Yoga and Social Justice: How Healing Individuals Heals Communities
As part of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s Conversations with Modern Yogis series, Raja Michelle, founder and executive director of Green Tree Yoga Meditation, sat down with Sará Benin, Jen Garcia, Dianne Bondy, and yoga therapist Fawntice Finesse for a captivating discussion on Healing as Equity.
Green Tree Yoga Meditation is a warm, inviting space in the heart of South L.A., a community of mindful breath and body. We sat together as a collective, exploring our perceptions of equity, and the need for equity and equality within yoga.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, equity is “the quality of being fair and impartial,” an important subject as we traverse the current cultural landscape of inequality and inequity. Sará Benin, a yogini and 5th year PhD student at UCLA, says there’s “no difference between healing and social justice, because there is no place where they aren’t intersecting—our well-being is social justice.” She points out that in underserved communities living with untended trauma, trauma often erupts into violence. Trauma perpetuates trauma—when we are traumatized and we don’t examine our trauma (perhaps lacking the resources to examine it), we often traumatize others. We must look within before we can extend our gaze outward or we are apt to create harm rather than cultivate healing.
Jennifer Garcia, PhD, MPH, is a public health scholar and activist, specializing in race and health. She reminds us that healing must take place in more than just the individual. Dianne Bondy, E-RYT, poses the important question: “How are you supposed to be in a community of wellness when there’s no opportunity for wellness—no resources?”
Wellness and self-care resources should not be a privilege, but they are. When you look around South Los Angeles, you see an area rich in culture, but poverty-stricken and without sufficient resources. You see liquor stores, quick payday lenders, and fast-food joints. You don’t see medical facilities and grocery stores. And you see no places to recharge—such as yoga studios, spas, and the like. Unfortunately, such resources are generally reserved for areas of privilege. Places like Green Tree Yoga and Meditation are a beautiful anomaly. If we want to create equity in healing, we must tend to the societal wound, as Fawntice Finesse aptly illustrates: “When your wound isn’t healed, it gets infected. If we don’t care for it, we infect others.”
How do we heal? How do we repair this wounded tapestry and weave in new life, resilience, and wellness?
All of our panelists spoke to an important truth: We must care for ourselves before we care for others—the truth being that self-care is a radical act of compassion. We have to understand the fundamental truth that we all have the capacity to heal, but everyone has different needs. Fawntice encourages us to become “quiet enough to be who you are” and to cultivate “self-knowing and self-care.” Dianne asks us to “create invitational space” that is open to all who want to come in. Jennifer reminds us that “we have been taught that empathy is weakness—but we now know that empathy is a profound part of healing.”
Creating spaces for healing offers the invitation we need to come in, look inward, care for our hearts and minds, and build community. An invitational space says, “I see you. I hear you. You are welcome here.” An invitational space lets us know that self-care is interconnected, and it is safe to let down our armor.
Creating spaces for healing offers the invitation we need to come in, look inward, care for our hearts and minds, and build community.
Places like Green Tree Yoga Meditation are “the epitome of how to make healing more equitable,” says Fawntice. It’s a place not only to practice yoga, which in itself is empowering, but also to build and grow community. Community as resource. Empathy as resource. Self-care as resource. “You get what you need, I get what I need,” says Fawntice. This allows us to “respect different forms of healing,” according to Jennifer. And it invites us to “lean into community to understand each other through connection,” says Dianne. Sará reminds us: “We need each other. If we don’t learn how to connect, we will sink into the black hole of suffering.”
Without equity, we don’t have equality—and without equality, we don’t have true freedom. On our yoga mats, we become empowered and find internal freedom. As we integrate our practice into our lives, the wounded tapestry to which we’ve grown accustomed will begin to mend.
We have to change the game. Begin with self-care. Investigate our individual histories, tend to our wounds, and have the courage to take that deep, healing breath toward freedom. From that beginning will gradually come a mindful awareness of our emotional landscapes, a mindful awareness of our activism, and a mindful awareness that we are agents of our own healing.