Monday, January 15, 2024

Yoga for Collective Liberation: IYDC Statement on Genocide in Gaza

Dear international beloved community of Iyengar Yoga,

In early October 2023, we at Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective decided to take a public position regarding the massive bombardment of Gaza. We announced in our newsletter that:
Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective advocates for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine, and the dissolution of apartheid and occupation in the region.

We felt clear that our statement aligned with our collective’s mission, featured on our home page:
  • We embrace Iyengar Yoga as a practice for healing and collective liberation, by providing high quality, affordable classes that welcome all bodies.
  • We promote self-awareness to create a more just, discerning, and compassionate society.
  • We practice cooperative economics to align our values with the ethics of yoga.

Those who have practiced yoga primarily or exclusively as āsana and prānāyāma may feel confused about why we have chosen to speak out on a topic that may ostensibly appear unrelated to yoga. Luckily, as Iyengar Yoga practitioners, we have always been students of yoga philosophy and embrace aṣtanga yoga (the eight limbs), or as BKS Iyengar preferred, aṣtadala, the eight petals. We strive to apply these timeless teachings to every aspect of our daily lives, and to understand them more deeply through praxis.

IYDC, since inception, has been a socially and politically engaged community. We apply the framing of microcosm/macrocosm, and believe that our actions on the yoga mat extrapolate outward to our actions off the mat. We are also, unusual in some Iyengar Yoga circles, a younger community, with the majority of our students AND teachers in their 20s and 30s, although our founders are in their 50s and 60s. We have always been a vibrant, dynamic, culturally relevant community.

We are also geographically located in Hamtramck, Michigan, a heavily Arab and South Asian community, rich with Yemenis and Bangladeshi. We are blessed with civic organizations, families, people in leadership, mosques, temples, groceries, restaurants, and more, reflecting our incredibly diverse community. We are not far from Dearborn, MI, home to the largest Arab population in the USA.

[UPDATE: We are located in the heart of the Yemeni community, and we are in shock and horror at the bombing of Yemen by the USA/UK instigated on 11 January. We call for an immediate ceasefire on the beleaguered families of our neighbors!]

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is a friend and representative for many people in IYDC’s immediate and extended community. Many of us have Palestinian friends, neighbors, coworkers, and colleagues. These connections to the Palestinian and larger Arab diaspora make this particular conflict even more relevant to our studio community. Additionally, Hamtramck is a town in the midst of Detroit, a metropolis with one of the largest Black populations in the USA and an illustrious, globally impacting cultural and political landscape.

Hamtramck is also home to many young artists, entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and more.
The Metro Detroit area is home to a thriving Jewish community and many of our Jewish students, along with students of all faiths and backgrounds, are calling for a permanent ceasefire.

We at IYDC recognize that the crisis in Gaza and the occupied West Bank are but current iterations of a longstanding occupation. Some of us have intensified our research and study of Israel/Palestine in order to comprehend the situation more fully. Professor and historian Rashid Khalidi describes how the early Zionist statements were explicit in their settler colonial mission, freely using the language of occupation and colonialism. However, as he describes, after WWII, the practice of settler colonialism was no longer condoned by the international community, at which point the Zionist project began using the language of “self-determination” to define and justify itself. Because Europeans had committed the unspeakable brutality of the Jewish holocaust, many felt a burning urgency to unconditioanally support the creation of the State of Israel to absolve themselves of their shameful actions and inactions. 

But as every significant historian and scholar, from Khalidi to Israeli Ilan Pappé to Edward Said, point out, the Zionist project required the dislocation of the current residents of the region. Millions in the Palestinian diaspora have lost their ancestral lands because Israel has deprived them of the right of return, just as the First Nations/Native Americans were stripped of their land, cultural, and spiritual practices, and endured forced family separation and assimilation. Here on Turtle Island, indigenous people were and continue to be killed through disease, military and civilian violence, and policies of displacement, forced marches, and relocation.

