What It Means to Be a Yoga Renegade

An Interview with Yoga and Body Image Coalition co-founder Melanie Klein about the impact her new book is having.

Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body, curated and edited by Melanie Klein, magnifies the resilience of the human spirit on the path of self-love.

Written from the perspective of teachers and students, many of these essays critically examine how negative biases—related to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, dis/ability, socioeconomic status, age, and size—affect yoga spaces and individual experiences of practice. And true to the title, the overarching message of the anthology is that of rising: rising above oppressive influences, finding more self-acceptance, and using the wisdom of personal growth to be of service in the world.

Yoga Rising is so heartfelt and relatable that readers are sure to find reflections of themselves as they thumb through its pages. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy, I recommend it. In the meantime, enjoy this interview with Klein where we discuss what it means to be a “yoga renegade,” the impact this book is having thus far, the power of self-acceptance, and more.

Who did you create Yoga Rising for?

Yoga Rising is for all the yoga renegades out there (and yoga renegade wannabes). When I first started blogging for the yoga community in 2010, my intention was to bridge the divide between spirituality and social justice, between activism and critical consciousness. And there was a huge divide at that time, not to mention certain elements of skepticism, cynicism, and misunderstanding on both sides of the fence. To be clear, the sides I am speaking of were the emerging mainstream yoga culture and the world of activism, academics, and anti-mainstream intellectualism.

Given my background as a longtime mindfulness practitioner, activist, and sociology and women's studies professor, these two sides were part of a larger whole that naturally and inevitably go together. For me, they fuse into a holistic approach to individual and collective liberation, which go hand in hand and enhance each other. But I found that the world of academia and social activism at the time often viewed mindfulness practices as empty navel gazing, and that “spiritual” communities and “yoga culture” didn’t connect the dots between critical consciousness and liberation.

"We all agreed that this small band of yogis who were pushing the envelope and writing about these issues publicly at the time were a band of renegades."

However, there were a handful of “yoga renegades” working to bring these ways of thinking and being together. Many of them were featured in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (to which I am a contributor), and several of them were contributors in the first anthology, Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body (of which I am co-editor). I remember being on a call with Roseanne Harvey and Frank Jude Boccio around 2012 when we were discussing important issues—such as the commodification of yoga, the distinction between the individual's experience of practice and cultural depictions of it, the yoga industrial complex, the objectification of women in yoga advertising, and the stereotype of the “yoga body.” We all agreed that this small band of yogis who were pushing the envelope and writing about these issues publicly at the time were a band of renegades.

Ultimately, a yoga renegade is a conscious agent of change. I think Dianne Bondy pinpoints the essence of a yoga renegade well in the foreword to Yoga Rising. She states, “There is a renegade in all of us, a renegade dedicated to truth, justice, and equality in all forms.”

This book is for everyone who is devoted to embracing the complexities of their humanity, interested in a growth-based life, and is vulnerable and brave enough to live their truth and proclaim it. This book is for everyone who has that flicker inside of them waiting to burst into flames.

What kind of response are you getting since its release?

This book is the result of years of blood, sweat, and tears, and it was worth it. The response has been absolutely heartwarming, joyous, and moving. Through private messages and on social media people have shared their gratitude for the collection as well as the ways they’ve been touched and inspired by it. Given the diverse and varied nature of the contributors and their stories, people are able to relate to and be affirmed by at least one (if not several) contributions. People have expressed gratitude to be represented and reflected in the book, and to be able to learn from stories vastly different from their own.

All across North America and well beyond, people have been hosting book discussion groups and using Yoga Rising as required reading in yoga teacher trainings. In fact, the Yoga Rising website offers a free downloadable book discussion guide written by Yoga Rising contributor Dr. Beth Berila. It’s meant to be used as a tool to help guide and support people who want to have live conversations in their local communities: to deepen the discussion on the topics discussed in the book, take action, and strengthen bonds of support. I’m so here for that! This is what it’s always been about for me—the heart and soul of my commitment—and when people express how much this book means to them it only deepens my resolve.

One of the overarching themes of Yoga Rising is self-acceptance. What does self-acceptance mean to you?

Self-acceptance is a sense of peace. For me, it was when I ceased fire on my body and called a truce. It was when I stopped attacking myself, putting myself down, doubting and judging myself; it was when I stopped tormenting my body to go beyond its limits and to comply with the mainstream beauty norm that profits from insecurity. Self-acceptance began through my intellectual understanding of the ways in which my hostility and disappointment with myself had been influenced by family, peers, and the media.

"Self-acceptance is a sense of peace. For me, it was when I ceased fire on my body and called a truce."

How did you learn to embody more self-acceptance?

I mean, if realizations alone could have washed away all my years of socialization and the ways in which I internalized the culture’s values and norms into my own self-identity, I would have been good to go pretty quickly. Analyzing and understanding were crucial bits for me in my personal journey, but they weren't enough. The magic for me was in practicing self-acceptance and self-love through presence, acceptance, and forgiveness. Those qualities and states of being were cultivated on the yoga mat and the meditation cushion—the union between the mind and the embodied state of being.

There’s often a lot of lip service paid to these ideas of self-love and self-acceptanceby corporations and people who see body positivity as a popular and profitable buzzword, slogan, or hashtag. But there’s little conversation or tools for the practical application for the ways we can embody that self-acceptance…how we can “be” it, live it, practice it.

What advice do you have for people who are trying to find a little more self-love (and I imagine that’s all of us)?

Explore, get embodied, listen, and remember that your path to self-acceptance will be unique. In fact, everyone's personal journey to self-acceptance, and hopefully self-love, is unique and sacred.

Be patient and kind and know that this process takes time and vigilance. There is no overnight fix. Self-acceptance is an ongoing practice whether the vehicle is yoga or meditation or something else, which can be frustrating for people to hear in our culture of instant gratification. But a truly loving, authentic, and long-lasting personal relationship with ourselves is no different than any other healthy relationship; it requires continuous care, kindness, and checking in with the ever-changing needs and desires that our body experiences over time.

Yoga Rising creates plenty of space for each individual’s truth and personal experience in finding a way through self-doubt, blame, and shame. While all of those experiences may appear very different, the through line is the union of mind-body-spirit.

Photography: Sarit Z Rogers

Kathryn Ashworth

Kathryn Ashworth

Kathryn is an associate editor, yoga teacher, and writer at Yoga International. She views yoga as a healing resource that can re-awaken a sense of wonder and individual purpose, and her specific... Read more>>  

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