While our national healthcare hangs in the balance, some people are taking wellness into their own hands—a lot of them out of sheer necessity, and for some, maybe even a little desperation? (Serenity NOW.) But it doesn’t go unwarranted.
We are living in a brand new era, one the likes of which we have never witnessed before, what with politics virtually unavoidable, splashed across all our screens like a reality TV show, invading our feeds and encroaching on our valuable and vulnerable head space. You might say this is a necessary self-torture—we must stay woke! But how do we cope and keep it all copacetic? Engage or disengage? Speak up or bury our heads under our mats?
USA Today reports that the political divide is actually boosting yoga and meditation, especially among liberals.
Yoga and mediation coaches say they are seeing increased enrollment and fewer dropouts from the annual “New Year’s resolution” wave of signups. Part of this is stress relief — the American Psychological Association reports that stress nationwide is on the rise for the first time in 10 years.
But part of it is also meditation as resistance: Liberals see yoga as a place to reflect and recharge batteries for the political fights outside.
“This last election especially felt so tumultuous and so dividing — like there was so much angst and anger on both sides,” said Kristin McGee, celebrity yoga instructor and author of a beginner’s guide called Chair Yoga. “The whole idea of yoga is to unite or to come together and to create a community. … people are trying to find a way to come together, to try to find what is it that makes them feel connected and centered.”
Since the election, McGee said, “more and more people are coming to classes, more people are emailing me and asking me about how they can get started or asking me for private sessions.”
Surprise! People need yoga more now than ever. You may have even noticed an uptick in your own classes. Bent out of shape hardly describes how people felt after the election, and I mean either side. Let’s be honest, it’s been anything but a peaceful transition, and now there’s so much more work to be done to set us in any sort of steady, solid direction. So it makes sense that yoga is a go-to sanctuary.
It can also be an escape.
Stress is up. So is yoga. But, interestingly, the yoga community was by and large silent when the citta hit the fan over the past few months (or year? has it been that long?). Maybe that’s just good business. After all, if numbers are up, why rock the navasana?
In order to attract and retain customers, staying in the middle of the road with the vague and rosy principle of “one love” seemed to be the chosen path for many yoga teachers. You have studios all but ignoring what’s going on outside their Ganesha-muraled walls—aside from those subtle hints yoga teachers might drop in reference to “all that craziness in the world,” like some sort of wink-wink sugar-coated yoga code. Mega yoga festival Wanderlust chose the hunkydory #cometogether theme this year to be topical and trendy, but it’s more of an opportunistic and superficial marketing strategy than a true call for unity. (At least they’re—sort of—addressing the issues?)
It sure sounds nice to join hands and forget the woes of the world, but please let’s not conflate kumbaya with complacency. Or festivals and feathers with constructive activism.
We are at a unique position as a yoga community to invite even more social responsibility and consciousness.
“…Communities of wellness, communities of yoga have had the privilege of existing outside of those conversations,” Kerri Kelly, founder of a wellness-focused social justice advocacy group called CTZNWELL, told USA Today. But now, “that privilege no longer exists,” says Kelly, adding that, “Who we are as a country has come to the surface and we have no choice but to confront it.”
Confront it, or at least participate in it. (Note: you don’t have to call yourself an activist to be a conscious citizen.) I’m not saying go start your Trump Yoga empire—though isn’t it surprising someone hasn’t capitalized on that already, a la Namasdrake? In other words, stand in tadasana but don’t be a stick in the mud. Practice yoga nidra but don’t go around sleepwalking…you know?
I’m also not saying that your mat has to become a soap box, podium or pulpit. Should yoga teachers or studios mesh with politics? I don’t know. But pretending things are not in a constant state of kerfluffle seems like it might do more harm—on a physical, emotional and cellular level—than good. I realize this is a delicate balance, but these are not delicate times.
It’s encouraging to see more people finding a respite with yoga and meditation, but we’re not doing ourselves any favors by asana-ing around the very real issues we’re facing beyond our mats. Yoga and meditation, indeed, help us tune inward, but let’s not tune out to the point of being culturally and socially tone deaf. Let’s hope the increased practice is bringing us all more clarity individually to lead us to a clearer path forward collectively. Time will tell if it will translate into conscious and compassionate action or inactive apathy.
hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and all-around inquisitive gal living in New York City. (For the record, her practice also involves calling her senators on a regular basis. #resist)
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