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Do Politics Belong in Yoga?

By Andrea Rice for Yoga Journal.

Yogins United, a collective of yoga and Buddhist teachers, says yes. The organization is a new initiative to help yogis get out the vote this November.

One hundred and sixteen prominent yoga teachers and three Buddhist leaders signed on to an initiative in May that will encourage members of their communities to vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election and increase voter turnout. The group, dubbed “Yogins United” (a yogin is a gender neutral term for a yogi), includes luminaries and changemakers like Reginald Hubbard, Octavia Raheem, Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Stephen Cope, Rajni Tripathi, James Bae, Rod Stryker, Seane Corn, and Shiva Rea.

“In light of recent events pertaining to the murder of George Floyd, I have seen a tremendous hunger in the yoga community on how they can be more engaged with matters of racial justice and civil rights,” says Reginald Hubbard, a yoga teacher and senior political strategist and congressional liaison for MoveOn.org, a public policy advocacy group.

Hubbard teaches yoga and meditation to political operatives, congressional staff, and members of Congress including “The Squad” (Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib), and says that wellness should serve as a foundation rather than an afterthought. For Hubbard, his pledge to Yogins United is part of a larger effort to reform the status quo through community engagement. “My hope is to use my teaching platform to share from my activist experience about why voting and civic engagement matters, and to help organize the community through online live events like the Wellness of We,” he says.

Every Vote Counts

The November election threatens to exclude an alarming number of eligible voters. Voter suppression has been a tactic of the Republican party, according to an audio recording that was leaked by a top Trump adviser and obtained by the Associated Press in late-2019. And the current administration is rallying against voting by mail.

Yogins United, started by David Lipsius, a yoga teacher and former president of Yoga Alliance, is a call to action for the yoga, mindfulness, Ayurveda, and spiritual communities to help get out the vote—in person, or by mail if COVID-19 prevents millions of Americans from making it to the polls this fall. “Spiritual teachers have united with nonprofit leaders and CEOs, and community builders have joined forces with activists and healers to send a message—the time for division is over,” Lipsius says. “A new era of partnership and teamwork must be fostered to achieve the highest goals of yoga—peace, freedom and liberation for all.”

Collectively, Lipsius says, the 80 million Americans who practice yoga form a potential voting block that has the power to change systems, leadership, and even society itself. “What would happen if 50 million yoga practitioners inspired just one other person to vote?” Lipsius asks. “Could we begin reversing climate change? Could we eliminate childhood food insecurity? Could we ensure basic human rights for every person in this country?” Lipsius acknowledges that not all yoga practitioners share the same political beliefs and values, but says that as yogis, it is our collective responsibility to address these issues rather than remain impartial or neutral. 

Yogins United began as an outreach effort in the Buddhist community started by renowned spiritual teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. When Brach asked Lipsius if he thought yoga teachers would be interested in mobilizing, he began contacting yoga leaders and received an overwhelming positive response. “It’s exciting that we can be natural partners in initiatives like this,” says Brach, a psychologist, author, and Buddhist meditation teacher. “Together [we] have the potential for significant and deeply beneficial impact.”

The Buddhist and Yogin groups—more than 200 strong together—will use digital platforms and outreach to provide resources and reminders for how to improve the percentage of Americans who vote, particularly in the yoga, meditation, and spiritual communities. “One of the central teachings of yoga is the truth of our interdependence,” Lipsius says. “Now is the time to come together.” 

9 Yoga and Meditation Teachers On Why They’ve Pledged to Help Get Out the Vote

While some yoga practitioners have argued that politics don’t belong in a yoga setting, there’s never been a more compelling time than now to rethink the intention behind the practice. As Gandhi said, “Those who think politics and spirituality are separate, don’t understand spirituality.” For me, yoga is not about temporarily escaping or hiding from reality, rather yoga strengthens our resolve and gives us the tools to navigate it all from a place of integrity and truth. Yoga practitioners can be peaceful warriors who stand up for what they believe in and possess the courage to speak out against injustices.

I reached out to a few of the yoga and meditation leaders who’ve pledged to Yogins United to learn more about why they believe we, as a collective community, need to help get out the vote this November.

Maya Breuer, E-RYT

Co-Founder of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Founder and Co-Director of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color

We are in direct need for this country to alter what has historically been the mistreatment of the black community. The murder of George Floyd and numerous other Black Americans; police brutality and violence, racism, inequality, mass incarceration, harsh jail sentencing; the lack of socio-economic parity. I am not sure how things can be changed even with new leadership. I remain hopeful that if Joe Biden is elected President of the United States, it will signal the intention for a better America and we will be poised to begin to address these issues that have been endemic to the black community for many years.

Rhode Island has a long history of disenfranchised voting rights. Until recently, felons were not allowed to vote even after completing their sentences and probation. Voting rights were restored to RI felons in 2006, but the long history of not being able to vote continues to impact voter turnout. Today, RI requires a photo ID for all voters, and this serves to suppress voting, particularly among the unhoused. A provisional ballot is offered in these cases, based on matching signatures.

In 2005, the following information was published by the ACLU of Rhode Island: “Rhode Island disfranchises a greater percentage of its African American residents than Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and 34 other states. With long probation sentences increasingly the norm in Rhode Island, some felons are prevented from voting for decades after they have reentered the community. The Family Life Center estimates that of the 15,500 disenfranchised felons in RI, 86 percent are not incarcerated and would be re-enfranchised by the proposed amendment. According to the Center, since 1987, the number of Rhode Island citizens barred from voting has increased nearly 70 percent.”

About the Author

Yoga Medicine®

Yoga Medicine®

Yoga Medicine® is a thorough, anatomically based training system that trains teachers across the globe to work more powerfully with their students. Yoga Medicine® is a community of teachers who are trained to understand the function and dysfunction of the human body in order to work more effectively with healthcare practitioners. Yoga Medicine loves to post articles based on yoga teacher's experiences, yoga-related research, the relationship between yoga and healthcare, and much more. We welcome guest submissions as well - please contact info@yogaM=medicine.com to discuss further details.

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