Using Yoga as Political Activism /// “Super Lame,” “Super-Awesome,” or “Super Who-Cares-‘Cause-Things-Like-This-Have-No-Effect-Anyway”?

There’s been a little talk lately about “the politicization of yoga,” and, I have to say, it makes us a wee bit squirmy to think about. Don’t get me wrong. We’re all for protest, civil disobedience, boycotts, gluing (the right) locks, Bread & Puppet Tom foolery, and even a fair share of black-blocing if the weather’s “just right”….

But, the idea of doing trikonasana as a form of resistance? I don’t know. It doesn’t necessarily give us the willies, but definitely produces some minor heebee-jeebees.

Lately, when a new form of activism arises, it tends to fall into the greater category of “lifestyle activism,” which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but when put in the hands of cookie cutter “liberals,” tends to become this awful juggernaut of quaint ideas and self-congratulatory pep talks. [Watch co-founder of Wanderlust, Jeff Krasno, verbally wank off his disinterested audience for a great example (First 60 seconds)].

Now, I’m not as neggie on using one’s lifestyle choices as a form of protest, as, say, anti-civilization theorist, John Zerzan, might be (despite how much I appreciate his overall critique). But, a person can simultaneously buy a reusable water bottle and still realize that in doing so he has had a greater positive effect on how he feels about his place in Poohsville, than he has had on Poohsville itself.

From “As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial” by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan

I will say, however, that I mos def have a problem with lifestyle activism being seen as the be-all-end-all method of popular resistance. As if simply rerouting the socio-economically mediated commerce of late-capitalism into the pockets of corporations that have a wing of their offices devoted to green marketing is going to have an effect on the uneven distribution of wealth in this country, which by design necessarily perpetuates an unsustainable civilization.

“How’s that new long-lasting light bulb working down there?”

We’ve also been seeing a trend around the political yoga discussion that makes some rather unfriendly assumptions about the supposed ubiquity and high position of politricks, as if politricks were somehow a universal given. We have two things to say about this:

  1. Any assumption that politricks and the overall political system is, at its best, a necessary evil, is unfortunate.
  2. Any assumption that yoga is by its nature “political” gives politricks an honor we’re not willing to bestow.

For us, yoga becomes a politically relevant act only when politricks and its “interests” meander into the field of yoga, and not the other way around. For example, urdhva danurasana is politically irrelevant right up to the point when opening the front-body, increasing lung capacity, strengthening and lengthening the quads, and all-around brightening up the nervous system become relevant to, or come in conflict with, politically-motivated peoples. In other words, yoga becomes political only when a “stilling of the fluctuations of the mind” becomes relevant to and/or in conflict with political agendas, which I must admit, is increasingly the case today (air pollution/noise pollution).

Of course, there are some people who seem to have an honest belief that if government and politricks were to become infused with yoga that this would somehow purify the political system. SAY WHA?!

It appears to me that commercial yoga culture—the culture presumably in closest proximity to the yogic tradition and its teachings—simply replicates, if on a slightly more micro-level, the very standards that make our political systems so dangerous. Think about it. Commercial yoga culture, and by extension celebriyogi culture, is dominated by popularity contests, money grabs and power grabs, vicious infighting, politically motivated alliances, and an overall inability to display any noteworthy outreach to peoples other than those represented by the dominant social class [no link needed here, just look around you]. Why the hell should anyone expect a yogafied political system to be any different than the one we find ourselves in today? Because, members of this commercial yoga culture chase food fads like the last goji berries on planet Earth? I just call that a humbling example of how the human animal finds knowing what to eat an impossibility!

Gorilla born. Gorilla eats. Gorilla lives. Gorilla dies. Gorilla is Born Knowledge Born.

Nah…. I have more faith in the honey badger making positive change, than I do some rich white class of yoga “enthusiasts” wanting to make legitimate critique of itself a marginalized exception to the rule.


  1. I’m one of those Adbusters, Mother Jones subscribing old hags who cannot resist a march ( as long as it is above DC and east of Philly). I kind of feel that this one leaves everyone who is not down in Tampa ready to face the music, feeling like a jackass.

  2. Linda-Sama

    right on, right on, right on. you speak the truth. I asked my friends in India about Baba Ramdev protesting the govt. corruption in India and it generated a collective yawn. They told me that yogis getting involved in India politics has been happening for a long time and nothing ever changes….it’s nothing for American yoga bloggers to get excited about.

