Yoga Journal LIVE presenter Amy Ippoliti explores where politics fit into the yoga space. Inspired by her activist perspective? Practice with her at YJ LIVE New York April 21–24. Get tickets now.
It’s been over a month since we got a new president. On the very first day of his term, millions of people all over the world marched to stand up for Mother Earth, civil rights, and democracy itself. While many yoga teachers were out marching, other yoga teachers believed in this president’s ability to raise the vibration. Yep, our community is divided.
One of my teacher training graduates who owns a studio in Colorado told me some of her students are boycotting teachers on the schedule based on who they voted for. The division is painful. And it begs the question—should you post about politics on social media or speak out about it in class when you might lose students because of your views? Let’s look at the pros and cons in detail.
You will be practicing authentic yoga by extending your practice off the mat.
Many students and (and some yoga teachers) believe yoga should be “an escape” from daily drama, a respite from the politics and stresses of life. And in the west, it’s largely become that—a physical activity we use to sweat, relax, and soothe, a break from the real world.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Traditionally, yoga is a devotional practice that does all of the above AND connects us to our deepest self and the world around us.The word yoga itself means “union,” “to yoke,” “to connect,” “to engage.”
The word yoga itself means “union,” “to yoke,” “to connect,” “to engage.”
Serious yogis don’t practice to escape the world, or worse, to escape themselves, they step onto the mat to do the work of self-inquiry and connection. Therefore posting about politics, the state of the world, and the causes one is passionate about is totally a good thing if you teach yoga! And you can do it unapologetically. (Read Gandhi’s autobiography for an example of a yogi who spoke out.)
I would add that if it feels genuine and relevant to your theme in class, certain students might even appreciate a reference to what’s going on in the world and how that relates to their practice. Of course this will have everything to do with being sensitive to your students needs—are they coming to class to get a break from taking action on politics or are they there to make sense of all the turmoil? Choose wisely.
By practicing the yamas and niyamas this way, you can help preserve our democracy and freedom.
Yoga is rooted in a philosophical foundation based on the ethical precepts of the yamas and niyamas. These first two limbs of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path (prioritized over asana, by the way) give yogis extensive guidelines for how to conduct themselves in society as ethical, conscious, fair, kind, and connected beings. The yamas and niyamas are meant to help us create a society that protects everyone’s innate freedom (svatantrya).
The yamas and niyamas are meant to help us create a society that protects everyone’s innate freedom (svatantrya).
History tells us how lucky we are to have this democracy and our freedom—and how quickly they can be taken away. This administration has demonstrated that to gain power, they will discredit the media and the judicial system, both essential elements for a healthy democracy. You know it’s a big deal when conservative Republican Senator John McCain says the following: "If you want to preserve—I'm very serious now—if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."
Do you want to wake up a year from now to a disabled press and a judicial system that are merely puppets of the president, not a check to his power? Will you feel good about not having spoken up then? I think this is a question we must ask ourselves as citizens and leaders in the yoga community.
See alsoKarma Yoga: Do Yoga, Do Good
You may lose some yoga students or social media followers.
Whether that’s a bad thing or not, depends on what you value more—being liked or living in a world you feel good about leaving behind for our children. For me the choice is clear. I’ll choose the children every time.
As a yoga teacher, you are perfectly positioned to help unite the yoga community behind this wholly yogic cause.
Politics have always been important to the kind of world we envision, but I want to make the case that today they are more important than ever. And your voice as a leader and yoga teacher can make a difference. Your yoga students are actually looking to you for your leadership and example. They value your words and thoughts on today’s issues!
As yogis our “letting go muscle” is pretty strong. I am here to beg you to let go of your party affiliation or who you voted for and unite as a yoga community to hold this administration accountable if you care about the environment, kindness, and people.
This is not about the man who took office and the big ugly election that divided us. This is about preserving our democracy and our freedom, plain and simple. THAT is what we must unify behind, regardless of who you voted for.
All of that said, you may not be the kind of person who is comfortable speaking out. If you’re shy or better with non-verbal communication, honor your personal style. But if you’re willing to take the risk, remember the cons are few (you may lose a handful of students), but what’s at stake for us, our families, and our planet is far greater.
About Our Expert
Amy Ippoliti is the co-author of the new book, The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga. She is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way through her intelligent sequencing, clear instruction, and engaging sense of humor. A teacher on YogaGlo.com, she is a pioneer of advanced yoga education, co-founding 90 Monkeys, an online school that has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in 65 countries. Follow her on: