea metáforas de la esclavitud a fin de referirse la existencia condicionada. ¿Alguien se sorprende, pues, de que la práctica más física del yoga enfatice la flexibilidad mediante la repetición de movimientos en el máximo rango articular posible?

El cuerpo puede fortalecerse con las asanas, pero la lógica incorporada de mokṣa podría, a la larga, valorar esa fuerza en tanto «desanuda» el cuerpo, desde los tendones hasta los chakras, la fuente misma del «apego» a cualquier esencia que necesite ser liberada. Ese podría ser uno de los orígenes de la popularidad psicológica de la extendida noción de que haṭha implica acción vigorosa.

Para decirlo sin rodeos, estas actitudes pueden parecer anticuadas y poco atractivas. Sin embargo, irradian una sabiduría ancestral que las fijaciones contemporáneas con la terapia, la sanación y las vacaciones de yoga rara vez abordan:

El cuerpo es un misterio ambivalente, ligado al tiempo. Vincula y separa. Irradia luz al arder. Bajo coacción, es capaz de confundir el dolor con placer. Perderá funcionalidad, morirá. No es de sorprender que los intentos por mejorar o santificar un cuerpo que, sentimos, podría traicionarnos, puedan implicar cierta rabia impotente.

Si el dolor se mide como parte de un método, si el dolor se vive a través de la percepción del consentimiento y si el dolor se integra a una narrativa del sendero hacia la realización, puede ayudar a algunos practicantes a lidiar con la extrañeza existencial del cuerpo. Muy probablemente seguirán ansiando el dolor.

Queda en manos de cada practicante ponderar los costos de sentir atracción por el vigor en el transcurso del tiempo. Y quizás explorar, cuando las lecciones del dolor se agoten, si así sucede, la revelación de otra memoria oculta: la gentileza.

autenticidad (el yoga te sucede)

publicación original: 15 de abril de 2011
traducción del inglés: Atenea Acevedo
enlace al original

Alargas un músculo. Tu respiración se desliza hacia un lugar olvidado. Estiras un brazo, una pierna. Una red de contracturas invisibles se suelta. Tu carne y tu mente se suavizan hasta neutralizarse. Los pensamientos ponen su vertiginosidad en pausa. El guión de la identidad vuelve a la hoja en blanco. El dolor se evapora con una cálida descarga de circulación. La energía destinada a la inquietud por el futuro se desvanece para dar paso a la noción y el sentimiento del presente. Practicas yoga y el yoga te sucede.

Vivir obliga a la honestidad. Las respuestas son efímeras. Las respuestas que se pretendían eternas se revelan superficiales. Morirás. Esa es la única certeza. El mundo circundante es testigo impotente de tus divagaciones. Otras personas sufren de igual manera, no obstante, ese hecho parece profundizar el sentido de soledad. En algún punto, la presión de la desesperanza detona la acción: correr por el bosque, hacer el amor hasta perderte, romper un patrón con vehemencia. La realidad de tu situación trae consigo un crudo regalo que aceptas con repentinas descargas de ira y la gozosa sombra de esa ira: esta es la única vida que conoces y sientes que te rebasa. Vives tu vida y el yoga te sucede.

Te asumías en soledad. Te creías independiente. Estás en el mercado, una naranja descansa en tu mano, los niños abrazan tus piernas, se oye el ruido del tránsito, las conversaciones se entremezclan con la radio a un lado de la caja, calzas zapatos fabricados por alguien más y llevas ropas que no cosiste con tus propias manos, el sol se cuela por el toldo de metal, quedaste en verte con alguien y vas con retraso, casi siempre con demasiado retraso. Sabes que esta naranja te dará vida, pero tú no la cultivaste. Se convertirá en tu cuerpo: alguien más te la ha obsequiado. Su color se agrega profusamente a tu lenguaje y tus sueños, pero tú no lo concebiste. Las artríticas manos del tendero evidencian una vida dedicada a manipular cajas de naranjas para que tú te las comas. Alguien más te obsequia tu cuerpo. Una niña evoca tu risa interior. Un perro golpetea su gruesa cola contra tu pantorrilla. Todos y cada uno de los objetos que te dan vida están alrededor. Si la soledad fuera real, no existirías. El aire que respiras no es obra tuya. No eres capaz de afirmar dónde empieza el interior de tu cuerpo. Te rindes a este sentido relacional y el yoga sucede a tu alrededor, a través de ti.

