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Power and Privilege in Yoga (Part 3) – How to Effect Positive Change

in YD News


This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on Power, Privilege and Responsibility in Yoga. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

by Kerrie Kauer

As Hala Khouri said during our panel, if you are not working against racism individually and in the world, then you are actively supporting racism and racist systems. And we have to ask ourselves if we are reproducing that violence by being irresponsible, are we really practicing yoga? Are we practicing Ahimsa (non-harming) and upholding yoga’s definition of union? Or are we creating more separation? If yoga is a space for healing, how might these issues of power and privilege make that healing impossible for some groups?


In my own work around these issues, and in discussion with various groups I am often met with concerns around actionable steps that people can take. In many ways, I believe creating awareness around these issues and illuminating the ways in which are privileged and contribute to a system of oppression is key. Here is a list of things that yogis can do in their own communities and in their practice:

  • Engage in the process of self-reflexivity around the ways in which you experience privilege in your communities. Yoga provides us with a tool to be introspective, so use those tools to reflect upon the ways that you benefit from unearned advantages. We live in a culture where we are purposefully taught NOT to think of our privileges.
  • Engage in dialogue with people in multicultural groups where a diversity of opinions and experiences exist. Ask questions and use tools from your yoga or meditation class if you become uncomfortable. But mostly listen to what people who are part of oppressed groups have to say. Bell Hooks, feminist scholar and anti-racist educator talks about “meeting people where they are.” Have an open mind – or use radical openness, a concept Hooks pulls from Buddhist philosophy, when engaging in these dialogues. Use active listening skills instead of having an answer or defense response on deck.
  • Include social justice curriculums into your teacher training programs. Jamie Hanson just had a curriculum approved through Yoga Alliance that incorporates many of these principles. Use it or others like it if you hold teacher trainings.
  • In the same way that you might invite yogis to do workshops on arm balances, invite yogis to do workshops on social justice trainings, anti-oppression, and privilege.
  • Stop using sexist and body shaming language in your classes. Invite speakers or teachers that can do a workshop on body acceptance and self-love. Finding more ways to do abs to fit into a bikini body reproduces body shaming rhetoric and has no place in yoga.
  • Avoid engaging in paternalistic volunteerism. This perpetuates the idea of separation when we believe we can save or help communities. And it often reproduces the same hierarchies that we might be setting out to dismantle.
  • Use a critical media analysis when you are looking at advertisements and mediated images around yoga. Many people have taken to social media to represent their own real bodies. Support and patronize organizations and companies that truly reflect social action.

I hope that we can continue this conversation and engage in dialogue with one another around these issues.

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Power and Privilege in Yoga.

Kerrie J. Kauer, Ph.D., visiting scholar in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (University of Pittsburgh), 200 RYT, advisor to Yoga and Body Image Coalition and contributor to Yoga and Body Image Anthology.



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