Yehudi Menuhin, a renowned humanitarian as well as stellar artist, recognized the injustice of settler colonialism. His father, Moshe Menuhin, spoke out against Zionism from the outset. Moshe was raised in a Zionist settlement in Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel. However he chose to live in New York as an adult, when he realized the dream of Israel required a nightmare for the Palestinians. Moshe Menuhin “left Israel because he saw the Zionists were worshipping not God but their own power.” Other anti-Zionist Jews of his era include Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, and Albert Einstein.

Yehudi Menuhin received backlash for his outspoken humanitarian stance. Is it coincidence that one of the first non-Indian students of Iyengar Yoga was an anti-Zionist Jew? Clearly both Moshe and Yehudi Menuhin were nonconformists, able to depart from dominant narratives, and recognize deeper truths about power, violence, spirituality, and identity. Perhaps this same search for truth helped lead Yehudi to BKS Iyengar.

Since the 1950s, the occupation has drastically expanded, Zionism has become more deeply entrenched, millions more have been displaced, and more lives lost. The resistance to the occupation has also expanded. As nonviolent resistance attempts were met with violent suppression, the resistance erupted in violence more frequently. IYDC does not condone violence, in keeping with the foundational tenet of yoga, ahimsa. However we also view ahimsa, not only as nonviolence of thought, word, and deed, but also as disruption of violence when it arises. We understand settler colonialism as inherently violent, wherever and whenever it occurs. Without condoning violent resistance, we also recognize that suppressing nonviolent resistance creates conditions for armed resistance to increase.

IYDC occupies unceded land of the Three Fires Confederacy of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations. Over the millenia, this land has been home to many nations. Many of us have been occupiers of this land for generations. Some of our ancestors were brought here as captives through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some of our ancestors came here as a result of the Cold War and the labor demands of global capitalism. As settlers, Turtle Island has become our homeland, and most of us do not have access to any other home. However, we can devote ourselves to solidarity with those who are of the land, support land-back movements, and challenge and dismantle oppression in all forms. We embrace Lilla Watson/Australian Aboriginal Movement’s understanding that “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Since October, IYDC has offered opportunities to respond to the current atrocities in Israel/Palestine, through Grief Circles, participating in the General Strike for Palestine, hosting letter writing workshops, Teacher Education discussion groups, and āsana and prānāyāma workshops (Inner Warrior, Resting for Solidarity, Learning/Unlearning). We invite the global Iyengar Yoga community to incorporate yoga philosophy more fully to apprehend this crisis as responsible practitioners and citizens of the world.

Can we recognize the kleśas that require dismantling in order to keep learning and evolving? We are all guilty of avidya. This is natural and inevitable because there is always so much to learn. We all, even the sages, as they say, get trapped by abhiniveśa, fear of death, which may prevent right action. Yama and niyama also become frameworks to guide right action, as well as the teachings of Bhagavad Gita.

No doubt, all our primary texts have been used to justify every political position. IYDC strives to understand our scriptures as a framework for personal transformation to build collective liberation. In this instance, we translate collective liberation as an end of apartheid and occupation.

We recognize how difficult it is to depart from what our parents and grandparents, or the dominant culture, have taught us. We recognize the ways trauma informs our experience of the world and how we respond to it. We understand yoga as an embodied practice of sovereignty and ethics, such that instead of falling victim to our circumstances, we strive to create lives that embody our highest values, and integrate our ethics with our actions. We hope that as a global Iyengar Yoga community, we can be in solidarity, to heal ourselves, and cultivate well-being for all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ahimsa in Action: A Calling In for White Folks

We at IYDC are anguished by the recent and ongoing killing of Black bodies. We grieve for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black folks who have been abused by or lost their lives at the hands of the system of white supremacy and the movement of white nationalism. As white Iyengar yoga practitioners, we want to urge other white folks engaged in the art, science and philosophy of Iyengar yoga that doing nothing is unacceptable. We must take action for racial justice, now.  Not doing so is equivalent to supporting the powers that be and the status quo. It’s time to read, to study, and to stay informed. 