  3. pavana tanaya

    I am sorry, I couldnt hear you, I was busy gazing at my incredibly unique navel

  4. This morning, I watched patches of the entire Wanderlust/Jeff Krasno video. This is representative of many of those other videos on that yoga instruction site which seem to project an insider-oriented, “statement yoga” kind of trope. Capturing one (or a series) of those “you just had to be there” moments. Well, because I can’t be there, as with many of the graffiti-backdropped, speaking-in-tongues kind of videos (which seem to be currently featured on that site), this one could be a pass (to do – or repeat doing, for argument’s sake; or even just to watch, as a movie). Anyway, I looked at it while at work.

    There is a reason for moving back to basics in yoga. It’s no more going to get out the vote than just grassroots getting in your neighborhood and doing an old fashioned canvass. Or else, consider it yogatainment–you feel you just have to be at the next one!

  5. Bryan

    Everytime I think y’all can’t get better, you do. This is coherent and fantastic and 100 percent realness.

  6. Fuckin’ A!!!!! That Jensen and McMillan book, “As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial” is amazing, I was going to highlight that “meditator”-new age hippy who thinks light and love and organic food will cure everything and all will be fine so long as he doesn’t have to confront anything personally and directly…and doesn’t have to change his lifestyle or sense of entitled confort.

  7. wondering

    what you said earlier.about celeb yogi’s feeling free to tweak yoga to be whatever they want it to be. saving the world thru huge exhibisionist well publicized classes, retreats to lovely places where one can” connect, journal and make positive change etc.” actually not doing squat, but feelin groovy.

  8. itstrue

    The yoga scene likes to “do good” so as to “feel good”. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, I can’t help but think the feel good is about giving oneself a major pat on the back and inflating ones own sense of ego. Like Elena browers book that she is donating all over the world. The more her books get placed all over the world, the more she will be known and the more fame she will accumulate.

  9. Bobcat

    Seems that anyone talking about politic wants to influence others in some way. Thanks for this straightforward, non-partisan and overall insightful piece. In my experience yoga cultivates critical thinking and the willingness to see more than my personal perspective. For sure I have a preference but I don’t need to persuade others to believe me. Arguments are much less effective than inspirations especially coming from those who only accept certain yogic point of views.

  10. Greenpoint

    holy frickin’ shat, the honey badger is now my favorite livin’ thing…

  11. As usual, thanks for all your comments, crazy Babarazzi readers! I’m in a commenting mood, so here’s an addendum to the piece regarding the “feel good” aspects of “going green,” “lifestyle activism,” etc.:

    It’s my belief that the universal popularity and ubiquity of lifestyle choices being seen as politically revolutionary acts actually comes from a place of unchecked/expressed guilt on behalf of the so-called “conscious consumer.” Privileged people, for obvious reasons, have a hard time realizing (or wanting to realize) that their purchases do not really effect those people who are struggling the most. The reason for this is because when a person of privilege buys a fancy light bulb, everything looks brighter (sometimes literally). S/he feels good. The room looks good. The right people approve. All seems honkey dory. The reason it feels this way is because it already was that way! The privileged person’s life was already pretty damn sweet. S/he just needed to “do something good” in order to open up his/her eyes a bit to see it.

    However, the idea that buying cool light bulbs will somehow “trickle down” into better living conditions for the poor, or happen to create more forests, is a joke. Not only because the entire concept of “trickle down theory” has been debunked since the day Ronald Reagan made it a household term, but also because money, high standards of living, and quality merchandise all tend to circulate within the fortunate classes. They don’t trickle down, unless they end up being discarded as trash or deemed obsolete.

    Anyway, something to think about….

  12. acephalist

    Reblogged this on acephalist.

  13. acephalist

    It says I reblogged but it is not showing up? I will post it to my twitter. Great post BTW. 🙂

  14. vamosbuscando

    where i live, argentina, 90% of yoga practitioners and teachers are women.
    the same thing hapens in many other places.
    but this doesn´t happen in india. because indian culture is patriarchal* (can´t find translation).
    and what we know as yoga has been made by and into a patriarchal culture.
    and it could be the reason of the absense of women in indian yoguic tradition.
    and patriarchy, the subjugation of female, is one of the roots of today social disaster

    and this never made answer ”where are women in indian yoguic tradition?”
    (while we see enormous proportions or women involved in yoga outside india)
    should be enough to make us see that we are not seeing it all.

    the patriarchal roots of what we are told of yoga is one of the hidden aspects of yoga.
    the kind-of ‘unquestionable’ state of yoga, its supossed condition of perfection, is another of the blinded aspects of it.

    i see, that we, who are interested deeply in yoga, must question it. everything of it. to get the truth of it.

    i have found lot of truth on body postures. but not the same on all the words written or spoken about it.

    i’ like to talk more with you all about ‘yoga and politics’ …



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