Two weeks ago, I published Part One of an piece on Social Justice at Adeline Yoga. If you haven’t already read it, you can do so here: https://adelineyoga.com/social-justice-at-adeline-yoga-part-1/
Today’s tragic announcement about the end of the DACA program shows us again just how important access is for all public and private spaces. Here is an update on our Social Justice activities at Adeline Yoga:
About a year ago, a student and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Renee Razzano proposed we have an event to discuss social justice in yogaland. This simple expression of volunteerism was exactly what we needed for more formal conversation about social justice. We held that event in February 2017 and it was widely attended. You can read the notes here. Five specific ideas were put forth at that meeting. Here is an update on what I know at the moment:
#1 Develop a free monthly yoga clinic at AYS. The free clinic is an excellent idea that has not come to fruition yet. We have well trained teachers eager to lead such a clinic. There are two obstacles: nobody has volunteered to organize the Clinic. It would take someone with time, organizational skills and people management skills to launch this program. The sustainability of such an important program requires a leader within our community who is not me. If anyone reading this blog would like to a part of launching this free clinic, please let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
There are also two systematic issues which are critical to address if we are to launch this program successfully: lack of space and lack of necessary props to help those with complex health needs. I have been working very hard on those two things. For the last months I have been absorbed in finding a bigger home for Adeline Yoga. I have been meeting with landlords, brokers, contractors, potential funders, potential fiscal sponsors, the City, our neighbors, teachers and students. I have also writtena proposal for a sister organization to be a fiscal sponsor so that we might begin fundraising for this project. I don’t know if a move – or fiscal sponsorship – is imminent for us, but I have been working hard on making this dream a reality.
#2 Create or collaborate with a “yoga and whiteness” or “yoga and cultural awareness” discussion/training group. Jennie Pearl, an Adeline student and Bay Area yoga teacher, has stepped up in this way. Jennie runs WAKE UP, a group for white-identified people who want to unlearn their own racism. The group meets every other week in Emeryville. They are interested in the ways that yoga & meditation practices can help them wake up without bypassing and diminishing racial injustice. New members are encouraged to attend. No prior social/racial justice work is required. Several Adeline students have been participating, and we have offered Adeline Yoga as a venue for meetings. Please email email@example.com or sign up for their newsletter for more details.
#3 Build partnerships with like-minded community organizations, and investigate collaborations and conversations with community organizations near to Adeline. We started with outreach to experienced organizations including the East Bay Meditation Center and East Bay Community Law Center to build our institutional capacity and awareness. We have learned a lot from them. And particularly in relationship to the East Bay Meditation Center, there is a lot more learning and implementation we can do.
We have also reached out to a few organizations to partner on bringing yoga to their clients and have. That has had some small successes so far. For example, we donated a group of mats to a young African-American yoga teacher launching a class at a medical center in San Pablo. Support like this has a magnifying affect not just for the teachers, but also for her students.
I have proposed that we celebrate Guru Purnima next July with a regional event across Northern California bringing Iyengar yoga to those who don’t normally have access. This would be among the first regional event for the Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California, a big deal for us – if we can pull it off – to have multiple communities getting the benefits of the practice in a new way. If you have ideas or are interested in volunteering, please let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
#4 Create a volunteer-based inclusivity planning committee. We did this, and call ourselves “Adeline Yoga Members for Social Justice”. We had monthly meetings through the spring. Most of the committee members were traveling this summer, and our main organizer moved away. We plan to meet in the coming month. Our first meetings were spent discussing our priorities and opportunities, basically figuring out our focus. This group does plan to launch a speaker series. We do seek more participants in this Social Justice group. If you are interested in joining this group, please email me email@example.com. No experience necessary, just a sincere interest in the topic and a willingness to be involved.
#5 Continue to use AYS as a platform for voices of marginalized peoples within and outside of the AYS community. This has been my personal area of focus. In January, I became President of the Lorin Business Association. Our neighborhood, The Lorin, was a historically black neighborhood with thriving Black-owned businesses up and down the Adeline Corridor. When BART came to downtown Berkeley, it split apart the residential neighborhood and commercial district. Systematic racism and rise in residential property values have made the situation even worse. The Lorin needs people who are willing to advocate for those who have been left out and left behind. As President, I have become a passionate advocate. The Lorin is quickly becoming recognized as a formal district within the City of Berkeley and the tourist bureau. This is a big deal for our neighborhood because it will bring in badly needed resources.
