Jonathan “J” Miles is a member of the Yoga Unify Governing Council for Community Investment, founder of Maha Vira Yoga, and a social justice activist. We chatted with J about why he was interested in Yoga Unify, and what he hopes to accomplish with his work on the Council.
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Before we dive into community investment, could you tell me a little bit about why you joined Yoga Unify, and why it resonates with your own personal teaching mission?
I felt called into service. 2020 has been quite the year, with everyone being forced to be still, and to have to pay attention to some of the things that have gone on that are going on in the world. I think I’ve been called to the forefront a little bit in the wellness community this year because I just speak the truth. The founders of Yoga Unify saw me as a comrade, so to speak, and someone that would be willing to work hard to, you know, help them push the needle forward.
What do you mean, exactly, “push the needle forward”?
At this point it’s all still sort of being worked out! We have a lot of lofty goals, and far to go because there are a lot of prominent teachers as well as different groups. One thing is to give yoga teachers more ownership over their offerings, and more autonomy. Yoga Unify is considering what it would be to unify as opposed to trying to codify what it means to be a yoga teacher. Instead of looking at standards first, we’re looking at teachers first.
Why do you think that this is the first time that the emphasis has been on the teachers in this way?
I think people were already starting to see what they could do on their own. And then when we had the lockdown, people were forced to do everything virtually, instead of completely canceling classes. People were figuring it out. So I think the conversation is happening just like in any industry—the workers are starting to realize how much power they have…. Without yoga teachers, there’s no need to govern yoga. As technology has improved, as people’s own marketing savvy has improved, they’re starting to realize that they don’t need those entities. People are going to show up to my Zoom class whether I’m Yoga Alliance certified or not.
You’re a member of the Governing Council for Community Investment. What does “community investment” mean to you?
If you want people to come to your thing—if you want people to see the magic of what you have to offer—sometimes you gotta start by giving it away. If we’re in a wellness community, the first thing we’re probably going to have to do when I think community investment is, well, giving away wellness. Wellness itself is a commodity that many people don’t think about. They think of it as taking a backseat to something as important as, say, their job, their car, their relationship. So the first part, at least outside people who are deeply committed, is to bring wellness to all.
The second part is the work that exists for the purposes of the world, or a community. You know, there are organizations here [in Virginia] that all spring were planting resiliency gardens… And that takes money for soil and all that stuff. So maybe an organization like Yoga Unify would give a grant to a community organization like that, and then also send an ambassador to do an outdoor yoga class in the garden. You know what I mean? So investing time, money, AND energy is what I think of when I think of community investment.
What I’m hearing you say here overall is that community investment extends beyond just awarding out scholarships and grants. It’s also about creating a culture and a community in which people feel invested in.
A lot of times when people think investing, the first thing you think about is the bottom line. And people don’t think about that time and that energy and like, showing your face—and showing your face consistently. If Yoga Unify put on an event in Richmond, Virginia, we’d blow it up, but then if Yoga Unify didn’t come back, it wouldn’t have mattered. I think it’s about starting in each individual community.
Having said all this, what is it about the Yoga Unify overall mission and purpose that resonates with you personally?
Rarely in life, do you get an opportunity to jump on a movement at the beginning, at the ground floor—and even more rarely are you tapped to be a part of something like this. It just feels like a lot of really amazing people have decided to find some time to commit to joining forces here. And I want to be where the energy is.
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