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Let’s Get Political: Yoga Bloggers Urge You to Endorse/Vote for Obama

in YD News

So, you might have caught wind of some kind of election thing going on. If you’re a citizen of the United States of America we hope you will exercise your right to vote because it’s kind of a big deal. And pardon the phrase in light of recent events, but it’s probably going to be a real shitstorm, so get your little yogasana in there and let your voice and your choice be heard!

Some yoga writers would say that’s not good enough. A few have put out the call for yogis to “shelve both idealism and politeness” and “stand up and endorse Obama” to “weave our politics and practice into a bright braid of passion,” demanding proper progressiveness and tossing criticism at those remaining mum, as well as the most politically vocal yoga organization out there, Off the Mat, for their “political neutrality.” (See OTM at the DNC and RNC).

Matthew Remski, a Canadian writer and yoga teacher, challenges:

So why, I ask, with our sentiments and our privileged economic status and all of us hanging around the studio water cooler after class worried about reversals in health care coverage and women’s rights and environmental hooliganism, is the most visible political arm of yoga culture this toothless display of bendy niceness?

In another article several yoga teachers and bloggers weigh in on the trend of “disassociation,” flaccidity and yoga leadership’s “pervasive apathy and general vagueness.” Some excerpts:

Angela Jamison: “Your vote for president doesn’t matter, except in your head. Political scientists know this; operatives know this. When it comes to the statistics, the only way YOU can effect an electoral outcome is to express your voice beyond the voting booth.”

“What really matters is that everyone should vote their conscience. If we just mobilize everyone to vote their conscience, democracy will prevail. “ Naiveté in the extreme. Every time you say it, please feel Karl Rove giving you a big, wet kiss on the lips. And have you SEEN Karl Rove lately? He’s been busy deep-throating YogaVotes all season.

Derek Beres: Running away from the world’s problems because you don’t agree with how it’s being run is no way to strengthen your yoga practice. Your practice has to be put to use in the world around you, and this involves working inside of your society. It involves, at the very least, knowing how your society operates and making informed decisions of how to participate.

…Whether or not we agree with current policies, we must engage them. The idea that they detract from our spiritual progress is proof of our not recognizing what spirituality is.

Carol Horton: It’s understandable that many people want to escape today’s disheartening political realities. Consequently, they turn to counter-productive strategies of denial, distraction, scapegoating, and magical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a big social trend—and one that, to a dismaying extent, the North American yoga community has been very much caught up in.

Yet an effective yoga practice can connect us to that inner source of strength, courage, and discernment we need to face what’s happening in our world and deal with it as best we can. And if there was ever a time to practice in a way that engages with the world rather than retreats from it, the time is now.

…Right now, we must focus our energies on getting Obama re-elected. Not only is he the better candidate, but also, more importantly, he leads a party that, despite its enormous problems, provides the most effective barrier we currently have against a rising tide of right-wing reaction, elitist capitalism and unfettered Social Darwinism.

Frank Jude Boccio: But, we got Obama. And now we should do all we can to keep him, because I’m pretty damn certain Romney and Ryan are a bit sociopathic. Yeah, it sucks not to be in the position to vote for someone I’d actually like to see President, one with whom I agree politically (fat chance in America). For all his many weaknesses, Obama is the lesser of two evils by far! And that’s the bottom line.

Roseanne Harvey: My American friends, I hope you vote with your head on November 6, using discrimination and critical thinking, and not with your heart. I hope you vote for Obama, whether it’s because you agree with his policies or because he represents the lesser of two evils. It doesn’t matter.

I’m looking forward to seeing yogis get involved in the political process, before and after this election. This is not the time to be nonpartisan and hide behind talk of “unity.” This is not the time to tell people to listen to their hearts. It is the time to connect practice with politics, to encourage people to wake up and name the truth.

And the all out Romney rant:

Julian Walker: We stand on the precipice of electing a blue-blood, swashbuckling, venture capitalist Mormon who flip-flops on every position he takes, depending on who he is talking to, as the leader of the free world.

…Did I mention he’s a Mormon? Ah yes, we are not supposed to talk about that, because in some paroxysm of political correctness we overcompensated in a way that makes us ironically prey to the very same religious oppression we were trying to prevent. But it matters what people believe about reality! Look up the tenets of the Church of Latter Day Saints and get ready for a president in magic underwear that believes in divine golden plates (found by his prophet who used a magic hat to translate their prophecies) and Jesus coming again in Missouri.

