Chelsea Roff: Building the Dialogue — Seane Corn and Kerri Kelly Respond to YogaVotes Criticism

Some weeks ago, the yoga service organization Off the Mat into the World stirred up a flurry of controversy for showing up at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions with a team of eager volunteers to host The Huffington Oasis.

Their intention? To provide politicians and media delegates with “a refuge where they could come to reconnect with their bodies, minds and intentions,” and perhaps approach the “supercharged environment” of a political convention with more mindfulness and compassion. Sounds innocent enough, right? But the response they received from the yoga community was largely one of criticism and anger, as well-known bloggers and media organizations (including It’s All Yoga Baby, The Babarazzi, and even Salon.com) voiced disappointment and concern that Off the Mat’s campaign was at best ignorant and naive, and at worst a veiled scheme to rub shoulders with political big-wigs.

As someone who has long had an interest in both yoga and politics, I watched the YogaVotes campaign unfold from the voyeuristic lens of my Facebook feed with great interest, some skepticism, and a good bit of horror at the animosity and hostility coming from those who found the campaign distasteful. I tried to write an article about it several times, but found myself sitting with many more questions than I had answers. So, I decided, might as well put the questions right to the leaders of the campaign themselves.

Here is my interview with Off the Mat’s co-founder Seane Corn and executive director, Kerri Kelly:

Chelsea Roff: Hi Seane and Kerri. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.

I wanted to begin by asking you about the mission of YogaVotes, which I read on your website is “to get more yogis out to vote in the 2012 election.” I think one question that has been on a lot of people’s minds is, how did hosting The Oasis at the DNC and RNC support that goal? Why did YogaVotes focus efforts on offering wellness practices to political/media delegates if your mission is to engage yoga practitioners in the coming election?

Seane Corn: The mission of YogaVotes is twofold: (1) to increase voter participation in this year’s election and (2) to bring yoga/mindfulness into politics.

YogaVotes is non-partisan effort meant to stimulate a conversation about the intersection between yoga and politics. The Oasis was an opportunity to offer yoga and other healing modalities to people who may or may not be familiar with these practices so that they could experience firsthand how self-care could impact their ability to be more effective and be more in tune with the communities they represent. It was our hope that having access to these practices could make a difference in an environment that is hyper-charged, separatist and often fiercely motivated by rhetoric that is divisive.

Being at the Oasis was an exploration on many levels. It was never meant to push a political agenda. It was to offer tools for healing and to watch, listen and learn.

CR: Many people have been critical of YogaVotes being a non-partisan initiative, and more specifically for “failing to address political structures that enable economic inequality, environmental devastation, racial and gender inequality” by serving delegates at the Republican National Convention.

Obviously, this hasn’t been the case with Off the Mat programs historically (I know programs like Global Seva and EYI were specifically created to address such issues), but how do you respond to those who essentially think it’s impossible to represent the values of yoga in the political sphere without being partisan? Why was it important to make YogaVotes a non-partisan initiative?

Kerri Kelly: YogaVotes is a voter service campaign. It is about creating an inclusive container for all yogis to make a conscious decision based on what they stand for, what’s at stake and who best represents their values and issues. If we are to be effective in empowering voters, we cannot tell them what to do or who to vote for. Instead, YogaVotes is seeking to understand why and how people vote so that we can support and ensure their participation.

This isn’t about influencing the direction of the campaign, but rather how we vote. 

This does not mean the entire yoga community should be non-partisan. In fact, we want yogis get clear, informed and passionate about what they stand for.

CR: So it sounds like you all felt it was important to engage both with the yoga community AND the political world, as a way to perhaps create a foundation for dialogue between the two later on… Speaking of the future, do you think being non-partisan will prevent YogaVotes from taking a stand on major issues like gender inequality and environmental devastation in the future? 

KK: How YogaVotes will evolve beyond this will depend on how the community shows up. If it becomes clear that this community wants to do advocacy work, then that might be how we evolve, if a constituency of voters based on yogic values emerges, so be it. But our move right now is to plant a seed, participate and learn…that will inform where we go in the future.

