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Berkeley Yoga Conference

A "Yoga Justice / Yoga Violence" Conference

m3It is from the social media that I learned that the Race and Yoga Research Working Group  at the University of California (Berkeley) is to host its third annual conference on Friday, April 22, 2016. The theme of the conference is “Yoga Justice / Yoga Violence.”

They have asked for submissions, however since the deadline is weeks passed and the subject caught my attention, here are some things that you may need to understand about yoga and some of the misconceptions that are prevalent in today's society.

They are running with the idea that yoga can be a tool to promote social justice. Yet, it can also be used to perpetuate violence and oppression.  They are asking:

  1. What is yoga justice?
  2. How is “justice” defined and by whom?
  3. How do we rethink narratives that promote justice through yoga?
    Yoga is neither just nor unjust in a similar way as it is not moral or immoral. Yoga is a technology and not a belief system, yoga does not sit in judgement on anyone or anything therefore any question or context of yoga justice is completely irrelevant in terms of the meaning of the word.
    There is no doubt however that because yoga is a science of life, the principles of yoga when put against aspects of life may have some bearing on sociology and human behaviourism.
  4. Conversely, what kinds of violence occur in yoga spaces?
    The people who come to yoga and are simply ordinary people with their own perception or lack of and prejudices. Their minds are programmed with survival based thinking and often a bent towards short-term pleasures. In meeting their perceived needs, people who are embedded in their own particular suffering may commit acts of violence against others or even themselves.
    However, in the yoga room or in any place that some sort of yoga is practised, unless the ethics of nonviolence against self and others (Yama & Niyama) is also being practised, then the practice is not yoga.
  5. How are people responding and/or resisting forms of yoga violence?
    If there is violence being perpetrated in a space set aside for yoga, then the aggrieved individuals must either stand up for themselves or else refer to the appropriate authority. 

They were  inviting proposals for individual papers, panels, or round tables on the following topics so here is my opinion on:

Yoga Healing

Yoga works on many levels to support the human body, mind and even our social structure. On a purely physical level, the practice of hatha yoga is restorative to the body because the practice of physical exercises combined with the personal ethics (Yama) helps the individual to avoid self-harm.

The physical exercises of yoga help to restore normal function of the soft tissues and internal organs while supporting the balance and structural integrity of body and mind. Medical science in general avoids yoga because it is difficult to capitalize and control. Under the TTPA and the proposed transatlantic trade agreements, it is entirely possible that corporations will outlaw yoga in addition to many complementary medicines.

Physically, yoga is a supportive and strengthening practice for the body as the musculature is exercised, the joints are lubricated, blood flow around the body is facilitated as is the removal of waste products from the body.

It is very apparent that when the body is more at ease, the mind also relaxes reducing the anxiety and fear that many people suffer continuously. Hatha yoga which is primarily a yoga for the body has a synergistic effect on the mind and the benefits to the casual practitioner can be huge.

The real healing and the progress on the path of yoga comes through the recognition that the body is the accumulation of matter from what we have consumed over a lifetime. Similarly our mind is a collection of all of our sense perceptions over our lifetime. Therefore when we come to identify ourselves, we are not the body and we're not the mind.

Therefore the path of yoga is not to be obsessive about the body or the mind, but to bring them to a point of comfort and equanimity so that one can focus on determining one's own true nature.

One's own true nature can only be determined by looking inwards and that this aspect of yoga is referred to as meditation. The process of meditation involves relaxing the body and mind, yet remaining alert and observant as to what is going on inside one's own body and mind.

Yogis who have accomplished this task and identified themselves as conscious human beings experience a sense of oneness with all life. This is a state of sublime peacefulness in which there is an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. When it comes to thinking about violence, there are people in the world who would not hesitate to pick up a knife and take another life, but they would think twice before cutting off their own finger.

The accomplished Yogi would not only refrain from chopping his own finger because he or she identifies that finger as an integral part of their life, but the accomplished Yogi sees every living thing as an integral part of their life just as much as their own body parts.

This path of yoga works to improve the functionality of body and mind thereby having a positive effect on health and wellness until such time as that body reaches as expiry date.

Yoga Violence

This point I have already covered including “Safe” spaces.

Social justice-oriented projects

This is an area not so much concerned for Justice of yoga rather the justice that is missing in communities. Yoga is commonly practised in many prisons around the world and most of those communities report an improved level of happiness and a reduced rate of reoffending after inmates have been released.

Yoga Authenticity

There is no doubt that India is the original country of yoga. Although some people may think that it was invented by Californian hippies, the science of yoga was a gift to humanity by the first yogi who is thought to have lived about 12,000 BC.

