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Occupy Yoga: Social Action for the 100%

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Photo credit: Derek Beres

by Derek Beres

When Yoga Journal posed the question of yoga’s relevance in politics on its Facebook page a few weeks ago, it was surprising to see the “no” responses sprinkled among a predominant number of affirmations. The topic was Seane Corn’s journey to Occupy Wall Street, leading her organization, Off the Mat, Into the World, into a space where other modern yogis have not yet dared to tread.

Co-founded with Suzanne Sterling and Hala Koura, Off the Mat has since inception attempted to offer yogic insight into places that are, as the name suggests, outside of the studio. Since the organization’s 2007 founding, members have initiated incredible projects, such as building a birthing center in Uganda–not sending money overseas, but physically erecting the structure and employing women to work inside of it.

Yet the Occupy movement hits closer to home for Americans, and the three women realized they needed to engage in the challenging questions being asked of all of us right now: How are our tax dollars being spent? Who is and is not paying their fair share? Are our political leaders acting with the majority’s welfare in mind?

Leading a yoga class at Occupy LA on Tuesday, Corn resisted the temptation of division. “There is no 99 percent and 1 percent,” she said before the asanas began. “We are all 100 percent, and we need to recognize that.”

Sterling later offered further insight into why Off the Mat has weighed in on this cause. “I became involved in the Occupy movements because I honor and work for positive solutions and a spirituality that is rooted in the world,” she said. “This is a time to bring our spiritual tools and communities to the forefront and magnetize the kind of changes we want to see for the well being of all living beings, to become creative visionaries for change and to stand for the life-protecting, life-supporting, fiercely compassionate values that we have cultivated in our daily practice.”

The mat offers yogis the freedom of self-exploration, a necessary withdrawal in an overstimulated world. But the tortoise cannot remain in its shell for too long. The second duty is stepping into the world and participating with social issues. Despite the West’s primary focus on asanas, the yoga community has long grappled with politics, be it 2,500 years ago at the start of the Kurukshetra War in the Bhagavad Gita, or the governmental dealings with “yoga cults” in upstate New York and California in the early 20th century.

Change does begin within; cultivating calm, poise and compassion immediately resonates with others. Knowledge, action and sometimes occupation are integral components to making the world a better place for everyone. At certain times, this is done with an OM. At others, a vote.

Recently relocated to Santa Monica by way of Brooklyn, Derek Beres is a multi-faceted yoga instructor, DJ and music/health journalist. He has taught yoga at Equinox since 2004, and is one-half of music production/live project EarthRise SoundSystem. Follow him on Twitter or at