CR: That makes a lot of sense, Kerri. In many ways, I think YogaVotes has the potential to be for the yoga community what The League of Women Voters is for women – an organization that works to increase voter engagement, expand understanding of major public policy issues, facilitate dialogue between parties, and influence policy through education and advocacy.

KK: I would love for that to be the case. The League of Women Voters is an amazing organization and has been advising us on this campaign since it’s inception. So much of our strategy and approach stems directly from their experience.

CR: But it seems like there were a lot of people online voicing concern and disappointment that they weren’t seeing more meaningful engagement with the ongoing political process at the conventions. Why did you choose to focus efforts on offering wellness practices at the Oasis, rather than engaging with delegates about the values of yoga on the convention floor?

KK: I think what is unique about our work in this community, is that we are not just talking about yoga values – we are actively living them. That is what we wanted to demonstrate with The Oasis – so that delegates could experience the values and benefits of yoga first hand (this “train the trainer” approach has been a best practice for OTM for some time).  Talk-based engagement is not our style. This is about action, not words. We want to engage with politics in a very different way. From our perspective, that IS meaningful engagement.

It’s also important to note that The Oasis was just one component of this campaign, but clearly one that got a ton of attention.  Voter education and dialogue is a big part of YogaVotes, and yet our community is not engaging as much in that discussion. I hope that the strong feelings about what we did and did not do at the Oasis will encourage people to get more engaged and to look at how they would get involved in their own way.  That is the conversation we want to be having…how can each and every one of us get involved in a way that is authentic and meaningful?

Kerri Kelly registering voters on the streets of San Francisco

CR: Will voter education, advocacy, and dialogue around policy issues be a priority for YogaVotes in coming months?

KK: Yes. Already, hundreds of leaders have stepped up and are helping to shape the conversation around issues. This is a campaign of the community, so it is up to each and everyone to get clear about what’s at stake for them. YogaVotes is the container for this exploration. That is why we chose to begin with voter service, so that we could make space for everyone to get involved and informed in an authentic way. Being authentically informed means that we are grounded in our stance, contemplating issues based on unbiased information and making embodied choices from that place.

YogaVotes is both about taking action (through dialogue, advocacy and voting) AND and “how” we take action, applying the process of yoga to how we engage. It is an invitation to be aligned in body, mind and heart when we make decisions on election day.

CR: Seane, you said in one of your updates at the RNC that your intention was to “to confront separation with connection, fear with love.”

One of the criticisms that circulated in the media during the conventions was that “OTM naively walked into [the conventions] with fluffy, new-agey ideas about unity” that glossed over the very real (and important) differences between political parties. How do ideas about unity apply when we’re talking about politicians’ who hold fundamentally different perspectives on issues like climate change or abortion – perspectives, that of course, influence policy?

SC: To clarify, we chose to engage at the conventions in order to plant a seed. We did not come into this experience with the intention of immediately uniting politicians or establishing unity across issues. We had a very real expectation of simply providing a space for convention attendees to unplug and recharge so that they might engage at the conventions from a more connected and conscious place. We did what we do at OTM, we go into difficult, confronting places (i.e. our Global Seva Challenge work in Haiti and Uganda or our Empowered Youth Initiative in Los Angeles) and we listen, learn, breath and engage. The expectation was not that this would solve all of the very big problems that exist in politics today.  Only that by inviting in the space, practices and values of yoga, delegates might show up and engage differently.

Personally, it was a very hard practice for me. I have deep issues around injustice and can be reactive at times.

Yoga teaches me that we are all connected and that issues like war, poverty, illiteracy, and violence exist because we act as if there is an “other;” an “us” and “them.” This is the opposite of yoga and is a collective misperception. If I want to be a change agent and participate in creating real healing and peace in the world, then I have to recognize the places in myself that perpetuate this limited belief of separation as well. I have to recognize (and heal) that the very thing I judge in others is something I too embody.

