Yoga & Social Justice: Radical Self-Care as Activism


The Yoga + Social Justice Collaborative is an organization dedicated to exploring the relationship between spiritual practice and social justice through collaborative gatherings, education, and service. The blog series shares the thoughts and practices of our members and supporters. We invite you to join the conversation!

What should we do when we feel the world is crumbling around us? When the emotions of our peers are on high alert due to the insidious media consistently reporting fear-inducing news? How do we find our solace in a world where we’re afraid that in any moment, we just may be stepping into WWIII?

I go to my mat.

That idea of going to the mat may seem—particularly to those who are marginalized, or who are battling deportation issues, police brutality, racism, sexism, gentrification of their communities, and other forms of injustice—naïve, non-impactful, or non-responsive to the constant trauma and fears that folks are feeling.

I’ve personally witnessed that fear plaguing my loved ones, my peers, and myself; therefore, how could “the mat” possibly bring peace to me or anyone else? How can the mat represent groups of marginalized folks who may feel that their lives are at stake and that the system, which has sworn to protect them, doesn’t believe that they are worthy of protection or rights?

The truth is the mat won’t cure them. It doesn’t change the way the systemic inequalities in communities are set up. Privileged folks won’t all of a sudden realize their privilege. And racism will still unfortunately exist.

I’ve heard many activist friends say that yoga and meditation practices can seem indifferent or apathetic to real social justice issues. That unlike other activists who go out in the streets and protest, yogis expect people to just “om it all away” and say things like, “I don’t see color.”

As a Black Queer Femme Woman who comes from an under-resourced community, I faced within myself many times the question of: Am I turning my back on my community because I need to find the space internally where I can be free? Should I give upbecause I obviously won’t be able to save the world?

The more I practiced, I began to realize that my own self-care is an act of survival!

I can find my own importance internally without seeking outside approval–but in order to do that I needed to find my own inner strength in the midst of it all. And that meant going to my mat!

If I felt the world was against me—once I left my mat or meditation cushion—I was able to reaffirm myself and understand that I too matter. I knew that I could still take care of myself and resist what society tells me I am not!

I can find my own importance internally without seeking outside approval—but in order to do that I needed to find my own inner strength in the midst of it all. And that meant going to my mat!

One sutra from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali states that we are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others feel more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?

The practice of yoga reminds us that each time that we take a breath, we get another chance to live, to love, and to take care of ourselves a little bit more.

May you continue to find ways that help you connect to your own peace, your own happiness, and your own liberation. 

About the Teacher

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Alli Simon
Alli Simon is a meditation coach, curvy 200RYT certified yogi, and community organizer from South Los... Read more