Matthew Remski – “Downregulated Yoga“ – Writer, Ayurvedic Consultant, WAWADIA, Threads of…

Published on J. Brown Yoga
November 25, 2016

Matthew Remski has become known for his provocative, sometimes controversial, and inspiring writings on pressing issues in the yoga world. J talks with him about his early experiences and how they have shaped the course of his work, the misconceptions and current status of his ongoing WAWADIA (What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?) project, the recent flap regarding Jivamukti Yoga, his interest in subtle body

Suggested Additions to Adyashanti’s Anemic “Post-Election Letter”

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti published the following Post-Election Letter to his Facebook page on November 19th . It was formatted as a caption to the photograph below. Since posting, it has been shared 1.7K times amongst his almost 57K followers.

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I don’t know how representative this is of the rest of Adyashanti’s work or writing. I don’t know whether it’s an uncharacteristic foray into politics. It might constitute a conscious shorthanding of complex issues for a social media format. But it’s a public letter on a platform of tens of thousands, addressed therefore to a broad spectrum of folks and experiences, so I’m responding to this (and this alone, being ignorant of his other work) as if it’s an important and influential document.

Also, it’s not unique. Since the election, posts like this have permeating whole sectors of yoga and meditation land. These sermons are built upon on (at least) five dangerous errors:

  1. Spotlighting emotions like fear and anger as fundamental problems to address, rather than the violence and oppression to which these emotions are responding. This amounts to a kind of spiritualized tone-policing that values civility and respectability over justice.
  2. Failing to show any awareness of how gendered, racial, and class privilege shapes and determines both the unequal consequences of political oppression and our unequal abilities to respond to it. By suggesting that everyone is responding to the same thing and from the same place, this language mirrors the propagandistic tool of false equivalency. In the campaign this was used to claim no difference between parties, or to focus on emails over admitted sexual assault. In these sermons, false equivalency is used to equalize the emotional responses of people in vastly different situations.
  3. Pretending that spiritual language is neutral, and that vague appeals made to undefined values like love and wisdom are somehow the first step to addressing violence and injustice, and not the first step to actually ignoring violence and injustice. Vague and supposedly neutral spiritual language is essential for keeping a spiritual teacher’s usually depoliticized base of support intact. For an example of a (white, privileged) spiritual teacher who’s actually challenging this norm, check out what’s happening on Marianne Williamson’s page. She’s willing to lose hundreds of her it’s-all-good hardliners by the minute by taking a pretty basic stand on pretty basic issues. I’ll embed an example below.
  4. Fostering the notion that charisma is more important than content.

Adyashanti has said that he has “penetrated to the emptiness of all things and realized that the Buddha I had been chasing was what I was.” So I’m sure he won’t take it personally if I use his incredibly anemic letter to illustrate these errors and offer edits and suggestions:

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LETTER FROM ADYA: Dealing with Post-Election Turmoil (would you consider “Trauma”?)

This election has stirred up a lot of emotion in people — mostly fear and anger, as far as I can see.

(Possibly from your vantage point you can’t see terror and clinical depression — consider adding these in? Also stirred up is the violence at rallies and now a surge of hate crimes spilling over the border into Canada. Positioning emotion as the primary problem confuses the response to existential terror with the bodily reality of it. This seems to be a standard move by spiritual teachers who want to reduce complex socio-political issues down to matters of internal attitude that they can minister to with books and retreats. Maybe better to avoid this opening gambit.)

We are in a time of great cultural upheaval in both the United States and Western Europe.

(Maybe add in the Middle East? Climate refugees? Syrians drawing neo-Nazi backlash as soon as they scramble up the beach?)

People on both the left and the right of the political divide feel disenfranchised, ignored, and threatened in so many ways.

(To avoid extending the pernicious false equivalencies and white male working-class myths that propagandized the US and Brexit campaigns and that aren’t borne out by available data, how about adding some nuance here about who has been disenfranchised and how?)

And it all boiled up to the surface during this election. It was bound to happen and in many ways necessary.

(Repressed racism and misogyny also revealed themselves, not as emotions, but as foundational structural realities. Maybe consider adding these? Also, the fatalism here is problematic. Some of your congregation will resonate with the nod at karma and hints at purification, but those who will be deported by Theresa May or killed by the Trump presidency cancelling the ACA may not.)

Cultural turmoil brings change.