Now more than ever is a time to reflect upon and embody the yamas--the universal moral disciplines that govern how we interact with others in the world. We invite you to think about the yama aparigraha, or non-hoarding or non-coveting when more attention is paid to looting than to loss of Black lives. As the Hampton Institute put it, “It is humanity demanding to be recognized.” We invite you to listen to Black leaders and thinkers like Ijeoma Oluo, Austin Channing Brown, Resmaa Menakem; and donate to Black organizations or causes that support BIPOC. Locally, you can donate to IYDC’s Solidarity Fund, which supports our Paid Apprenticeship program for Black students, Indigenous students, and other students of color; the Detroit Justice Center Bailout Fund; Detroit Freedom House. Nationally, you can donate to the Black Lives Matter movement or the National Bail Out Fund

Right now, it’s important to know that folks of color have different needs than white folks do, and we need to be respectful of this. Let’s talk to other white folks, rather than asking friends and colleagues of color to do the extra labor of educating us. We invite you to our Ahimsa in Action group for white-identified people. This is a space for white folks to learn and act together in order to take responsibility for our role in this oppressive system. We meet next on Friday, June 12th at 6pm. Please email to join us. Yoga gives us the tools to be resilient and to do the hard work of self examination. As white people that includes examining the way in which our society continues to be deeply racist and how we can better act to dismantle white supremacy. 

--Ahimsa in Action IYDC Chapter: Alice Bagley, Valeriya Epshteyn, Erin Shawgo, Yulya Truskinovsky, Elissa Zimmer, and others


Ahimsa in Action is a group for white-identified folks to meet and find common language around racial justice work so that we hold more of the work around educating and talking to other white folks. We began by reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility together in March 2020. Here are some of our reflections from participants on why engaging in this work in the yoga studio setting works for us: 

"Yoga is a practice that helps us to be more resilient, to recognize what is center for ourselves, and to work through difficulties in our lives. As white bodied people living in America, and especially in a majority Black city, we have an obligation to use those same skills to work on the injustice of the world. White Fragility fits into that yoga practice because it asks us to first look inward at our own patterns of hurtful behaviour and the illusions and prejudices that lead to that behavior. It is only after we've examined our own behavior that we can then make ourselves useful in the struggle against racism. The book also provides a very helpful shared vocabulary for our chapter of Ahimsa in Action to continue the conversation about our own behavior and what we see out in the world."
--Alice Bagley

“Having a yoga practice has given me more body awareness and has helped me to notice the relationship between emotions and where they manifest in the body. White Fragility articulated my feelings of discomfort when talking about race, and naming and noticing this reaction has allowed me to more quickly recognize and move through my discomfort in order to stay present in the work of antiracism, rather than being fragile and walking away.” 
--Elissa Zimmer

In reading “White Fragility” in a yoga context, it became clear to me that, like yoga, anti-racism is a practice. Like yoga, it does not happen automatically, but instead demands discipline, focus and regular attention. Like yoga, it requires a letting go of the ego I have been socialized to cultivate. Like yoga, it is never finished: progress can feel glacial and the next steps can feel terrifying. And so the practice of yoga supports the practice of anti-racism, but the practice of anti-racism must also support the practice of yoga, both individually and for the community. Let's show up for both practices.”
--Yulya Truskinovsky

Emotional Energy Centers of the Body

In class this week, I referenced a handout I like to provide, and announced I would put it on the blog. Page 1 was gleaned from an online source I do not have a citation to. I created page 2, which is meant to print on the back of page 1, and offers an affirmative interpretation of each energy center. They roughly correspond with the chakra system. I hope you find much to ponder. Of course, it is not meant to be viewed dogmatically, but with a spirit of curiosity and reflection.

much love in the transformative struggle,

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Sequence for Seasonal Allergies

Thanks to Laurie Blakeney and Ann Arbor School of Yoga for this week's sequence! It's timely because several students were requesting just such a sequence at this time of year. Give it a try and tell us what you experience.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

An Audio Sequence from Abhijata

Abhijata Sridhar is BKS Iyengar's granddaughter, who has become an international representative of Iyengar Yoga worldwide, especially since Guruji and Geetaji's passing. We love and appreciate the skillfullness, openmindedness, creativity, insight, and rigor she brings to her classes. In our time of worldwide sheltering at home, she has provided an audio recording and a PDF of a class taught February 12, 2020 that we urge you to try. It emphasizes forward folding while stabilizing the hips.