Yea, I know ordinary Christianity is not much less nutty, and you straight up have to claim you believe in that in order to be a decent person worthy of running for president, right?

…Drop the pretense, stop the faux spiritual madness, stop pretending it doesn’t matter and that a metaphysical “shift in consciousness” is the only solution, as if this is somehow distinct from political process, and get your hands dirty disagreeing with some people, taking a stand and making a difference in this crucial moment.

And then we have yogi writer and author Neal Pollack offering his own skepticism on the political yoga union via his Yoga Journal column:

Yoga knows no political party or ideological affiliation. Politics, like everything else on this precious Earth, are temporary. The sutras present a series of philosophical principles, but they are undogmatic, a sketch, general rules for civil conduct, like the Ten Commandments or the editorial page of the Sunday New York Times. Also, they were written thousands of years ago, long before the births of Thomas Jefferson or Willard “Mitt” Romney.

…That’s not to say politics don’t matter, because of course they do. Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values. That will make you unique among Americans. Seriously, though, you should vote, though not more than once, and you should realize that your vote matters even if you live in a state that Romney is going to win regardless of what you do. We have to remember that whether we’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or, god forbid, French, we’re all just renting a little physical space here for a short while, and it’s our mission and duty to love and treat one another with kindness.

But if Obama loses, I’m moving to India. That place has no political problems at all.

And in response to an Obama endorsing post on IAYB:

I don’t believe that yoga is implicitly political. I know a lot of yoga practitioners, my father included, who support Romney. They deserve yoga, too, and I don’t think yoga should be tied into left-wing activist agendas, even if I agree with them.

The smack in our faces that was Hurricane Sandy last week may have woken up a few of us to consider reality, whether that’s learning lessons of impermanence, or in the case of NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg, officially endorsing Obama. We generally don’t talk politics here, because frankly, we don’t feel in position to do so, and many other sites and media outlets do it so much better (quick, politicsdork.com is still available!) For our part, this site is intended to inform, to report on news and yoga culture, to initiate and stoke discussion, not to tell you who to vote for, and we think we do a pretty darn good job most of the time.

We could tell you who we’re voting for, but if we really thought you would vote for a candidate based on our leanings and suggestions, we have grossly underestimated the integrity and intelligence of the yoga community, and man are we in for a long haul. (And could you really not make an educated guess?) In truth, we may not all be politicians, but we certainly participate in politics (perhaps even more than we’d like to think) when we vote, pay taxes, watch The Daily Show, boycott big bad corporations, choose organic products at the supermarket, choose our form of transportation, our form of birth control, our sexual partners, etc. If this election has moved you to get on your soapbox and advocate for your candidate and causes, and believe us, we understand how critical this election can be for many now and in the future, then by all means go for it. But don’t do it because someone is telling you to, because, well that just defeats the whole purpose.

In voting, in taking your yoga off the mat, in doing something, just as we would hope you’ve been inclined to help in some way with the recovery and relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy, we simply ask you, don’t let that Taylor Swift heartbreaking scamp John Mayer be right, dont wait on the world to change.

The floor is open. Please share your thoughts.



28 comments… add one
  • Lee

    Wow..what a sad display of groupthink. I kinda like the idea of getting our financial house in order for the survival of the nation. You cannot in any way say that Obama has strengthened a single aspect of our fiscal solvency. Flail away.

    • A lot of groups that like certain things like yoga end up having similar opinions about things related to yoga. Ask any Nascar fan.
      Obama cannot fix the financial mess you obviously had absolutely no role in of course, and Mr Romney had the audacity to lie and say that he can fix it. Shame on whoever believes that either dude can. Things are going to get ugly and whoever is less selfish and less belligerent will end up being the most helpful when NOT if shit hits the fan.

  • Thanks for the extensive reposts. For me, what drives advocating to vote for Obama is not yoga – it’s my understanding of what’s at stake in this election. I do find, however, that yoga is an important tool that helps me stay engaged with our seriously messed up politics without becoming too burnt out or dragged down by them. And in that way, it’s a very very important connection.

    I also think that there are valid reasons for yoga teachers (among others) to NOT take a public stand on the election. However, I haven’t seen a really good articulation of that position – rather, there’s a lot of empty “we’re all one” wishful thinking, coupled with an evasion of acknowledging the depth of the divisions and issues in play. That said, if people choose to put their energies into bridging those divides – rather than simply pretending that they don’t exist – I’m 100% on board with that project.

