Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Feminist Yogini?

As I was teaching my yoga class this week, I realized a seeming paradox in two key realms of my life: my Women’s Studies and my yoga worlds. In the latter, I teach about being non-judgementally present with what is. But how does that sit with feminist activist efforts to produce social transformation?

Dukkha, or suffering, yogic philosophy teaches us, comes from not accepting reality as it is. The human tendency is to either try to force things to be as we want them to be (craving or clinging) or to try to avoid things we do not like (aversion). On our mats, we have the opportunity to cultivate a witness to how things are. We can learn to accept reality as it is, without judgement, and notice our patterns.

But as a feminist, I am not accustomed to accepting things as they are. When social inequality exists, my tendency is to want to change it. And yet, even in feminism, an accurate view of the present reality is an important first step. We have to understand how oppression works, and who suffers from it, in order to figure out how to change it. We also have to understand how larger structural patterns operate in order to determine effective strategies for change.

Similarly, yoga does not teach us to mindlessly accept a reality that isn’t good for us. We first have to cut through our delusions to see clearly. Then, we can make more life affirming choices about our actions.

Perhaps they are not so different after all.