Beth Zyglebaum, Owner of Leela Yoga Alameda
I don’t know if I’m a leader. I own a yoga studio. Do I get to call automatic leadersies for that? Studio ownership has been a learning process, and a great experiment in living my yoga
Practicing yoga, necessarily at some point, brings us to a reckoning with the systems we live in. The question then becomes: how will I choose to be a part of the shift. What can I do personally, now in my life, and in my work, to move away from those systems that are not equitable.
The nice thing is: yoga offers a blue print for this in the yamas and the niyamas.
So the yoga is not separate from the business, is not separate from the teaching, is not separate from going to the grocery store.
Because, we can choose in any interaction to practice the yamas and niyamas.
When we are practicing yoga, a shift is required, someone should do something about that becomes What will I do about that? We have to know that we are the someone. You have to be that someone. I have to be that someone. We have to face the reasons we don’t do the right thing. We must not be afraid to rock the boat. We must not be afraid to speak the needs of our communities. We must not be afraid to listen to and amplify the needs of another community, or to speak out on their behalf.
These ideas seep into the way I run the studio. My advertising begins with the idea that representation matters. I aim to have a staff that represents the population of the east bay, one of the most diverse places anywhere on Earth. I begin every email to teachers: how are you, how are your classes, how can I support you this week? We open the studio when activists need space to meet and make signs. I offer free classes when we are experiencing communal traumas. I enroll the studio in the renewable energy electricity program. I have classes on the schedule that I know will never be revenue generators, because they are important classes to have, because students or teachers have said they are important for their community.
These ideas seep into the way I teach. I begin my classes with a focus. Some theme from sutras. And some piece of asana alignment that supports the sutra. As I’ve racked up years as a teacher, I’ve moved away from the idea that my job is to create a space for anyone and everyone to walk out of class feeling groovy. I’ve moved toward the idea that my job is to create a space for anyone and everyone to create positive shift in their lives. Sometimes that means a student walks out feeling groovy. Sometimes that means a student walks out with shit to deal with, because they’ve allowed it to surface, or because they have seen something in a new light.
As the bulk of my teaching is in pre-and post natal yoga, this often means supporting women through a medical system that was literally birthed from American patriarcy*. I offer them tools and encouragement to have empowered, informed births and empowered, informed, healthy post partum.
So I do not shy away from starting my classes by pointing to a piece of news, or a new report. And I do not shy away from pointing out what the sutras might say about this piece of news. I do not worry that someone in the class might have more regressive views, or greater degrees of entanglement in baised institutions than I do. I worry about doing the work of yoga while I am teaching. I offer my shpiel in the beginning of class, I lead them into their bodies, to make their own discoveries. I teach my practice and I have faith that the process of yoga works, and that change will happen. For them and for me.
* read Nurses, Midwives and Witches for a history on how medical care was legally taken out of the hands of women who had been educated in medicine for thousands of years and placed into the hands of men who had literally no training whatsoever, relatively recently)