It is really hard to stay mindful, especially when I’m around people whose points of view are oppressive and harmful to other people.  The practice of yoga helps me to be with my breath and stay present in conflict because I know how confrontational and intense I can be, which only creates more division (the very thing I’m trying to heal!).

CR: How do you practically confront separation with connection in the political arena?

SC: We are in the process of learning “how to confront separation with connection” and what the practical application of yoga looks like in the political arena. What we do know is that in this moment we have to engage, we have to embody what it is we are standing for and we have to go forward from a place of listening and love. Then we will know our next move.

CR: So it sounds like one of the major intentions at the Oasis was to offer politicians and members of the media practices to help them approach their work more mindfully.

But in many ways, the yoga community itself has become a microcosm of undesirable dynamics in the political world – as we’ve seen this year, there is no shortage power abuse, sex scandals, and financial corruption among people who do their sun salutations everyday. Given this, do you think that infusing the political world with yoga is likely to make politics more conscious and compassionate? 

KK: Sure, the practice of yoga is missing or lacking in some places within our own community. And it is important for us to be in a practice of integrity before taking yoga out to the rest of the world.  Advocating for yoga must be an authentic and honest reflection of our own practice and commitment to really make a difference.

Do I think it is possible for yoga/mindfulness to influence the political environment? Absolutely.

Will it be challenging and time consuming? Absolutely.

SC : Sadly I know many people who have a strong asana practices, and their behavior in the world is anything but mindful. I also know people who have never set foot on a yoga mat and live quiet lives filled with compassion, sensitivity and service. I do know that these practices can change lives. I’ve experienced it myself and have witnessed countless people become transformed as a result of a committed practice. Yoga can be a tool (amongst many) we use to develop understanding, connection and compassion.

I don’t know what will happen if consciousness and mindful practices are brought into an area where there is so much corruption, but I do know what happens if we don’t engage. It’s already happening. We’ll experience more division, more lies, more apathy, more poverty, more illiteracy, more stealing, and even more death. I want to take the chance, bring these practices in, and wait and see. That is why we developed YogaVotes. That is why this is just the beginning. That is why I am committed to this particular effort. Apathy is not an option for me; neither is the fear of failure or judgment. I will hold myself accountable for the mistakes I make, but I’m experienced enough to know that many of the “mistakes” I make often will lead me into a greater understanding and awareness and inform the quality and direction of this vision.

CR: I feel like I would be remiss not to address one of the biggest questions out there right now… Seane, do you have any aspirations to run for political office someday? Did your experience at the RNC and DNC sway you that direction?  ;)

SC: People have been asking me this a lot and the truth is that I don’t have much interest in running for office, nor do I believe I would be a particularly good candidate. I believe my path looks a little different and that I can serve better in other ways. I enjoy working in the field, especially with youth, and also creating the opportunities for service and leadership in my community for other people. I enjoy using the platform that I’ve been given to raise awareness and resources that can make a life-changing difference. OTM has many different projects that people can plug into and we’ve managed to raise over 3 million dollars to support grass root efforts worldwide.  My service is driven by something very deep and personal, and I like the freedom that comes from the work I already do.  I’m not certain I would enjoy the compromises that need to be made once in the role of public servant, but you never know…I do know my campaign slogan would be “Pick  Corn!”

CR: Thank you both very much for taking the time to speak with me. Is there anything you’d like to add about the long term vision for YogaVotes?

SC: There is a lot we don’t know since this is the first time we are approaching this conversation. In our service work, we’ve consistently witnessed what happens to people and communities when there is a systemic breakdown.  Issues like poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunity, racism, classism, violence, etc. are symptomatic of a larger systemic problem.  Engaging politically seems like a necessary and inevitable next step.  I don’t know what will come from this engagement or conversation, but I am willing to initiate the opportunities for dialogue.

We were surprised that the dialogue that this inspired was more about us than about the election or issues or the state of politics. It feels limiting and more like the behavior that we’re seeing in politics right now: divisive, separate, personal.  YogaVotes is simply asking how can we do this differently? How can we engage with one another and with politics in a way that is in alignment with our practice?