(Not sure if you intended this, but this sentence could be read as providing tacit rationalization and forgiveness for your devotees who voted Trump. Returning back to the top: suggest subbing in or adding “trauma”. Also: physical violence brings change too. How should members of your congregations resist it?)

The question is, what kind of change will it bring? This is the great unknown, and wherever people encounter the unknown, the most common instinctual reactions are fear, blame, and anger.

(It’s true that volatility is a primary tactic of autocratic rule. But the motives and tactics of fascism are not unknown. Some people are having instinctual reactions not because of some general flaw in human nature, but because they know exactly how their situation is deepening and worsening in ways worse than white men like us can ever know. Also, now you’ve bookended your opening graf as though emotions — especially responsive anger, last-listed here for emphasis — is the real problem, and not what people are angry about. See above.)

I feel that this is a time when we who seek to be more conscious, loving, and wise get to see exactly how deep our wisdom and love really are. This is where the rubber hits the road — no more abstractions or high-minded ideas; this is where and when it is needed. This is where we come to see if we are still caught in the old ego-minded world of reactivity, anger, and fear, or if we have come upon the consciousness of wisdom and love. It is also a time when we can see if we are hiding out in transcendental ideologies of how unreal it all is as an unconscious defense against engaging with the world as it actually is.

(So this is a really nice graf that actually says nothing and speaks to no one outside of your in-group of devotees. Because you’ve posted it as a public letter I’m assuming you want it to mean something to other people as well, and not just be a calling card pointing to your charisma. To your previous admonitions against reactivity, etc., you now add the aspirations of wisdom and love. But what exactly do you mean, and how do these actually play out? In writing a letter that — so far — offers no real-world substance, how is your critique of transcendental ideology credible? What can you do here to resist the general sense your congregation is supposed to glean that because of your calm voice and beneficent smile everything will be okay if they connect to the inner wisdom you describe for them in your books and retreats? Isn’t that the very embodiment of a transcendental ideology, while pretending to critique it?)

There are important political and cultural issues at stake here to be sure, and we all have a stake in the outcome, which is why so many people are so fearful and angry. It’s as if 50 percent of the population cannot possibly understand, or even care to understand, the other 50 percent. And human decency and sanity have gotten lost amid the angst. Sadly, we have stopped truly communicating in the process.

(Who has stopped truly communicating? BLM, trans activists, anti-oppression workers — they have all been communicating pretty clearly for years. So are the Standing Rock Water Protectors. All of them are powerfully motivated by and communicating the righteous fear and anger of the planet itself. Also, is it wise to responsibilize your congregation for communication patterns that are pathologically distorted by fake news, click farms, and propaganda?)

I have watched this growing in our culture over the last 25 years and now it has boiled over. As a populace, we have stopped seeking to understand one another and have sought instead only to be understood; or, in many cases, insisted upon being agreed with. We have failed to take care of one another, to love, cherish, and understand one another.

(This generalization is worthy of Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama. But if you want to add real spice to the spiritual/religious landscape, it might be a best practice to always balance the personal-moral appeal with a critique of power. Who has failed to take care? The “we” of this graf is either terribly exclusive, or it is pretending to be inclusive by erasing how structural oppression destroys access to care. Either way, it deepens the hyperindividualism of the neoliberal mode, which says: it’s all on us, where “us” really means “me”.)

There are very important issues at stake here: issues of poverty, inequality, political disenfranchisement, racism, sexism, the list goes on. But as each of us advocates for those issues that are important to us, we too must take responsibility for the breakdown of civility, decency, and unhealthy communication. No one forces our state of consciousness upon us. No one forces us to act out of fear, rage, and unconsciousness. We will either relate out of our conflicted mind states, or from the more evolved aspects of our nature.

(This one is complex, so I’ll number it out:

  1. The list that begins this graf ends with a rhetorical elipsis that affects boredom and hints at the unreality of the world.
  2. The second sentence pivots upon the subtle dismissal of material issues to turn the conversation back again to emotions and moods — again — as if the internal states generated by oppression etc. are as important as the oppression itself.
  3. The third sentence is a metaphysical speculation about the nature of consciousness, presented as if it’s scientifically true. “No one forces our state of consciousness upon us,” is, actually, demonstrably false. There are people responding to the electoral results from a history of PTSD, for example. Or women who have been raped who will now be tweeted at and governed by a confessed but unprosecuted sexual predator. States of consciousness can most definitely be forced by power and propaganda. It’s a mark of privilege to not understand this, or to deny this. Unless you’re going to claim that we are not subject to neurophysiological conditioning, maybe you can consider changing this.
  4. It’s not okay to imply that people who are angry are unevolved, rather than, say, not dissociative. A rewrite like this might cause less harm: “Depending upon your neurotypicality, it might be possible to observe states of your consciousness with a witnessing mood, in which you could recognize the rise of fear and rage and redirect it or self-regulate more quickly. This could be of help in our relationships. But it won’t work for everyone, and it won’t erase the structural power and pain that make it harder to do.” This is a little clunky and harder to use as a vehicle for certainty, but so is democracy.)

I cannot say exactly how to relate with those who are caught in their own conflict…

(“I cannot say exactly how” sounds like a disclaimer. Maybe it belongs up top? After all, you can’t really say much about anything except your own meditation technique and experience, right? Including this at the top might nail down your scope of practice for those who are confused and think you are offering evidence-based advice, and not simply persuading people that anger/rage etc. are wrong. Secondly, “caught in their own conflict” sounds pretty exclusionary to my ear. I get that your brand rests on the implication that you yourself have no internal conflicts — including the conflict between wanting to be a meditation teacher and wanting to be politically relevant — but who are the “caught” you are referring to here? You don’t want to insult anybody.)

…except to say that if we seek to understand as our first impulse — and to respond from the wisest, most patient, and loving dimension of our being — we will at least be standing on a foundation of sanity and peace. And our actions, whatever they may be, will then be expressions of the highest consciousness that we have attained, and we will have taken responsibility for our own feelings and impulses, and made the wisest choices that we have access to.

(The vagueness here really might only give your congregation a nice feeling that they’ll depend on you to top up. Without defining the “foundation of sanity and peace” arrived at by the “wisest, most patient, and loving dimension of our being”, you’re really only directing people’s affect. You’re also suggesting that the subjective states of feeling wise, patient and loving will mean that ethical actions will naturally follow. This is not true. The Nazis loved yoga. And Zen monks of your very own Sōtō Zen lineage supported the Rape of Nanking. Why not use this space to tell your congregation to get concrete training in anti-oppression work?)

If we are inspired to advocate for certain causes, we will do so out of love for those causes, rather than out of rage against the perceived “other.”

(Here’s one last nod at false equivalency to mop up. This sentence makes it sound like people “other” each other equally. It’s not true, unless you believe in things like “reverse racism”, or that “SJWs” are as guilty as the alt-right for offside language. Also, what do you intend for your congregation to feel about their rage? Shame? That they should repress it?)

Perhaps then we will become agents for sanity, peace, love, and the living of it in this confused world of ours.

With Great Love,

Adya

(Finally, I’d suggest not publishing this letter as a caption for a guru headshot. The portrait suggests that you’re floating above the “turmoil” of the election in a sanctified, linen-clad body. Your Nordic, silver-fox gaze is an invitation to paternal transference. Not everybody is ready or willing to surrender to this, and some never should. Think of everyone who surrendered to their transferences onto Trump himself. It’s a dangerous mechanism. Yes, it’s just a photo, but you probably don’t want to subtly gaslight your students into telling themselves that everything really should be alright, because you’re gazing on them with knowing approval. Maybe a picture of you doing something besides meditating or teaching would work better?)

_____

Here’s that Marianne Williamson post:

Defining Yoga In The Modern Age: Conversation with Matthew Remski

Published on Sivana Podcast with Ashton Szabo (Episode 66)
November 20, 2016
sivanaspirit.com

What a Yoga Bro Who Sees His Trump Vote as An Act of Love Tells Us About Yoga Spaces

 

Honestly I’m conflicted about spotlighting this article (trigger warning: predatory gaslighting), but I think exploring it might be instructive. My intent isn’t to isolate this individual any more than he’s isolated himself. It’s to show how Yogaland is woefully ill-equipped to engage the Trump era because of this malicious fact:

the discourse of neutrality, openness, and empathy can be effortlessly co-opted by a cynical and grandiose narcissism and used by those whose job it is to put others into psychosomatic stress positions and presume to shape their inner lives. This has always been a problem. Now it’s a cultural crisis.

For the record, I reached out to the writer with a draft of this post to ask if he wanted to walk back any of his statements. “I’m not changing a word of what I wrote and stand behind it,” he wrote back.

