ACTIVISM IN YOGA: Change Needed Within The Yoga, Holistic & Spiritual Community

Activism = Taking conscious ACTion to create change. It is time for CHANGE in our own yoga, holistic, health and wellness community.

As yoga, holistic health and astrology have become more popular in recent years, there have also been a few things that are in obvious need of serious change. On the one hand, it’s amazing to see more people in our communities – but on the other hand, are we headed in the right direction?

We are living in a deeply transformational and transitional time. I am not afraid to share my thoughts on topics that many would prefer to avoid – For me, this is not the time to gloss over topics that need addressing or to avoid diving into the Shadow for fear on not appearing as a person of “love and light”. Transformation is beautifully messy and there can’t be real change if we continue accepting things that are not working. These are all just my thoughts (evolving constantly) from my 20+ years experience in the holistic health community and from discussions with others. See what feels right for you, leave out what doesn’t. And please feel free to share in the comments on this, all welcome!

Bring back activism!

Bring back activism in this community! The rise of the yoga celebs and yoga selfies on social media, the endless businesses selling products for yoga, the huge yoga festivals and expos, health magazines promoting teachers/coaches/therapists/yoga cover models etc… this is an example of how the community has become a huge money-making industry. While I have no issues with making money from what we love to share to the world (money is a form of energy exchange and I also run my own business), I also miss a big part of what used to be a very activist community. Of course, there still is activism – but it doesn’t feel fully present sometimes. Anyone else feeling this?

Honestly, it feels more like a fashion show for yoga pants than a place where we discuss what needs to be changed in the world. – A friend said this to me and read my mind when I was working at one of the biggest expos for yoga and spirituality in Europe. Up until that point, I had this feeling somewhere deep inside of me for a long time but it became blindingly clear to me when I was sitting right in the middle of “the circus” on that day. I was feeling lost and out of place here – and it has taken me many months to figure out what this means for me.

While the industry has exploded, so too has the scandals behind the scenes. Something no longer feels right… Reports and leaks slowly start coming out about what really goes on in many of the “holistic” businesses that we have seen a big rise in this industry. And I still wonder why there hasn’t been much coverage on this.

2020 was a turning point again… We all know what happened in 2020, on a personal and collective level. In many ways, I feel like a lot of things started to become obvious for each of us – on what we value, how the world is (both the good and the bad) and what changes we want to make. 2020 was a turning point. Many things resurfaced in our community too… Let me share 3 of the obvious ones.

👉 The #MeToo Movement

The Me Too Movement has rocked the world, including the yoga community. Survivors are speaking out on the sexual misconduct and abuse of students by Yoga “gurus”. Allegations have already been made against Pattabhi Jois, Bikram Choudhury & Dr. Kausthub Desikachar – More has come out this year (2020).

I have a heavy heart – I found out my teachers are also part of this. As a Kundalini yoga teacher, a student of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO foundation, I was horrified when I started reading posts on Facebook about a book that had been published by a former student and the investigations that are taking place – Click here to read more!

Even though Yogi Bhajan was not what brought me to Kundalini yoga in the first place, I started to mourn how the community that did are now struggling. Music and the Kundalini yoga community was what attracted me – I was inspired by many teachers from my course and who I came across through music. Yogi Bhajan was more like a point of reference for lecture notes and studying. Still, it feels like a deep betrayal.

I continue to observe the reactions from a handful of my own teachers who taught me and how some were quick to dismiss the sexual allegations, while others threw away their Kundalini yoga certificates/books and vowed to no longer teach it. Some remarks have shocked me as the blame game started. I started to question my Self on how I wanted to move forward as a Kundalini yoga teacher. Can I separate the teacher from the teachings? For sure, I never had a problem changing teachers before, even when the teachings were the same. After all, Kundalini yoga and the teachings were here long before Yogi Bhajan. I am still going through my own changes in this – The disgust and distrust for Yogi Bhajan run deep.

Astrology lovers also have been hit by the sexual abuse allegations of a popular astrologer. Just when I was starting to get my head around the whole Yogi Bhajan scandal, another one appeared. in 2020… With Kaypacha – Click here to read more about this! As an astrology lover, I use astrology every day and follow many astrologers online – he was one of them, with his weekly Astro report. After many years following him, it was an added blow to my already heavy heart. So the astrology community has also been hit with the Me Too movement now.

Speaking out is powerful! The positive news is that we are seeing more people speaking out about their experiences – Plus, spaces (like yoga studios and YTT organisations) are now addressing this in their practices. There is still a long way to go and it is time to weed out those who abuse their teacher status.

The Guru is within… The problem with our community over the years is that spiritual teachers have been put on a pedestal, where whatever they did was unquestioned and unchallenged – even if there was abuse. Of course, not all spiritual teachers have been abusing their power, but sadly there are some who have taken advantage of this status by their students and followers. Thank goodness we are seeing this change.