 Photo 1, 2, 3, 5 Credit: THE HUFFINGTON POST/AOL 2012

Photo 3 Credit: YogaVotes

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Chelsea Roff

About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor for Intent Blog. She is an author, speaker, and researcher writing about science, spirituality, women's health, and humanitarian issues. Visit her website to read past writings, watch video interviews, and see her teaching schedule. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

  1. julian walker says:

    really great interview – i want to salute seane and kerri for what they have said here and the way they have responded to criticism.

    i, for one, think it is a bold and powerful statement to go into the lion’s den of the RNC and offer space for people to engage in practices that we believe can evoke compassion, mindfulness and a deeper connection to our embodied intelligence.

    i am not sure this would have made any difference to their political persuasions – but get the idea that perhaps it might shift their consciousness over time to be introduced to a grounded practice that perhaps inspires extending self-care to caring for others.

    i do want to respond to a couple things that my dear friend seane said though:

    1) “Yoga teaches me that we are all connected and that issues like war, poverty, illiteracy, and violence exist because we act as if there is an “other;” an “us” and “them.” This is the opposite of yoga and is a collective misperception. If I want to be a change agent and participate in creating real healing and peace in the world, then I have to recognize the places in myself that perpetuate this limited belief of separation as well. I have to recognize (and heal) that the very thing I judge in others is something I too embody.”

    i think this is a very common idealistic and sincere meme in the yoga community, but i think it is incorrect.

    it is based in an underlying metaphysical belief that we are all one and all of the world’s problems come from a limiting misperception that sees duality. duality of course creates opposition and the way beyond this is to transcend duality, dwell in oneness and overcome separation….

    this popular way of trying to reconcile the dissonance between pop spirituality and the political predicaments we face is a kind of remixing of patanjali’s (quite dualist) notions of becoming identified with the “seer” instead of the “seen” – in other words transcending the world of form/physical reality, with a perhaps misappropriated advaita vedanta -esque claims about an enlightenment that is beyond duality. this hodge podge gloss on indian “philosophy” is then bioled down sound-byte-style into a basic principle: we have to overcome separation with love and higher consciousness.

    this is of course somewhat related to a 20th century king/ghandi/mandela model of noble peaceful resistance….. but what may be missed here is that these non-violent resisters or oppression were extremely direct and righteous in their message and distinction making of right and wrong, oppression and freedom and what kinds of ideas and beliefs made the world better or worse.

    the problem may be a fairly typical one for spirituality – it is tough to reconcile abstract metaphysical beliefs and the uplifting feelings one has when in safe space with loving community with the realities of the world we live in. that there is oppression, there are pressing issues of the day and real people’s lives are being devastated by bad policies based in specific beliefs about the nature of reality that are actually incorrect.

    i also hear a version of the idea from jungian psychology about “the shadow” that says we have to look at our own unconscious material and how we may e projecting this out onto the world. the nobel idea here is that by working on ourselves we can take responsibility for not being part of the problem we perhaps have a tendency to only see out there….

    the tricky part about this is that there are plenty of real problems out there, and we are not just projecting our shadows when we see this, have feelings about it and engage in oppositional action!

    so my point here is this: if we follow the metaphysical belief that we have to overcome separation in order to heal the world and that we cannot approach problems from a place of separation because then we are part of the problem, then logically it should imply that when we are in a state of promoting unity, love and seeing the atman in everyone it will naturally inspire solutions to problems.

    but this does not appear to be pragmatic or in fact true. the problem may be trying to apply a transcendentalist philosophy that seeks to go beyond conflict to a real world situation that is very much about conflict.

    it matters that the evidence says global warming is a serious threat to human survival. the climate change deniers are wrong. we cannot resolve this issue by seeing both sides as one.

    it matters that women should have a right to reproductive freedoms and we cannot overcome the religious right by chanting om while we massage their feet.