I’ll start with an article summary:

The writer hits every note of privileged commentary in one go: false equivalence, selection bias, normalization of misogyny and rape culture, religious bigotry and white supremacy, preaching equanimity to distressed citizens, and a side-order of tone-policing.

He pulls it all off quite efficiently with the data-free lies and equivocations that constitute the new normal: Trump is a peacemaker. His confessed sexual assaults “break the laws of political correctness”. Unlike Hillary, he has no conflicts of interest with foreign corps or governments. Sizeable blocks of Muslims and LGBTQ people voted for him. Also, guess what? Trump’s just itching to build hospitals in “Michigan and Detroit”! (Yoga bro: Detroit is IN Michigan. Appearing to know nothing about the people and areas you claim to care about looks like fake empathy.)

The writing comes from a well-placed NYC yoga teacher who works for a prominent brand lately in the news for failing to separate yoga from sexual harassment. He’s been teaching since 2003. (Full disclosure: he’s also been a student of the cult-leader I was once devoted to: an American Tibetan Buddhist who makes big money selling Tibetan Buddhism as a prosperity gospel to Chinese oligarchs. Thinking about that too hard could be hazardous to your health.)

On one hand this might seem like a weird source for these views. On the other it’s immensely clarifying. Looking at it directly might save you years of category confusion and emotional labour. If you needed any more proof that yoga and meditation practice is no predictor of political sentiment, critical thinking, feminist chops, equality values, or basic civics awareness, this article should banish the fantasy in a few brief moments, and let you get on with with your life.

Point #1. Yoga is like the Force. Jedis use it. So do the Sith Lords. And remember: Nazis LOVED yoga.

Our values are not coming from our practice so much as our practice is strengthening our values, which come from elsewhere. We can’t look to yoga techniques or texts for advice on morality or the common good. They aren’t specific enough to provide it, and private epiphanies can strengthen delusions as much as break them down. Remember that the Bhagavad Gita was the favourite text of both Gandhi and his assassin.

Did fifteen years of yoga and meditation practice soften me up to receive the life-changing data of feminism and BLM? It’s possible. But if I were living in a red state they could have also softened me up for surrender to the passions of Jesus or the alt-right. As Be Scofield argues, the spiritual realizations of yoga or anything else can express themselves as amplifications of the values you already hold dear. At the very least they must express through the values of the dominant culture. The writer here actually says that Trump’s election amounts to a “massive emotional and spiritual leap forward.”

Changing your values happens when you expose yourself to new values, presented and embodied by others you previously did not know or understand. It doesn’t happen by contemplating your inner life, which orbits around your existing values.

Point #2. Unless studio owners and trainers are explicit about setting up safe spaces, Yogaland offers no real opposition to predatory gaslighting, offered under the cover of yogaspeak.

The yogi who jumps the Trump shark isn’t just a mouthpiece of rightist bile. He can also do what Stephen Bannon can’t: position his privilege as open-mindedness and non-reactivity. He can bask in the role of “holding space” (even though he mocks the term) for the emotional hurt of people he pretends to care about, and whose suffering he cannot know or share.

Yogaspeak becomes the emotional Trojan horse for the very politics that are hurting his colleagues. How will he work alongside the queer and POC colleagues of his in-group? How will he serve the Muslims and women in his classes?  Is there a mudra for one hand in namaste, and the other reaching to grab  ____?

Sorry, but I don’t think that’s a gratuitous image. Especially when the writer finishes his piece with a jaunt into narcissistic emotional porn. He describes going as a Trump supporter — undercover — to a yoga center holding a vigil for those shaken by the election. He praises himself for his empathy and sympathy, even as he bypasses the panic some express over possible deportation. He savours the irony of being able to comfort people whose lives he just voted to degrade. He deceives people in order to participate in their emotions with a display of grandiose equanimity.

It’s like going to the funeral of someone you helped kill, holding hands with the survivors, and getting off on both the tears and your kindness in wiping them away. “Oh, you’re crying? I feel your pain. Here’s my big white handkerchief. Will I see you in restorative class for some deep healing?”

Even more disturbing is that he subtly compares himself to Trump, who, he suggests, might be an enlightened provocateur of our delusions: “How many spiritual stories are filled with tales of the adept on the road to enlightenment encountering a hag or a drunk, brashly writing them off, only to discover the skilful master was in disguise?”

