Yin and Social Justice. Melanie Green is one of our co-teachers for our 200 Hour offering.
This is me just scratching the surface of the question. This is an ongoing dialogue that I have within myself and also with other yoga teachers. Before yoga will actively change people and create a just world, we have to bring these ideas of power, privilege, acceptance, non harm, the eight limbs, to the conscious level, so that we may act, instead of react, so that we may share our love of the practice, so that others will be moved/inspired by what they see and experience in the classroom and in the world.
Yoga is meant for all people who want to practice, for all people who wish to dip their toes in. Yoga is for anyone and everyone who breathes. And if we are living, we are breathing. I mean this for all eight limbs. The eight limbs teach a way of living that incorporates justice, being fair and reasonable, not doing harm, not judging, but accepting. If these qualities are not present, I don’t think it can be called yoga. There is no “unjust yoga”. That shouldn’t exist. There is no place for it.
There is so much injustice in the world. We can change the world with yoga. If all people practiced the eight limbs, truly practiced them, valued them, and understood them, we would have a different world to live in. If we started with yogis and yoga teachers first, this would make a huge difference in the world of yoga. And maybe from there, it could trickle out into the rest of the world. I know it seems like a huge undertaking, but it is our responsibility as yogis, as yoga teachers, to start this in our classes, in our communities, in our small sphere of the planet. Each person’s life we touch will then be inspired to do the same, act the same, and this would then trickle out beyond the small sphere. The yoga has to come off the mat and into daily life with how we treat each other, even when it is inconvenient or scary or uncomfortable.
There is definitely unchecked power in the “yoga community” which causes oppression. Anytime power is unchecked, or wielded, or accessed without transparency, there is oppression. And, the yoga world, unfortunately, is not immune. I don’t think there is “a yoga community,” though. There is no homogenous group of yogis. Yogis are as different as each individual. Each style of yoga, and each yoga teacher, and each group of yoga students, are different and have their own distinct communities. I teach all students who want to come to my class. I see them as individuals, value them as individuals, make space for them as individuals. This is one of the ways I work to combat oppression. I am constantly aware of the power I hold in the room and outside the room, as a yoga teacher. I am constantly aware of the privilege I hold as a white woman. I take my job as a yoga teacher very seriously and am conscious of treating all students who I come into contact with equally, regardless of any personal trait or physical limitation, regardless of race or body type, regardless of sexuality or gender, regardless of any yoga outfit or gear. At my studio, we do not sell anything and this is an intentional decision. This is another way that I combat oppression as no one has to feel obligated to buy something or feel differentiated because they can’t or don’t want to buy something. It is a simple act to create an open and clean place with less to clutter the mind or distract the body. My yoga studio is close to BART and the bus and is in an urban area where people have access. It is a clean, open space to practice yoga, to learn to delve inside, and to feel seen.
Co-director, Berkeley Yoga Center
Melanie Green came to yoga as a way to heal from chronic discomfort from scoliosis. After over 25 years of practice, she still feels like a beginner. Melanie makes yoga accessible to all and encourages her students to dive deep and focus on their breath, drishti, and bodily sensations. Yoga is a way to create inner transformation, and by so doing, to transform, albeit little by little, the world. When teaching, Melanie creates a space for students to listen in, arrive in, and honor their body. She values the spiritual aspects of yoga integrated with the asanas, focusing as much on the profound inner lessons of yoga: who am I? what is the point? how can I be here in this body? Melanie's yoga background includes extensive study in Ashtanga. She has also trained in Iyengar, Pre/Postnatal and Vipassana Meditation. Ashtanga is an intense physical practice that requires attention to the breath, letting go of thoughts and ego and perseverance through practice. Melanie believes strongly that the world would be a different place, a more accepting, just, and kinder place, if yoga was practiced and valued by all. In class, she invites each student to be fully seen.
Melanie practices yoga every single day, whether on her mat, or in her life. Her daily practice informs her teaching which is always evolving. She integrates lessons from her own yoga practice into her daily life with her teenage children and wife. Melanie has also been volunteering her time for over a decade teaching yoga to children; currently her volunteer work also takes her to the Edible School Yard in Berkeley and the front desk at Berkeley High. In addition to her regularly scheduled classes, Melanie offers private yoga instruction, wellness coaching and special weekend workshops. Melanie is director and co-owner of the Berkeley Yoga Center and has an MA in Women's Studies where she focused her work on women's bodies, sexuality, and oppression.