    it matters that homosexuality is actually not an immoral lifestyle choice but a biological reality and that marriage equality is the next frontier in civil rights. we cannot make a stand for our gay brothers and sisters by singing kumbaya with the homophobic christians who want to segregate gays from moral society.

    historical figures like king and ghandi and mandela would have made it absolutely clear that on certain issues we have a moral imperative to speak up for what is right. does this create tension? sure. is it divisive? absolutely. but not as divisive and tense as living under religious and political oppression!

    so here’s my suggestion: spiritual practice is about cultivation compassion, insight, ethical acumen, resilience and clarity. the integration of spirituality and politics can be about speaking truth to power in lucid, non-attacking ways that invoke compassion and non-violence as powerful values that drive our positions.

    the religious right has no problem trying to claim the high ground on values. in our attempt not to fundamentalist we spiritual liberal folks often abdicate the importance of actually making a stand for the real liberal values: equality, compassion, dignity, reason, evidence, education, and protecting those less fortunate or weaker than ourselves.

    i really do get the evolving experiment that my beloved friends hala, seane, suzanne, kerri and others at OTM are attempting here, and i think getting people registered to vote regardless of political affiliation is good, but i think a more this-worldly approach to politics would be more in line with the other amazing missions they enact in support of the disenfranchised, poor and oppressed people’s of the world.

  2. julian walker says:

    2) “CR: So it sounds like one of the major intentions at the Oasis was to offer politicians and members of the media practices to help them approach their work more mindfully.

    But in many ways, the yoga community itself has become a microcosm of undesirable dynamics in the political world – as we’ve seen this year, there is no shortage power abuse, sex scandals, and financial corruption among people who do their sun salutations everyday. Given this, do you think that infusing the political world with yoga is likely to make politics more conscious and compassionate?

    KK: Sure, the practice of yoga is missing or lacking in some places within our own community. And it is important for us to be in a practice of integrity before taking yoga out to the rest of the world. Advocating for yoga must be an authentic and honest reflection of our own practice and commitment to really make a difference.”

    the question that may be overlooked here is whether or not yoga is enough. the assumption seems to be that were people being true to their yoga and really practicing these kinds of corrupt and unethical events would not happen. i wonder if rather we should ask what needs to change about yoga itself in terms of philosophy, psychology and power structures so as to make the community more healthy and integrated and less prone to these scandals and abuses.

  3. Great, great article, Chelsea. While their responses did not surprise me – as they have been very consistent about their messaging across the board for Yoga Votes (and I would like to point out, very consistent about how they have been showing up) – You went to them and asked the questions. Way to go.

  4. julian walker says:

    i asked that my rambling comments be removed. here are my thoughts on this fine interview in a more coherent and polished form:

    http://www.yogabrains.org/politics/the-inadequacy

    1. Chelsea says:

      Fantastic article, Julian.

  5. Carol Horton says:

    I agree with Julian with one exception – I would axe out the “I wonder if rather” in his last sentence. We should ask, most definitely.

    What OTM is doing is great insofar as it goes. But we need to go deeper and ask harder questions. We also need to be willing to stake out some answers with more real-world substance to them.

    That’s clearly not their agenda. But they do a lot of great stuff. So, rather than dumping on OTM, I say, let’s appreciate what they do well. And those of us who feel more real political substance is necessary, warranted, legitimate, and important, let’s go ahead and offer it as best we can.

    1. Chelsea says:

      I would actually disagree with you on one point, Carol. Based on the conversations I’ve had with their team, I do think that OTM’s agenda/intention is to go deeper / ask harder questions/ create a campaign with real-world substance. They may not have been totally effective in doing that so far, but I think the intention is definitely there. They have been very receptive to feedback and conversation about the campaign so far, seeking advice from other experts/organizations in this field (League of Women Voters, university professors, congresspeople, etc), and acknowledging that this is new for them and they’re likely to make some mistakes.

      But I think you’re right… OTM should not be the be-all-end-all of the yogis’ involvement in the political sphere. In fact, I find it unfortunate that there has been so much criticism yet such a dearth of individuals offering alternatives. If people don’t think OTM is engaging with the political sphere effectively but recognize that it’s a worthy effort, then why has no one else stepped up to suggest or offer a different way to engage?

