Have you ever wondered how you could use your yoga practice as a springboard for social change? Yoga teachers and activists Calia Marshall, Shawna Wakefield and Emily Kramer are getting ready to help you find the answers. The trio, who are members of Third Root a Brooklyn based holistic wellness cooperative, have teamed up to offer Yoga in Action, an 8-week series beginning April 20th designed to help people clarify their purpose and harness their power.
Karen Schwartz spoke with Calia Marshall about the trio’s intentions, plans, and how their program differs from the West Coast Off The Mat training where it originated.
Karen Schwartz: What was your inspiration for this program?
Calia Marshall: We were all curious about how yoga and social justice can better support
one another. Each of us had ideas about how we could build on what we'd done with Off The Mat training.
I’ve studied a lot about chanting so that’s something I bring in, as well as creating ritual space. Emily has a strong background in yoga philosophy and in collective collaboration. Shawna has worked internationally on issues of gender justice and has a strong meditation background.
Off the Mat doesn’t actually have a lot of yoga philosophy in their curriculum so we’re framing it through the kriya yoga lens. Kriya means action or effort, moving with purpose and a goal -- and yoga is the yoking together, so it’s an action plan for acquiring that state of union.
KS: How do the sessions work?
CM: We’ll be meeting every Thursday for eight weeks, three hours each week. It will be a combination of yoga asana practice, somatic work, dynamic interactive discussion, some yoga philosophy, chanting, ritual...and doing different embodiment practices that are related to the concepts we’re working with.
KS: How do embodiment practices relate to social justice?
CM: One thing I’ve heard a lot lately is, “How do I talk about these really difficult issues that are coming up around our political situation with people who have really different beliefs than I do?” Itis simply noticing what my physical body is doing and what tools I have to reground myself... I can come to that conversation from a place of centeredness and not get thrown off.
One of the most important exercises we do during Yoga in Action is establishing personal daily practices. Each person identifies what is vital in supporting them in feeling healthy, balanced, and connected. Each participant will also receive a "buddy" - someone they check in with weekly about their daily practices, as well as the other themes we're exploring.
Another important cornerstone of Yoga in Action is our discussion about power, privilege, and oppression. Another way our training differs from Off The Mat is that we've added content on the different kinds of power each of us may or may not hold and how to transform it.
We look directly at power dynamics that are currently at play in our lives and identify a particular scenario where the power dynamic is out of balance. We will then work with one another to establish tools to shift the dynamic from an unhealthy one to a more balanced one.
KS: Do you have a specific goal for this 8-week project?
CM: The end goal is to create a service project together. It might be that everyone works on one project, it might be that we split up into smaller groups so that we work on a couple of different things, depending on people’s interests. It can be anything from creating a healing space to doing a benefit...there are so many ways to be involved right now.
KS: Why is this important for the yoga community?
CM: I think the mainstream yoga community is really concerned with “personal development” [exercise, body transformation, getting in shape]. Of course that is important, but I think channeling that into justice and transformation for all of humanity and the planet is really powerful. That’s the piece that is missing in mainstream yoga.
If we truly are one, then we have to be focused on both our personal transformation and the freedom and diminishment of suffering for all beings.
KS: What do you hope people will gain from this experience?
CM: One thing is to really think about a personal purpose -- defining what is important to you and finding sustainable practices to support that. We’ll have discussions about power and privilege...so we can move forward in a way that is very conscious. And then the community aspect of connecting with other people who are interested in the same things, in mindfulness practices and social activism and use each other for support, practicing collaboration and being able to work effectively in groups in order to create change.
For some, it will be their first time doing that and for others it will be about honing their skills. We want to hold each other accountable to our commitments to ourselves and to the group...We’re hoping to inspire people to be doing that personal work and that collective work of creating change, both from the inside out and the outside in.
Yoga In Action begins Thursday, April 20th at Minka in Brooklyn. Group size is limited to 18. For more information or to register, click here.