Abhijata comments, "Without mental stability there cannot be any physical stability. Energy is fuel for the physical body. Where your mind will go, the energy will go, so bring the awareness all over. Sthira sukham asana and dvandva anabhigata – the body AND the mind." 

The Patanjali yoga sutra references here are II.46 and II.48:

II.46 sthira-sukham âsanam
sthira = steady, stable sukham = happiness âsanam = posture
The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease.

II.48 tato dvandvânabhighâta
tata = therefore, from these, from that
dvandva = play of opposites, dualities
anabhighâta = insulation, being beyond disturbance
Then, one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites. 

We urge you to look them up for further study and exploration. There are numerous resouces online, including this.

If you need reminders of the individual poses in this sequence, explore the 1-minute video tutorials on our YouTube channel.

May your practice time be an oasis in the uncertainty and struggle of this moment. May it bring you inner strength, peace, and health.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Wringing It Out

We have entered week 4 of our closure. How are you holding up? Here is a sequence to banish the feeling of staleness that can come from a physical confinement. Until we can throw our windows open and move about freely, we can create inner refreshment, and rid ourselves of toxins we may be accumulating in our bodies and minds.

This sequence, recorded by Milwaukee's Riverwest Yogashala Iyengar Yoga practitioner, Sara Arends Haggith, was taught almost a year ago at the IYNAUS Convention, by Abhijata Sridhar, BKS Iyengar's granddaughter, who co-runs the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, with her uncle, Prashant Iyengar.

It features a variety of twists done in many unconventional ways. At the convention, Abhi commented that there were many photos left out of LIGHT ON YOGA, including many of these twist variations. Try them all out, break out of known and habitual patterns, and have fun. Let us know what you observe from this sequence, and how you feel. Drink lots of water afterwards to help flush yourself out. Enjoy! 
Gwi-Seok for IYDC

Here is a short video of my favorite Marichyasana III variation from this sequence:

Friday, April 3, 2020

Home Practice Inspiration

We are making the most of our closure by meeting online daily. Our Sunday morning Led Practice is a time for seasoned practitioners to gather together to hang out and do a sequence together, collaboratively. A different person brings a sequence each week. Last Sunday, Erin brought a sequence based on one learned in Pune, December 2017, with Gulnaz Dashti, focusing on deep groin forward folds and arm balances. Here it is for you to try out!

much love from home, Gwi-Seok

Adho Mukha Śvānāsana

Uttānāsana- legs hip-width

Adho Mukha Śvānāsana

Uttānāsana - legs together

Tāḍāsana - arms in Urdhva Hastāsana and Urdhva Baddanguliyasana

Utkaṭāsana - short holds 3-5 times

Utkaṭāsana - at wall, heels a few inches from wall, work on lengthening thighs forward, pressing ankles back, heels down.

Tāḍāsana w/ arms in UH to Utkaṭāsana to Mālāsana (hands to floor behind) - come up in reverse, repeat as many times as you like!

Daṇḍāsana to Mālāsana to Utkaṭāsana to Tāḍāsana w/ arms in UH - repeat as many times as you like!


Lolasana - change cross of legs and repeat several times on each side

Mālāsana to Bakāsana

Adho Mukha Śvānāsana

Śīrṣāsana II or if still learning Śīrṣāsana I work here

Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana on blocks


Salamba Sarvāṅgāsana cycle

Viparītakaraṇī with support