  6. julian walker says:

    nicely said carol – i hope you saw the article i linked to above that blossomed out of my rambling comment!

  7. Tanya Dawn says:

    Very well written, as always, Chelsea. I really appreciate your unbiased, probing questions that address the issues that many people may not be as forthcoming to ask.

  8. nathan says:

    A 501c3 status also does not hinder issue-based work, including lobbying, grassroots organizing, education efforts, and all sorts of other activities. It mainly prohibits supporting specific candidates and political parties.

    One of the things I read under the surface of the interview is that Seane and the other leaders of their group are placing a lot of focus on the electoral process. It’s an “inside” approach, something that will never be very satisfying to people like me, who view grassroots action and activism as more important in the current conditions than trying to get X, Y, or Z elected and/or to vote for certain laws. But I can appreciate well thought out and targeted inside efforts that aim to address systemic issues, and disrupt the narratives of greed and injustice that drive so much of current policy making. What I see with OTM’s Oasis and Yoga Votes is some of the “right” language, but not nearly enough clear linking of what they are doing to addressing systemic injustice and oppression.

    I actually think the non-partisan stance is a positive. If this were simply a program to get yoga folks to vote for Democrats, I’d be all over it with criticisms because a) the two big parties are miserable is so many ways that regardless of some differences, they fail to represent (in my view) the needs of the majority of us and b) the sense of working together across party lines on issues that they are aiming at would be totally lost.

    As Chelsea points out, the touting of this work – especially the Oasis – as “service” and “activism” is a large part of why so many have responded negatively. With the Oasis, it seems to me that even if they’d just promoted it as “We’re going to offer some meditation and yoga at the conventions, and do some listening and sharing sessions with delegates, elected officials, and media people,” I would have responded differently. It just felt like they wanted to make some kind of statement, including that what they were doing was somehow “extraordinary” or “groundbreaking.” And it seems really premature to be making such statements.

  9. Laura Sharkey says:

    I was terribly disillusioned and heartbroken when I read the blogs and posts regarding the OTM/YV presence at the conventions. There was so much animosity and anger. The discussion degenerated so quickly from the actual topic to personal attacks that were nothing if not mean-spirited. And I took the bait and got angry too, and got stuck in it for longer than I would like to admit. But I consider my response to be fairly typical. And I have plenty of life-long experience that should have prepared me for this experience, but it didn’t. And that is why I believe the work OTM is doing is so important.

    My parents were “hippies” in the 60′s and I toddled along with them at peace marches and anti-war protests. In the 70′s, I skipped school, with my mother’s permission, to go to “Women’s Lib” marches and rallies. My parents were initially inspired and motivated to a high degree. But in both cases there came a point when they became jaded and alienated leaving behind their political activism and settling in to an apathy permanently tinged with very personalized resentment about the causes they previously valued. Seeing this, I was determined that I would not let that happen to me. Until it did. In the 80′s and early 90′s, I was actively involved in the Queer movement (that era’s equivalent to today’s LGBT movement). When I became disillusioned, I outdid my parents. In addition to apathetic resentment, I also developed an overwhelming sense of inevitability about both the “evils out there” and hopelessness concerning the holy grail of cohesion and cooperation in any progressive political movement. It’s been a long time since then, and what I perceived then as the inevitable entropy of well-intentioned human endeavors I know see simply as a cautionary tale. Organizations like OTM and the people involved with them are the main reason for my renewed sense of optimism. A quote from Seane here is key:

    “If I want to be a change agent and participate in creating real healing and peace in the world, then I have to recognize the places in myself that perpetuate this limited belief of separation as well.”