It is from this first yogi who is referred to as Shiva that yoga came into the world. This knowledge was taken around the world by the first students of Shiva and there is sound evidence existing all over the world although the yogic expression in Europe perhaps failed to take root before the development of economic and social ties between Europe and India in the years before Christ.

In the West so many people have read a book and declare themselves to be yoga teachers. Those who are more fortunate become yogi's in service to humanity whereas others take yoga as just another philosophy and capitalise on it. So there is genuine yoga and there is imitation yoga known as boga.

Yoga is not teaching and yoga cannot be taught, yoga is a transmission and those who are not plugged into the source of creation have nothing to transmit, all they are doing is sharing a belief or a philosophy.

Therefore, anyone who is teaching should have some credentials which are a lineage of teachers that can be traced back to India. Politically the moves by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to in a way to institutionalise yoga as Indian property is a good idea because it may give legitimacy and a proper context for the sharing of this science.

Yoga and Gentrification

In western countries, the first teachers of yoga were the wives of corporate executives and it was something for these women to do while their husbands wrote the office and the children at school or out with the nanny.

After World War II yoga became a little more middle-class and then from the 1970s it became more widely available as people flocked to India in search of truth and knowledge. These people came back and shared what they learned, sometimes well and sometimes not, but from the 1970s yoga became a profession and accordingly class fees escalated.

Yoga teachers became working professionals with expensive commercial premises to maintain. 40 years ago the price of yoga class may have been 10 or 20 cents, but today some city classes are in excess of $30 which excludes many people.

Yoga teachers who are honouring the ancient traditions will accept students who cannot pay.

Yoga (In)Justice

Any injustice and yoga would be to represent yoga is something that it is not and to make claims that it can achieve what it is not designed to achieve. So any injustice and yoga is not the injustice of yoga itself but those who are perpetrating their limited understanding.

Colonial Legacies/Futures

This is a subject on which I have written extensively. But to summarise briefly, the culture and heritage of India has been deliberately and very seriously damaged along with the killing of hundreds of millions of people. Thanks to McCauleyism, a large percentage of today's Indian population is unaware of their history and heritage.

It is not only the science of yoga and the other spiritual traditions of India that have suffered, the world has turned convenient blind eye to the facts that India was perhaps the world's first civilisation and the fountain of knowledge from which everything we know today is based. We gained our languages, our sciences and even democracy from ancient India.

Apart from language and numbers which spread to Falkland was in, almost everything else has been stolen from India by the colonial powers and this is a trend that continues today although India is becoming more able to stand up for itself and is slowly recovering from generations of colonial oppression which stifled India's rich heritage and concealed it from the wider population.

Whitewashing Yoga

Many people don't know or simply ignore the roots of yoga believing that  they know best and disregard yoga is just being just another philosophy.

"When you’ve deliberately lifted something wholesale from its religious and cultural roots, and repackaged it so it doesn’t make you uncomfortable…after you’ve done that, it’s unbelievably irritating to pretend like you’re adding ~spirituality or ~authenticity to your “repackaged” yoga just because you’re spouting some exotifying inaccurate bullshit at the beginning & end of class." SWW

Yoga and Christianity

There is a concept of Christian yoga whereby some of the yoga exercises taught using European sounding names in place of the original Sanskrit names. That's okay for some light exercise but these people need to be careful otherwise they might stumble onto the real path.

One must also remember that Christianity like everything else in Western civilisation has its roots in India.

Yoga Conversion/Spirituality

In Yoga there is nothing to believe so there can be no conversion, but the Jew, Christian or Muslim who practices yoga just for the health benefits may find that over time they become better people and better practitioners of their faith.

But because Yoga is a science and not religion, and there are no beliefs in Yoga, there is no possibility of any conversion. In terms of spirituality, Yoga recognises that this entire universe is spiritual and we are part of it, therefore the path of yoga is to become aware of that deeper underlying spirits or consciousness that permeates this entire universe.

Yoga Escapism - Yoga Tourism

Yes, go for it. Escape your sickness your worries your anxieties, you can do this temporarily in the yoga class because it takes your mind off things. Generally when a class as well taught and well practised, it leaves the practitioner refreshed hence it is a valuable tool for rest and recreation.

Yoga tourism is rather elitist because of the expense, but for those were well healed and is certainly a healthier choice of vacation then the casinos and other chaotic places people choose for the holidays.

But rather than head for the upmarket studios and tourist resorts, the person who genuinely wants to be immersed in yoga would be best advised to go to India and study and a recognised ashram or institution.