Would the vigil-keepers have welcomed him if they’d seen his Twitter account, where he posts links mocking Clinton supporters, reports from Alex Jones (yeah the guy who claimed the Sandyhook massacre was staged) saying that post-electoral marches are killing children, retweets memes that suggest Clinton would have been an autocrat, and mocks “SJWs”?

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-11-03-09-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-39-47-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-33-51-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-33-35-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-33-16-pm

That they sure as hell wouldn’t have invited him makes his presence borderline non-consensual. What we can say for sure is that the Cadillac of white yoga privilege is being able to cackle along with the alt-right in private, and then flash your engorged charismatic empathy in public. White yoga privilege allows a person to capitalize on having no moral centre.

We’ve got to ask: how much of this industry is run by powerful men who are gratified by using their status to perform spiritual superiority over those oppressed by that very status?

Will this invigorate a discussion about the need for equality, ally and anti-oppression work – along with possibly psychological screening – at the training level of yoga instruction? Not because of politics, but because of vampirism. Obviously, no regulatory process can or should dictate voting values or prevent funeral masturbation. But on the basis of his Twitter account alone, this writer would be disbarred from a psychotherapy college and fired from a public school position. But give him a yoga class or invite him to a festival in Bali? No problem. Let that sink in.

The writer fantasizes he’s holding space for his opponents while actually aggrandizing his self-image. Now the question is: how would his opponents hold space for him, once the phony yoga veil is pulled back from the real values at play?

Bottom line: the yoga space is like any public space: you can’t tell who voted for whom, unless they’re wearing that red hat or H button or you ask them directly. If you teach in that space, you might be in the position of serving even those whose views would oppress you. You’ve got to decide whether you’re up for that. If you study in it, you may be taking guidance from an energetic vampire who mocks your values. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because Bikram. And all the others. If you’re really opposed to discussions of stronger regulatory mechanisms and training in Yogaland, consider these consequences.

So: what to do in this Wild West? The old books of yoga said: study your teachers for a long time. The new books of yoga, aka feminism, add: the personal is the political. Taken together, they would encourage grave caution in choosing the person into whose care you commit your most tender self, where internal and external justice are trying to conjoin.

 

Yoga Injuries: Is Our “Transcendental” Approach to Blame?

Published on Yandara Yoga Institute
November 14, 2016

Matthew Remski was mystified. As he considered the circle of friends and colleagues he’d developed through years of training and teaching yoga, it occurred to him that he couldn’t name a single person who wasn’t dealing with yoga injuries.

Read more >>

After 11/9: How About a National Engaged Yoga Network?

This thought-experiment is meant for yoga practitioners and teachers who identify as progressive and/or opposed to the President-elect and the hellfire of social oppression, political regression, and environmental destruction that’s upon us.

It’s for those who wonder if they can maximize the physical, financial and emotional resources they commit to internal work and justice by combining them more than they’re combined already.

Most importantly, it’s for studio owners and prominent teachers who feel that their student base fits this profile.

If that’s not you, I wish you well, and we’ll talk some other time.

Ideas are one thing, but making them work can be bonecrushing. So before going anywhere with this one it would be good to discuss its pros and cons. Is it useful? Would spending energy on it splinter scarce resources? Is it an organizational idea that will preach to the choir and increase the insular bubbling that is part of our tragedy? I’d love to hear your comments, below.

Four caveats:

  1. I come at this without any political science or statistics training, so I’m totally prepared to be taken to the woodshed here.
  2. I know that the tone here might be too wonkish for many phases of rage and grief. It can be a mark of privilege and perhaps dissociation to offer theory too soon. I have no intention of interrupting all the colours of outpouring. If the timing doesn’t sit well for you, my apologies, and maybe you can bookmark it for later.
  3. The title for this organizational idea, Engaged Yoga Network (EYN) is a placeholder that can be changed, and not meant to be confused with or distract from the work of the Socially Engaged Yoga Network of Chicago, which does awesome local service work.
  4. I’m a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen with a lot of international readers. This could be an international initiative for sure, but it’s probably simpler to start focused. I don’t know.

Here goes.

If the 9-12 thousand1)Estimate from Andrew Tanner of YA. yoga studios that dot the U.S. were better networked, they could potentially provide organizational support via meeting spaces and marketing infrastructure to the political aspirations of a population larger than the Green Party membership, UAW, and MoveOn.org put together. This population would largely intersect with the same population that has dissociatively underserved the common good in relation to its resources and privilege: middle-to-high income white people. 