  • I realized about 3 months ago, that the divide in America has created camps in which the certainty that Democrats are wrong is as deeply held by the GOP as Democrats’ beliefs that Republicans are wrong. Yoga Sutra I.33 advises behavior with people of a different ilk to keep peace of mind. In my view, endorsing is a perfectly valid step, and discussion with someone who is interested is fine, but the place where you start swearing and considering someone else inferior is no longer one of abyasa/vairagyam (practice/non-attachment).

    • Peter, thank you for your reply on this post. I have a few questions pertaining to your Sutra, and how it would hold up in light of the following, currently on tap in our election:

      1. After Hurricane Sandy, President Obama suspended campaigning immediately and headed to NJ, sending in as much federal aid as possible. Romney fake-suspended his campaign in Ohio (I say fake because the idea of suspension is to not discuss politics, which he did), created a fake Sandy donation drive asking for canned goods (spending $5k at Wal-Mart, a company that predominantly imports from China, who Romney swore he would be ‘tough on, to make it seem like his supporters came prepared, when the Red Cross specifically asked that no one donate canned goods), and then compared the hurricane clean-up to cleaning up a high school football field. Question: If Romney was president and shared that analogy instead of sending in immediate federal aid after your house was washed away, how would non-attachment work in the political process?

      2. Romney has already said he would overturn Roe V Wade. Question: If you are a woman in need of an abortion, and due to your state now banning it with potential for arrest if you seek one (as per some Senators’ statements), how would non-attachment help you deal with your new crime?

      I could do on, but I’ll start with those two.

      • Thanks for the reply, Derek. My point is not that you shouldn’t have an opinion about which is better or do nothing, but that trying to convince people who have an equally strong belief that you are wrong will only bring about anger, frustration, or possibly violence. Voting is your best bet after speaking your mind in a way that honors the opinions of other people. I found this analysis fascinating: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html. And btw, I’m far left politically and vocal about it, but not with my ultra-conservative brother-in-law. And if we get a GOP government, I imagine there will be a revolution when enough people are going hungry or without health care. Then, we will discuss Gandhi…as we again try to get people to vote liberal.

        • Thanks Peter. I sometimes find quoting old texts insufficient when applied to real-life situations, though I understand what you are saying. At YogaBrains we often have to spend time telling people we are not cranky, we are just trying to think critically about these topics – take what from ‘ancient’ yoga works in our current reality, and discard what does not. I fully agree that violence is never the way to go, but I do think anger and frustration are useful if utilized in a progressive manner (I’m of the mind that there are no ‘bad’ emotions, but each one is a natural function of our humanity and can be expressed in ways that help people grow). I also hear you regarding hearing the opinions of others, but I’ve never in my lifetime seen an election with as many outright lies and disregard for facts as this one, hence our piece on the site as a way of reminding people what’s at stake.

          • I appreciate your sentiment completely. Speaking strictly as a yogi now, there is a tendency to place too much emphasis on what’s going on in circumstances as the reason for suffering. If one takes as a given that one’s dharma (circumstances) are as they should be — which is to say that the world is as it should be — then the best we may do is slog away and understand why people behave the way they do. That is the meaning of namaste — to recognize that we’re all in this big karmic action together playing our roles, roles we barely understand, and even less the whole thing. So we act! And we also try to gain the highest perspective. You advocate this in your article, but from a place of frustration. I’m encouraging you to feel it from a place of wonder (one of the emotions!) Namaste. I have to go teach!

          • Hey Peter,

            Hope you had a good class. I hear you about frustration, although that is really not the place where I teach from – I speak on these exact issues here:


            Being a music critic for nearly 20 years, I do tend to lean towards the critical side, which I believe is helpful if the topic at hand can benefit and grow from constructive criticism. Not always saying I nail it or express my points the right way, but that is what I aim for.

            Regarding the world is as it should be: that’s one thing I have a serious issue with. You can say ‘it was meant to be’ after ANYTHING happens. It already happened. That always seemed like an excuse – a comforting one, albeit – rather than a philosophy with integrity. It gets back to the point I made in my initial comment, and something I discussed with a friend this weekend: imagine all the people on the Jersey coast (where I grew up) who were evacuated and prayed that their homes survived. How do you distinguish between those homes destroyed and those that made it ok? Did some people pray harder? Was it ‘meant to be’ that some people lost everything in their lives and others didn’t? If so, what sort of twisted dharma would decide that?

