Ira Israel: Asking Dem Questions

Today I’m grateful for writer, yogi and psychotherapist Ira Israel . . .

for asking questions in the public sphere like, Are Yoga and Capitalism Fundamentally Incompatible?  The way yoga is devolving in America, lawd knows we need a skeptical eye, and an honest pen, to be sure we’re moving mindfully forward.  His piece On Yoga and Bondage: Pimping Spirituality and Sex as Art was my first introduction to his writing – an intriguing mix of reverence and irreverence, of vernacular and intellectual commentary.  And so I read more . . .

I’ve been questioning whether or not to offer a space for yoga one day, but in the current climate, I find myself terribly disheartened.  Israel’s  The Business of Teaching Yoga perfectly speaks to why, as does Chris Courtney’s piece in Yoganonymous.  Like thousands of teachers out there, I’d been thinking to myself, there are just too many teachers in our field molded out of the factory line in a matter of weeks.  I’m all for yoga becoming as popular as it can be, but maintaining integrity is key to the safety and mindful evolution of the practice in this country.  Observing the the corporatization of yoga in America (which I only just returned to 14 months ago) ignited an old brew of cynicism I thought I’d meditated myself out of over the course of the 17 years or so.  It’s been a wonderful challenge to my practice, and knowing there were so many other people in the yoga community deeply concerned about these issues came as a great relief.

I’m currently a collective owner at Third Root Community Health Center, where social justice meets holistic health.  One of our founding members, Jacoby Ballard, is also doing his part to ask heated questions to ignite transformation in the yoga community.  It’s important for me to be surrounded by so many talented, compassionate and socially-aware healers – like Jacoby – who understand yoga (and acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage) to be a spiritual technology, a healing force, a tool for transformation, one that deserves to be offered with sensitivity to all populations.

If all this talk about the politics of yoga tickles your brain as well (and possibly pulls on a few heartstrings), Matthew Remski’s essay, Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double As a Soup Kitchen, and other observations from the threshold between yoga and activism, is another brilliant read (despite its comically long title!).

With so much to contemplate and improve upon in this modern American monster, I’ve been arriving at the decision to stop teaching yoga for money.  If I offer classes as seva, I can remove myself from the capitalization effect.  On the other hand, I want to play an active role in improving the situation, in helping future teachers to be truly prepared for the broad range of experiences students will bring to the yoga space.  I must teach.  It’s part of who I am (or, it’s part of what my ego believes me to be.  Technically, I’m just a vibration and space, a series of events in this everything/nothing we roll through ;o)).

What to do, I know will come.  In the meantime, I’m grateful for the work of Ira Israel and for the yogis participating in this necessary – and somewhat overdue – analysis and dialogue.  Onward and upward, friends.

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