Ipsos tells us there are 36 million practitioners who have attended a yoga class over the last six months. Forty-five percent of them report practicing in one of the thousands of yoga studios in the U.S. That’s 16.2 million people: about 13% of the Nov. 8th voting turnout.

How does this demographic shake out, politically? We’ve been around the block enough to know that practicing yoga is not a reliable predictor of political sentiment or affiliation. People come from across the political spectrum to practice. Moreover, modern global yoga culture has historically positioned itself through the pretence of political neutrality in order to serve a politically diverse clientele, while projecting a spirituality that transcends politics.

That said, the harrowing electoral college map:

as of 11/11.

 

…reminded me of this map from earlier this year:

greenscale of practitioner concentration

From Ispos, Yoga in America 2016, p. 22.

 

If we transpose the electoral results onto the studio-practicing population, at the very least half of that 16.2 million opposed the President-elect. But it must be way more than that. The typical yoga class in an urban centre or mid-size town (where more of them are taking place) isn’t split evenly between red and blue voters. A higher percentage of yoga practitioners are college-educated than not, and there are more studios in urban than rural areas: these are both correlated with stronger blue leanings.

So we can definitely say that somewhere between 8.1 and the full 16.2 million studio practitioners currently oppose the President-elect. If we split the difference and called it 12 million Trump opponents, we’re talking about a block almost as large as the AFL-CIO. My gut tells me two things: that’s a conservative estimate, and it’s also a whole lot of sleeping infrastructure power that can be mobilized from the coasts inwards.

Questions:

Would those 12 million progressive practitioners be supported in their social values and deepen their levels of activism if their studios were signatories in a national political network? How many of those 12 million want that kind of support? Do they have brick-and-mortar, flesh-and-blood outlets for political engagement elsewhere, along with the time to invest in them? (I ask this because I know too many practitioners who say they would like to be more involved in political justice work before and after election days, but never have as much time as they’d like.)

Would those 12 million appreciate a space that offered the self-care of yoga and meditation in the front rooms, and community organizing in the back rooms? Would they mind that the advertising for each overlapped? Or do they specifically come to yoga spaces to get away from their socio-political exhaustion? And would an explicitly stated political stance alienate enough of a percentage of non-progressives in a given studio (in purple states and cities, for instance) to undo any positive gains? If this is a possibility, could the stance be modulated as needed?

These are questions that only each studio owner can hope to answer.

Owners who have jumped in headfirst have overtly politicized their spaces by hosting social justice events, fundraisers, and accessibility initiatives. A few have developed entire political economies, like my friend Christi-an Slomka who ran her former studio in Toronto with her colleague Jamilah Malika on a model that acknowledged its occupation of First Nations territory, fostered safer space, trained teachers in anti-oppression work, helped marginalized and racialized groups foster dedicated classes, and had a robust work exchange system. Her work is on pause for now, but her colleagues Leena Miller Cressman and Emma Dines continue it in Kitchener, Ontario. Laura Humpf of Rainier Beach Yoga in Seattle and POC Yoga, withstood withering attacks from the Right and Alt-right for offering yoga classes for people of color. She’s continuing the work nonetheless.. Lisa Wells has been hosting discussions on Racial Justice and Food Justice and hosted readings by Queer Poets of Color at her studio in Corvallis, Oregon. She’s now collecting gear and raising funds  and subbing out her classes so she can stand with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock before the month is through.

This organic layer of yoga-demographic radical activism is natural to college towns and diverse urban centres. But these yoga activists are usually on their own with their efforts in Yogaland. There can be deep costs to this isolation, in terms of physical and emotional exhaustion, and financial sacrifice. While many might want to follow in these leaders’ paths, the levels of commitment these leaders represent might be too demanding.

Slomka, Miller-Cressman, Dines, Humpf and Wells (is it any wonder that women are leading here?) might personally inspire graduates of their training programmes to emulate their activism, but if one of them wanted to open a progressively-oriented studio in Reno or Fort McMurray, wouldn’t it be nice if they were supported by something beyond personal mentorship, which is always limited by time and energy? What if she had instant access to a national network of ideas custom-selected for yoga demographics? What if the intellectual and emotional resources of that leadership were captured so that the leaders didn’t have to share them over hundreds of individual phone or Skype calls.