            Situations happen. Our actions define our character. How we handle each situation defines who we are. Saying that everything is ‘just as it should be’ fails when we run up against natural disasters, murders, rape and so forth. How people react to those situations will go on to define who they are, and yoga (and Buddhism, and others) provide tools for handling it with grace and integrity. I just don’t see any room for the ‘meant to be’ argument; it seems like a 20th century positive thinking adjustment to a culture always striving towards a false sense of security.

  • paul

    thanks for not underestimating the integrity and intelligence of the yoga community, but going further to recognize this “community” is not the homogenous group the list quoted here would have been appreciated, consisting as it is of “not your mother’s yoga” teachers

    Stein and Johnson are having a final debate tonight (nov 5) 9-10:30pm eastern live streamed at http://freeandequal.org/events/final-presidential-debate/ 🙂

  • paul

    thanks for respecting your readers intelligence, though I don’t see a group of non-traditional yoga-ers in any way representative of the so called “yoga community”

    there is a final debate between Stein and Johnson tonight (nov 5) 9-10:30pm eastern livestreamed http://freeandequal.org/events/final-presidential-debate/ in case you don’t know what a real progressive and a real libertarian sound like

    • paul

      apologies for this double post 🙁 🙂

    • Paul, Angela J above probably meets your definition of a traditional yoga-er.

      • paul

        thanks, I’m not familiar with her. Her line opposing voting your own conscience, “And have you SEEN Karl Rove lately? He’s been busy deep-throating YogaVotes all season.” threw me off.

        • Dear paul,

          Being politically progressive, and even outspoken, is part of the Krishnamacharya tradition.

          Do you know about Krishnamachya’s radical book the Yoga Makaranda? Do you know about his student SK Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar’s audacious, politically progressive decisions to teach foreigners, women, and eventually even those of different religions and castes?

          I am a lineage-holder in that tradition. As a result, I am not afraid to speak or act a bit audaciously if it is done in support of the expansion of rights and social responsibilities to previously oppressed people or entities. This is what traditional yoga-ers have been doing for decades, and lots of times people have said they were crazy for doing it.

          I just wrote a long note on this topic on Facebook. Track me down if you want to read it.

          Respectfully, Angela Jamison

          • paul

            Hi Angela, I’m only slightly familiar with Krishnamachya and his students, so thank you for that recommendation. The Siddha tradition regularly speaks against class and other biases, and depending on the reading Patanjali’s great vow does this too, so it is more accurate to say centuries or millennia than decades.

            But these are part of a tradition, not an imagined THE tradition, so say that these world-engaging voices are the voice of yoga, or present them as somehow representative of a larger (imagined) “community” is not accurate, especially when atheism, intolerance for any view but their own, revisionism, insults, anti-corporate hypocrisy, etc, mark the endorsers. Violent metaphors are unnecessary, as is masking name-calling via categorization and psychology (ie Walker and Remski).

            For all this discussion I hope you and all those engaging will not stop their voices at this election, but continue it to speak against violence and for health, as this “pragmatic” endorsement will continue its trend against these without it.

          • Paul, thank you so much for the feedback and inspiration. I’ll learn more about the Siddha tradition and do my best to avoid the fallacies and intellectual dishonesty you point out.

          • Paul — these are good cautions for those of us who have gone out on a limb to push yoga community discourse in a progressive and muscular direction (although I’m not sure what you consider to be insulting or intolerant). I’d like you to know that polemic is only one of the asanas in flow here. Amongst the small band who’ve taken this risk, there are many who organize progressively at a local level, and who work day in and day out as teachers and therapists to help yoga practitioners not only progress in self-inquiry but also become less alienated from their social power.

            I’ll say once again for myself: my endorsement effort is much more about testing the envelope of political coherence within yoga community. I thank you for helping to define its limits and possibilities.

  • I am also looking forward to hearing from the Progressive and Libertarian candidates tonight.

    I do not understand how one practicing Ahimsa – I am thinking personally of our endless, pointless wars and countless abortions – could be behind anyone but the good Dr. Ron Paul, whose name I wrote in, as a matter of principle.

    President Obama and Mr. Romney’s campaigns are both supported by the same huge corporations, divulging how similar the parties have become.