Call anyone out who is abusing the trust and respect of their students. Trust your instincts! If something does not feel right, listen to your Self.

👉 Lack of diversity

This is another issue that has been weighing down heavily on my heart. This affects me personally as I am a woman of color. I am usually the only non-White person in a therapy centre or yoga studio… The same goes for disability (I have a hidden disability with my vision) and I don’t see many spaces or classes offering anything for people with disabilities. In a diverse big city like London and Barcelona (the 2 cities I work in), I find this strange. Since starting my holistic journey in the ’90s, the weird thing that I have also observed is that as yoga and holistic health became mainstream, I started seeing less diversity. Is this changing?

A difficult but obvious reality is that most health magazines/media sources and yoga/holistic spaces have teachers, therapists, coaches, clients and students who are mainly White, Middle/Upper-Class Women. I thought yoga was for everyone? What is missing here? When I asked a yoga studio owner why their teachers only represented this group and there was no diversity (BIPOC, LGBT, disabled people etc), I was told that “They are not interested in health, it is hard to find anyone who wants to teach or come to classes.” This poor excuse was just the start of many experiences where I would politely challenge others and get a series of more excuses and defensive responses that left me feeling all kinds of emotions. I know these excuses are not true. The same mistakes and false assumptions keep coming up and hold back progress. There is discrimination in the wellness and spiritual community, even if most of it is unconscious. I am tired of people who do not want to even acknowledge that there is a problem and who pretend that this is not happening.

Classic examples of what is going wrong. Yoga Journal is one of the leading yoga lifestyle magazines that have shown examples of the lack of understanding in this topic (examples: Jessamyn Stanley and Nicole Cardoza), resulting in debate on this issue. If you want to tune in to a podcast that is fearless in tackling this topic (and many others in their other podcasts), I recommend listening to this – Yoga Is Dead Podcast. I don’t agree 100% with everything they discuss but I think it’s great to hear this being openly shared. I wish I could say that many of these shared experiences are not common, but I know from my own experiences (and from hearing other people in this industry) that this is a common thing we face all the time.

A turning point? Or a temporary trend? I have been seeing how the Black Lives Matter movement has been discussed more n the yoga community in 2020. Yoga studios and therapy centres are taking note and some are asking the difficult questions as to why their space is not a reflection of today’s diverse society – and if they can do things differently. More holistic and wellness media outlets are starting to focus their attention towards teachers/coaches/therapists/etc who don’t fit the stereotype of what is usually shown. This is all positive, but I am worried and wondering if this has become a trend that will fade.

Taking responsibility for change. ALL of us can make a change by our own actions and being open to asking our yoga studios, teachers, students etc how we can move forward to include more people from BIPOC & LGBT communities, people with disabilities, people of different body sizes and age groups -plus everyone who does not feel represented by what is currently shown.

If you have always felt like you did not fit in, this is exactly the opportunity to shine – and show others that this community is beautiful in so many diverse ways!

Reflection Qs: What is your yoga studio/gym/therapy centre doing about this? What training can they/we offer to bring more awareness to this?

👉 Where are your yoga pants and crystals coming from?

What do you use in your yoga and meditation practice? As the industry has exploded, so too has the sources and varieties of things we like to use and buy. I often ask my Self, do we really need all of this stuff?!? Maybe this question will begin another blog post – but for now, I want to focus on one thing that a lot of people forget to ask: Is what I am buying/using ethical and sustainable?

While we are busy meditating with our crystals, did we forget to ask where and how they were mined? If you haven’t thought about this, it is worth reading these 2 articles: Dark crystals: the brutal reality behind a booming wellness craze and Are crystals the new blood diamonds? – Knowing this takes the love & light factor right out of what we are using to heal with. It’s a reality that many choose to ignore.

And what about your yoga clothing? Are they coming from sweatshop labour? Are you supporting businesses that truly care about their workers and stand for positive change? One brand that I absolutely cannot stand and are making $$$ is Lululemon. Do your own research on them and you will see why I feel this way. For starters, the founder (who later stepped down from his board) Chip Wilson is a seriously dodgy character and reports have also come out about the bad treatment of their factory workers. I am sure there are some other big popular brands that also need to be honest about their background. And if this wasn’t enough, we might have to look closer at what our yoga pants are doing to the environment. The same goes for many of the other things that we may be using in our yoga and health routines (examples: plastic bottles etc).

The next time you reach out for your crystals and get into your yoga gear, take a moment to reflect on how your practice may be part f the problem or the solution.

There is a lot to think about!

These were just a few areas that came up for me – I know there are many more things that we are starting to openly discuss. The point of this post is to maybe inspire reflections on how we can move forward.

As always, I am open to hearing what other people feel and experience, whether they agree or not – it’s all good! I am always learning from others. Feel free to share below in the comments section or share with others! 👇

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