The progressive studio owners I know are all run off their feet. They always want to do more community and social service than they have time for. What if they belonged to a network that fed them monthly ideas for service and best practices?

Can we imagine an organization that can support the progressive work of any studio owner or teacher who wishes to mobilize their network to a commitment level appropriate to their community? Can we imagine a meeting-place for intellectual resources, support for initiatives in less progressive areas, and a greater sense of national cohesion?

Yoga practice will continue to help those of us lucky enough to do it to self-regulate. But can yoga infrastructure help resist the tide of the next four years — especially for those who don’t have time to do yoga?

I’m thinking that an “Engaged Yoga Network” would consist of two arms:

  1. A simple, crowd-sourced manifesto of progressive values to which studios can be signatories.
  2. A network of online resources especially crafted for yoga spaces, that support teachers and both stimulate and normalize activism at the studio level.

There’s so much great progressive yoga-related content out there, being generated by organizations like CTZNWELL, Off The Mat, and the Yoga Service Council. EYN would be about helping to aggregate it and integrate it with the rhythms of physical practice spaces.

In addition to the class downtime space of rooms for strategic meetings, many studios already use a potential delivery device for this often-fragmented content, in the form of client management software. Imagine studios being able to add a tab or menu item to their MindBodyOnline interface that they could load up with news, resources, and events from an EYN content consolidator? What if every signatory had an EYN portal on their homepage?

But yet another fancy web-based tool does not a movement make. The value of EYN could be to mesh the best of progressive yoga content and activism opportunities into the presentation of regular studio programming, through which actual people people actually meet and feel things together and maybe have tea. It could function as the thematic backdrop for self-work. That’s what politics is, anyway.

An online foundation could open the door for studio owners to pick and choose initiatives and commitment levels that suited their time and budgetary limitations, as well as the tolerance of their student base for activism. A studio in Ithaca would be well-positioned to go full-on progressive-political, trying all kinds of things that wouldn’t fly in Phoenix. But both could be supported by and affiliated with the same stream of content and inspiration. And neither would be working alone.

I mentioned above that global yoga operates under the pretence of political neutrality. Not to belabour this, but it’s a pretence because the culture lives in spaces of privilege and non-diversity where financial boundaries and time constraints restrict accessibility. Modern global yoga has grown in popularity in perfect sync with the rise of neoliberalism. We could almost say 2)Brian Culkin has a forthcoming book chapter on this. that yoga functions as the individualistic religion of the neoliberal era. Even most of its physical spaces exist through the processes of deindustrialization and gentrification that have mercilessly increased inequality.

In other words, as the notion of the common good has catastrophically devolved over the past forty years to where we are today, yoga culture has thrived. Isn’t that weird? Its thrived in part by not pushing back, by letting white and privileged people restore themselves without questioning themselves. Maybe, this week, this fact has become unbearable to many of you.

The typical yoga studio is already a politicized space. At this critical juncture, what kind of politics do we want it to communicate? Could there be a more pressing time to mobilize every resource we have?

It was Be Scofield who first convinced me that yoga practice doesn’t naturally lead to progressive action. I once asked her why then, as a social justice activist, was she interested in yoga culture at all? “Because,” she replied, “it can lend organizational power to progressive ideas.”

Yoga culture doesn’t make people progressive, but it does gather together progressive resources of space and intention and infrastructure. These resources are untapped because for many reasons the culture mainly positions itself as apolitical, and recognizing this is false carries costs.

The untapped progressive resources of yoga culture are built on the physical presence and privilege of as many as twelve million people. Many of these might already be politically engaged. Is it worth trying to use this infrastructure to support and encourage those who aren’t yet doing as much as they can or want to do? And can the growth of yoga into the heartland be consciously and efficiently linked to a growth of progressive listening, attunement, and coalition-building in the heartland?

LMK what you think if/when you have a moment. Everyone is so busy and overwhelmed. Blessings on all of your work, whatever it is.

 

_____

 

N.B.: My usual policy is to publish all comments. But I’ll be selective here. If it’s not constructive or if it’s spiritual bypass-y, I won’t publish it. There’s really no time to waste now.

Also: I don’t feel any ownership or authority over this idea. There are way more qualified people than I out there to run with this or something like it, if it’s worthwhile. I’ll support them any way I can.

 

 

 

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Estimate from Andrew Tanner of YA.
2. Brian Culkin has a forthcoming book chapter on this.
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