  • Thanks YD for the lamplight. I originally posted to begin a conversation not about the merits of the candidates (these are obvious), nor the third-party conundrum (which we’ll be arguing fruitfully forever), but about whether yoga community can effectively evolve into a culture that expresses progressive values. My hope is that the answer would be YES, but it’s clear that the matter is very complicated. Here’s a report on what I’ve learned since Thursday:


  • I voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein this morning. But to be honest, I’m much more interested in grassroots, direction action. Community activism and community-directed redevelopment. Collective, sustained lobbying. There’s entirely too much focus on voting in the “right” candidates every few years, when the reality is that we’re in the karmic soup everyday, all the time. And our daily actions are what creates the world we live in. I’d rather see a whole bunch of yogis actively involved in grassroots efforts who don’t endorse candidates, than a crowd of yogis who get ramped up for a few weeks online about candidate X or Y, and then return to disengagement the moment the election is over. Yes, that’s a stereotype, but the apolitical, get your bliss on and it will be all good crowd is far too common these days.

  • Nathan — I totally agree — I wouldn’t assume that those who’ve called for pragmatic endorsement are flashes-in-the-pan. I for one am a bit of a local politics bulldog.

    Promoting yoga community engagement in local politics is part of my practice. Here’s me giving a deposition at Toronto City Hall on the eve of draconian funding cuts to library funding: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSfCzDrSS8c&fe….

    And when they tried to impose service fees for using public parks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9cs9VHCVJE&fe

    There are many of us working the macro and the micro: yat pinde tat brahmande.

  • Matthew, I’m glad to hear your active in local politics. I know that Carol, and some of the others with recent blog posts are also engaged far beyond the election. But I don’t think that’s the norm.

    The spearheaders of the endorse Obama campaign are people who frequently write about politics and social issues. I know they aren’t alone, and locally, I know a handful of socially engaged yoga practitioners as well. But do think that there are plenty of yogis, including some of those writing glowingly about Obama, who aren’t doing doing much in between elections. Why do I say that? Because that’s how our society has trained us. Voting is supposed to be where all of our power lies, and the debates about candidates and the act of voting is the end all of what it means to be politically engaged. I can’t tell you the number of intelligent spiritual practitioners I’ve met who basically subscribe to the view that politics is about voting, and spiritual practice has nothing to do with politics and social action. Perhaps it’s different in Canada? I don’t know.

    In the time I spent in a fairly large, local yoga teacher training program, I can’t recall more than half a dozen conversations where the topic of social engagement and activism came up. That, over a year’s time. My zen sangha is somewhat better, but even there, it’s tough to move past the idea that spiritual practice is totally separate from social/political action.

    There seems to be a strong default setting of non-involvement, or involvement totally separate from spiritual practice, that I believe is tied to not wanting to be like the “Conservative Christian” crowd. Even discussions about doing service projects, such as regularly helping out in soup kitchens or doing neighborhood clean up, get derailed by people questioning if “this is practice.” In addition, Lee’s “groupthink” comment above has some accuracy in that yoga and convert Buddhist communities are filled with primarily white, middle to upper class folks who identify as Democrats, and assume (rightly for the most part) that everyone else around them is the same in that respect. Those who don’t fit into the various forms and norms of this dominant group tend to either leave, or remain partly invisible. Part of the reason the whole Off the Mat discussion was so wound up was that political and social engagement is messy, and people with privilege often feel their spiritual practice is “threatened” or made “impure” by such stuff. Guess I sound a bit cynical, but I think there’s a lot of challenges standing in the way of social/political action being more a norm amongst spiritual types.

  • Anon

    Nathan said, “Those who don’t fit into the various forms and norms of this dominant group tend to either leave, or remain partly invisible.”
    I think you’re right Nathan, but in my experience it’s a little more active than that. “Those who don’t fit..” are typically driven out through ostracism. Progressives often confine themselves so tightly within their bubble that they truly believe that the only reasons someone might disagree with them are stupidity or evil. As a longtime yoga enthusiast who does not identify with either the progressive or the conservative viewpoints, I tend to simply keep quiet and smile a lot. The last thing I expect in a yoga crowd is a seerious and respectful discussion of either religious or political issues. This is a shame, but it is what it is.

  • Here’s some context for the rather sharp quotations from me at the start of this article.


  • Mat

    Is yoga political? Is a tomato a fruit? Is Buddha a Buddhist? Is mereology anti-american?

  • Wow! At last I got a blog from where I know how to truly obtain valuable information regarding my study and knowledge.

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