Yoga, Inner Peace, and Social Illness

Yoga has been sold as a cure to personal suffering and a path to inner peace. That sales model - and that is what it is, a marketing ploy, not an eternal truth - puts price tags on dubious ‘healing techniques’ and sells you momentary feel goods. Momentary: built into this model is the idea that you’re always going to have to buy or do more. It implies that there is something wrong with you, while hinting that if you work out enough or release your trauma or channel a crystal you’ll feel better. The idea that there is something wrong with you sends you down a rabbit hole of shame and perfectionism, projection and disempowerment. It turns our gaze away from the big picture, encouraging quiescence and denial and collusion. It makes us drones who buy stuff in order to feel real. Quiescence and denial are the very mechanisms of white supremacy, environmental extortion, and status quo hatred.

This model isolates suffering - creating a whole phantasmal world of inner demons and lost children, true selves and false selves, traumas and soul journeys. It’s a great infantilizer. And the genius of it lies in its mysticism: how will you ever know if you’ve found your ‘true self’?

As a sales model, it tends to work. It positions us as consumers and creates its own need. It makes us complicit in a social reality rather than questioning, participating, actionable players within it.

It does not work as a healing modality.

It doesn’t work as a healing modality because our suffering is not personal. No one is wounded or traumatized independently. Why then would healing be? The injunction to heal ourselves - especially amongst us white folks - is a slip of the tongue and the attention span. It conveniently positions us as victims, powerless, and dealing with our own wounds while deflecting our attention away from very real and institutionalized privileges. It’s past time that we within the yoga community stop this myopic quest to live authentically. It’s not important that we speak our truth. It’s time we start to listen.

It is a myth that we can stop global warming by individually recycling and lowering our carbon footprint; the only thing that will save the planet at this point is organized, systemic, collective change. Change on the governmental level. Legislative change. Cultural change. Economic change. And yet, we’re told even within eco-conscious circles how important personal decisions and actions are.

The same is true of white supremacy, gun violence, and systemic oppression. No amount of individual action is going to right these wrongs. And hear me clearly: these are wrongs. This is not normal. This level of human suffering and mass violence is not merely the turning of some ancient wheel. This world could be different. It should be. We can make that happen.

I am not saying you shouldn’t look at your own pain. You can and should examine the ways shared traumas are personally playing themselves out in your body and your life. Nor am I displacing or disparaging grief. But unless you also recognize healing happens in the collective, in relationship, with systemic change, no amount of personal trauma resilience is going to matter. At what point are we going to recognize that anxiety and trauma are social illnesses? At what point are we going to reckon with the social problems - not the mental health issues - that cause mass shootings? And when exactly are we going to see the hypocrisy in calling refugees invaders, black bodies criminal, and white boys with semi automatics lone wolves?

Go ahead and rest. Weep. Retreat from social media and take a break from the news. Move your body to get in touch with your body and burn off the biochemical wastes of sadness and tension.

But then come back. Take action. Listen. Inner peace doesn’t really exist. Peace in our world is a more important goal. Serenity, which is the closest thing I know to inner peace, depends on meaningful action in the real world.

Do whatever you can do, as often as you can, and take care of yourself so that skillful action remains a possibility.