Last May, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, Shankari Goldstein, a yoga instructor, activist, and farmer in Virginia, knew she had to respond. Wanting to uplift BIPOC voices, she started making phone calls with another local yogi and fellow activist, J. Miles. The pair quickly organized the State of Union (Yoga) Address, a series of virtual conversations on race and equity leading up to the November presidential election.
Over the course of the premiere season—six episodes plus a dharma talk and a community town hall—BIPOC yoga leaders such as Faith Hunter and Gail Parker, and other thought leaders and allies discussed systemic racism, emotional labor, and how yogis can affect their communities and take action beyond the mat.
“This was our direct act of protest—to create community as a way to put a stop to the tidal wave of fear” over the violence against people of color, Goldstein says. The initiative saw hundreds of sign-ups over the course of the season, sparking invitations to run panel discussions at various conferences, all of which laid the foundation for the State of Union (Yoga) Address’s second season, which launched in January.
In her late 20s, Goldstein, now 39, was struggling with anxiety and depression. In 2009, she took a two-month leave from her retail job to backpack around Europe, Nepal, and India. She found herself at an ashram in Rishikesh for two weeks where she practiced yoga and meditated every day. It was “a divine calling” that helped her work through mental-health issues and emotional trauma, she says.
Goldstein got her YTT in 2011 and has since focused her practice on social justice and activism by kickstarting equality and race initiatives within her local yoga community.
The Platinum Rule
Equity work starts with dialogue, which can be uncomfortable, says Goldstein. But a yoga studio that posts a black square on Instagram for a day to signal solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement or signs up for one-time diversity training isn’t creating meaningful change. Instead, it’s ”commodifying this moment rather than actually leaning into the experience to understand the journey and the history of the Black and global-majority lived experience,“ she says. “It’s not going to be easy, and it‘s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a lifetime of commitment to start to heal generations of oppression.”
First, Goldstein espouses the platinum rule: Don’t treat others how you want to be treated; treat them how they want to be treated. This means truly listening and fostering meaningful interactions.
The second season of the State of Union (Yoga) Address highlights yogis who are exploring big questions around the environment and the climate crisis.
“We have so much work to do to begin to acknowledge our impact on the world and nature,” she says. “There‘s space for us as yogis—particularly as Black practitioners—to help regenerate the health of [the world].”
She sees a deep connection between yoga and the environment. ”I can go out and do some earthing and grounding and feeling grass between my toes, and feel like I got my yoga practice in for the day,” Goldstein says.
But for the yoga community to start tackling the climate crisis, it first has to heal deep racial fractures. “If we’re divided,” she asks, “how are we going to get through the war?”
Join the conversation or purchase episodes by visiting stateofunionyoga.com. Proceeds from the series go to paying speaker honorariums (every speaker is paid the same amount for their emotional labor) and toward BIPOC- or LGBTQ+-owned businesses and nonprofits.