Queer Yoga/Queering Yoga - Yoga Sexualization - Girl Power!? - Heteronormativity - Yoga Men

Yoga is asexual and the only consideration for gender in yoga is that there are a few practices unsuited to women such as their time of the month and that some spiritual practices are unsuited to women as some others are unsuited to men.

But I'm sure there will be our host of academics who would love to expand on these points although they are totally irrelevant to yoga.

Yoga Threat/Taming Yoga

What a stupid question because people can either take it or leave it. But I guess governments and corporations may be concerned because practising yoga awakens perception which means that yoga people are more likely to have insight into the goings on in government and big business that those people prefer that the people didn't know. But as we are in the age of WikiLeaks, this is fairly irrelevant.

Those who practice yoga and have discovered something of the true nature of life will desire a more equitable and harmonious lifestyle and perhaps they will be more likely to lobby their government representatives and call for them to be accountable. In a similar way yoga people will want to eat healthy food and may object to the mass poisoning by the aggrechemical corporations.

As to taming yoga, that really is a bullshit statement because there is nothing in yoga that can be tamed. Yoga is a science and the idea of taming yoga has as much merit as a chemist trying to tame his Bunsen burner.

Responses to POC Yoga Classes/Studios

As far as I know, this is only an issue within the USA. The issue is not with yoga but with the social politics of the region. Yoga has nothing to do with skin colour and is high time that people recognised that we are all human beings. But there is some hope that by practising yoga in whatever situation, these divisions in society will lessen.

Right Wing Backlash - Shutting Down Yoga Classes in Schools - Yoga Removal (e.g. K-12 schools, University of Ottawa)

Believers in anything are always fearful of anything that is perceived to have any possibility of impacting upon their beliefs. We must remember that belief is an idea that only exists in a person's mind that can never be proven. Of course some ideas become beliefs and Einstein's gravitational wave theory was only ever a theory although some people no doubt believed it. Now it has been proven, it has become knowledge and no longer needs to be believed in.

These people who are fearful of yoga are living in a state of ignorance and fear, they clutch onto life without really knowing life and due to their numbers, these people represent one of the great tragedies in modern civilisation.

As much as many yogis have tried to get the point across that yoga does not require belief, that yoga is not a religion but a scientific technology that can be used to help understand our humanity. Those who choose to believe otherwise are blinded by their own beliefs and appear stupid to those who know.

Yoga Mysticism

Mysticism is about unveiling the mystery and as far as Yoga is concerned, what is mysterious is you and me. Yoga is only mystical in interpretation because it is about unveiling what is hidden within one's self.

Yoga Business - Corporate Yoga - Yoga Commodification - Yoga Exploitation

It seemed likely that in today's market economies, the business of yoga continues to expand and is very successful. On one level it is spreading elements of the subject and at the same time watering down the essence. This also allows clients to pick and choose what aspects of yoga they like.

On one hand this is highly exploitative and a form of plagiarism because due credit and royalties are not being paid to the people of origin or the institutions within India who have worked to maintain the traditions of yoga the past 14,000 years.

While the practice of yoga is beneficial for the people who work for corporations and ultimately the corporations themselves if they pay heed to the nature of life without trying to monetise it. But unfortunately the yoga business and the corporatisation of yoga was about extracting as much financial return as possible for the least amount of effort.

These people do not realise that yoga is a science of life and that life must be respected. However most businesses and corporations have given up respecting life and instead only seek to monetise it which is causing so many disasters all around the world and according to some experts may lead to the extermination of all life on earth in the very near future.

The modern shape of business and corporations means that yoga is being commodified and exploited for profits that to a large extent are antilife. Those unfortunates attending these institutions often end up learning one aspect of yoga which ultimately only serves to reinforce their limitations, their suffering and unhappiness.

Nonprofit Yoga

Yoga is a science and a technology that can be applied to help discover what it means to be human and to know the nature not only of life on earth at the nature of this entire universe in which we live. The person who teaches yoga must be a practising yogi and because the yogi needs to practice a considerable part of everyday, his or her teaching time is limited.

Therefore the yogi does not have time to run a business and is fundamentally unconcerned by the corrupt economic system under which we live. Unfortunately in this day and age, money is essential for survival and the real yogi is looking to only generate sufficient income to cover his or her cost of living.

The goal of yoga is always the liberation from suffering which has nothing to do with economics unless one is to hungry to practice, but here food and shelter are required and money is only needed if money is the only means.

The yogi does not seek wealth and possessions because these are only temporary things, and like the mind and body will be left behind when the body reaches its expiry date.

The high prices of modern day yoga classes exclude those who cannot afford to pay, but yoga and is very nature is an inclusive discipline, therefore high prices that exclude people also excludes the ultimate reality of yoga.

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