    I understand that there is disagreement in this discussion about whether or not the metaphysical implications of this statement are true/pertinent, etc. Nonetheless, there is critical meaning here for me. My interpretation is that it is all too common for us humans living in this difficult world to come to conflict armed with judgement, aggression and often a self-righteousness that condemns in our adversaries the same behaviors or beliefs that we will defend or ignore in ourselves. Having seen this so many times, in several different movements, I believe this to be a universal human tendency, and the detrimental affects of it are not limited to the quality of our interaction with adversaries. It affects our relationships with our allies, as well. If the kind of internal work encouraged by OTM is not an integral part of the process, it is inevitable that a vast number of people who may have had much to contribute to the movement will not remain empowered to do so.

  10. Laura Sharkey says:

    @Nathan: thanks for bringing up something I wanted to address, but felt like my previous post was already too long: I am also in favor of the non-partisan approach. I, like Nathan, feel that the Democrats are almost as adversarial to my concerns as are the Republicans. I believe that the non-partisan approach that YogaVotes is currently taking is a great way of putting the theory of true democracy into practice. It’s not about getting everyone to agree – it’s about empowering everyone to have a voice.

  11. nathan says:

    @Laura, one of the things I think social movements and politically active people struggle with is figuring out ways to debate and provide critical feedback about issues without descending into personal attacks and us vs. them thinking. What frequently disappoints me about the yoga community is the ways in which all forms of critical discussion are lumped into the category of judgment, and swept away as being “unyogic” somehow.

    The kind of rigor needed to suss out wisdom and right action tends to be overwhelmed by simplistic, overly rosy thinking in yoga circles. The Oasis project needs to be critically examined by those of us interested in linking yoga practices with social engagement precisely so that future projects can have clearer visions, and be more likely to create the kind of social change so many claim to desire.

    On the other side of the coin, the nastiness you point out amongst some of the critics is also a hindrance. My own original blog post on the topic included a few lines I could have written with less venom. For me, that venom comes from seeing so little respect for critical rigor amongst the general yoga community, and feeling marginalized. Perhaps others amongst the critics also feel this way, and are responding by lashing out at public figures like Seane Corn.

    I appreciate her efforts to recognize and check those places within her that block her from connecting with the humanity of others. That’s an excellent example for all of us.

    At the same time, optimism and compassion not grounded in wisdom and awareness of the real conditions on the ground leads to more misery in the end.

    So, how can these different sides come together in respect for the gifts each has? How can those with the tools of critical intelligence respect those with the optimism and positive energy? I’ve been sitting with these questions for years, as I’ve see them unfold into oppositional sides again and again. We need both, but these qualities seem to naturally spark fear and defensiveness.

  12. Laura Sharkey says:

    @Nathan regarding your comment: “What frequently disappoints me about the yoga community is the ways in which all forms of critical discussion are lumped into the category of judgment, and swept away as being “unyogic” somehow.” I understand your frustration here. I’m not sure I’m really qualified to have an opinion on this, as I am fairly new to the yoga community – I have been practicing for less than 3 years, and had no interest or awareness of anything even vaguely yoga-related before that. That being said, I feel like I can see both sides of this issue and I’m not really sure yet where I fall on the spectrum. I am, by nature, a critical thinker, but for reasons I won’t bore everyone with here (not directly related to my yoga practice), I have not been able to think so clearly for the past few years. That has been frustrating, but it’s also been a blessing. My lack of ability to think as sharply as I used to has nudged me into relying much more on intuitive and experiential information. As I begin to regain a bit of my previous ability to “think critically,” I find that these two apparently conflicting ways of approaching challenges are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I do believe though, that we live in a very high-contrast culture that favors ends of the spectrum over any point on the vast expanse in between, and most of us do as we are encouraged to by our culture and align ourselves at one end or the other. I believe (or at least hope) that we, as a yoga community can work our way past the frustration and impatience and learn a bit from each other. I know that what I’ve learned over the past few years from the “rosy thinkers” has been invaluable for me, and, while I feel I have miles to go, I am a much healthier, happier and well-rounded person for it. I have a sense that this clash is a growing pain of sorts, and if we can navigate it, we will all be better off for it. “It takes all kinds” is an over-used cliche, but that’s because it’s so true…