Meanwhile, the Adeline Corridor Planning process poses a tremendous opportunity and a potential threat to those who currently live, work and play in the neighborhood if the planning is not done thoughtfully. I am using every one of the skills I developed as a community organizer and nonprofit executive to give voice to the displaced and dispossessed in our neighborhood.
We have had important wins in the last few months: We completed a plan for Economic Vitality in the Lorin, completed a survey on the Black owned businesses in our neighborhood and got the City of Berkeley to install porta potties for the homeless encampment across the street (the story of our homeless situation, the community reaction and how it relates to Adeline Yoga is huge and another blog post in itself).
Yet, there is so, so much more to do. Through the Lorin Business Association, I have spent much time on individual advocacy for the business owners of color in our neighborhood. I am also working on several important projects with the office of Ben Bartlett (our City Council Member), our local Friends of Adeline organization, the Bay Area Association of Black Owned Businesses (BAOBOB), the City’s Office of Economic Development, the City’s planning/permitting department, and Berkeley’s Business District Network (network of all the neighborhood associations’ leadership). Our neighborhood is badly in need of resources and attention from all of these entities.
My goal for this work is to use my voice and advocacy skills to create long term, systemic positive change where all in our neighborhood are remembered and are included.
All this work is focused within our neighborhood, but I haven’t forgotten about the important and lesser known voices within Iyengar Yoga and what we can do to bring them to light. Renowned African-American teacher Bobbe Norisse recently passed away. I was very touched by her life and her death, and wanted to share her story with others. Our national Iyengar Yoga magazine accepted my proposal to write about her life and impact, so I have spent the last month pouring over old photos and discussing Bobbe’s legacy with her friends and colleagues. Check out the next issue of Yoga Samachar to learn more.
Last weekend one of our students asked me if I could help her learn more about African-American teachers and history within Iyengar Yoga. That was a great question, and I had fun putting together a list of inspirational people for her. Maybe I can feature interviews with some of them in blog pieces to come. Telling these stories and highlighting the trailblazers in this realm is part of my duty with a blog like this.
I know that from a social justice point of view, many in our studio are in a hurry for change right now. They want more diverse faces in our studio right now. I want that as well. And, I want results from the long term projects that can bring about positive systemic change within a social justice framework. I believe that there is a lot of work I need to do personally on myself, to bring more heart to the practice and less head, to change my words and approaches to bring more love into the Iyengar Yoga practice. I consider myself a health educator, even health activist and a spiritual seeker. I don’t have much training as a spiritual teacher. The right words at the right time are often hard for me to find. I am working on that in my own self, but it is painfully slow.
My correspondence with the student a few weeks ago included her important observation that navigating a wholesome experience in the yoga community within Trump’s America requires students and studio owners to show up in ways that reveal remedies to heal ourselves, despite how catastrophic the political climate is.
These blog pieces, and the activities described are my ways of “showing up” to lead and encouraging others to do the same. I invite any interested students to join me. You do not need to be an activist or extrovert to create change. We all can and should look at our assumptions, our words and our actions. We can do that through self-reflection, through volunteerism, through formal discussion and training and in other venues.
Progress at Adeline is achingly slow. I have a commitment to my own personal practice. And, I do need more help and perspectives. There are many things that we all can do right now – say hello to our neighbors on the mat and on the street. Be willing to engage each other in difficult, yet supportive, conversations. Get involved with our studio projects in direct and indirect ways. Let us make this an even more welcoming and dynamic safe space of self-transformation for all.
I welcome any questions, comments, ideas or resources any readers may have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Heather Haxo Phillips is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. She is Director of Adeline Yoga and has been teaching for nearly 15 years. Heather is past President of the Board of Directors for the Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California and an active volunteer for the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States. Her professional background includes nearly twenty years in the non-profit sector, working specifically with organizations that empower communities of color. She has a degree in Women’s Studies from Harvard College.