Do Yoga and Politics Not Mix? Asana at Wall Street Protest Elicits Yawns, Sneers.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos

As an avid yoga practitioner who’s deeply concerned about the state of American society, I was intrigued when I ran across the odd headline, “Occupying Wall Street With Yoga, Pillow Fights, and Small-Group Discussions” a little over a week ago. What’s this?, I thought. New York Magazine explained:

Saturday (9/17) at noon, a group that calls itself “Occupy Wall Street” is going to try to live up to their name for as long as they can. But first, (there’s) a program that includes yoga, a pillow fight, face-painting, small break-out groups to discuss topics like derivatives, and a lecture from an author . . . It sounds a little bit like camp, or maybe one of those pre-college orientation bonding sessions. But as the group says on its website, it’s actually a “leaderless resistance movement” meant to protest the concentration of wealth at the top of society — the “99 percent” standing up against the “1 percent.” Essentially . . . it’s meant as a rebuke of ‘neoliberal economics,’ and a youth-driven lefty answer to the Tea Party.

And that, as they say, was just the beginning. Ten days later, “Occupy Wall Street” is still on. And, it’s expanded to 17 other cities, including my hometown, Chicago.

So far, I’ve mainly been following the protests on Twitter. (Check the hashtag #occupywallstreet for nonstop info). And from what I’ve seen so far, I’m a supporter. But that’s not the point of this post.

Rather – picking up on Managing Editor Chelsea Roff’s call to “burst the yoga bubble” by becoming more involved with today’s pressing social problems – I want to ask:  What, if anything, ever happened with the protest’s initial connection to yoga?

And: What, in your opinion, should be happening – if anything?

It’s notable that when two of our best yoga bloggers, Yoga Dork and It’s All Yoga Baby, covered the yoga/protest connection, the response seemed to range from hostile to indifferent.

Yoga Dork’s post, “Protestors ‘Occupy Wall Street’ With Yoga,” drew a lackluster seven comments, all of them negative. “Involving asana so publically in an ill-defined protest seems like an attempt to prove their liberal, hippy cred,” complained one commentator. “I wonder if any of the yoga protesters were wearing Lululemon?,” sneered another. “Lulu’s stock is up almost 3 points today.”

A few days later, IAYB’s post, “Occupy Wall Street: Transition From a Culture of “I” to “We”,” drew a grand total of zero comments.


Creative Commons License photo credit: brunosan

Now, there’s been a growing movement toward service work, or Seva, within the yoga community, which seems widely respected. Yet, when yoga’s associated with a political protest, it appears to draw only sneers – or even more commonly, yawns.

Perhaps, however, that resounding silence is well-considered. Perhaps connecting yoga to politics is too divisive for a community that values unity, and seeks to create a safe space in which everyone can feel included, regardless of our differences.

What do you think? Should yogis stick to Seva, and stay away from politics?

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- who has written 8 posts on Yoga Modern.

Carol is a Contributing Editor to Yoga Modern. A Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher, she teaches yoga to incarcerated women at the Cook County Women’s Detention Facility with the non-profit group, Yoga for Recovery. Author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005), she’s currently finishing a new book entitled 21st Century Yoga: Paradoxes of Contemporary Practice. Carol holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and taught American Politics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since leaving academia to be with her husband in Chicago and start a family, she’s worked as a research consultant to nonprofit organizations, specializing in issues affecting low-income children and families. In addition to Yoga Modern, her online activities include blogging at Think Body Electric and Elephant Journal, maintaining a Facebook Page dedicated to news and discussion about yoga and meditation, and mixing it up on Twitter. Carol lives in Chicago with her husband, two sons, and two krazy catz.

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