Do hot-button political issues belong in yoga? Governing Council member Kim Bauman, founder of One Love Movement, says yes. Here’s why.
By Lisette Cheresson
There’s a debate in our community as to whether politics belong, in any way, in yoga. In order to keep studios and organizations welcoming to all, some practitioners believe that no mention of hot button issues is appropriate in a group class; that yoga should be an escape to the subtle, a safe space outside of the gross world. Others view left-leaning causes—such as social justice and civic engagement—as crucial components of a yoga practice “off the mat,” based on tenets of interconnectivity and seva.
Kim Bauman, founder of One Love Movement, solidly considers herself in the latter camp. “A lot of the focus of yoga is on just the postures,” she says. “Yoga extends way beyond just the actual physical practice.” The emphasis on the many facets of the practice—beyond asana—is one reason Bauman is excited to be a Founding Member and Governing Council on Community Investment.
“There’s nothing worse when teachers are like, “‘Oh, that student is so rude, but they have the most beautiful Dancer’s Pose’,” says Bauman. For her, embodying the principles of the practice—including kindness, humility, compassion, and empathy—is an integral part of the practice. These “may not be a principle of yoga in a book or anything, but kindness can go so far in shaping our humanity. I always try to think of it as small little acts. It’s the tiny things that we do everyday that are going to contribute to the whole.”
One Love Movement was founded on this idea, that even small actions, like an introduction to yoga, can have positive ripple effects in any community. “We utilize the physical practice of yoga to bring people together,” says Bauman. One Love hosts events (socially-distanced events these days) in support of various causes that Bauman believes are in step with yogic teachings, including the instructions for right living laid out in the yamas and niyamas. “You’re physically stretching yourself and strengthening yourself,” she says, “but it’s also about what you do in your life in general.”
But what of the other camp of yogis, who may counter that Bauman’s personal crusade shouldn’t be associated with practice? She says that, even this year, when she focused on causes that have become “political,” such as Black Lives Matter, she didn’t face a lot of pushback.
“When we started our partnership with an organization called When We All Vote, if anything, it actually brought people to us. CBS featured us too. People loved the idea that we were using yoga to advocate for the election.” It wasn’t just the election work, either: This year, she says, more people got involved with One Love than ever before.
“Yogis do care about racism,” says Bauman. “They do care about the environment, and they do care about protecting other people by wearing a mask. It’s hard to say that you care about women’s rights, but then not vote; or that you care about racism, and then not care about voting. Because of that, I think there’s really no way to separate yoga from being a part of political things.”
How She’s Bringing These Ideas to Yoga Unify
Bauman says that the organization is aptly named, because the idea of yoga is, at base, to unify and to connect. She also, as mentioned, resonates with the idea that there needs to be widespread education that yoga is not just a workout. “In the beginning,” says Bauman, “yoga was just sitting.”
But it’s more than education and the creation of accessible pathways to lifelong learning that excites Bauman about the Yoga Unify mission. She believes that the system YU is building to qualify teachers will be extraordinarily helpful for students. “It will allow students to know that like, okay, I can trust this teacher because they’ve been vetted,” she says. Conversely, students will have a space to voice concerns about teachers with whom they’ve felt uncomfortable.
Bauman plans to bring her experience advocating for yoga off the mat to her work with the Governing Council on Community Investment. “I can bring to the table my experience activating in underserved communities and just around the world,” she says. First, she can help members create greater awareness and compassion. “If you go on a yoga retreat in, say, Thailand, which is a poor country. If you go into these mountainous areas, but then you don’t do anything to help those communities, that’s a big miss.”
Further, Bauman says, she plans to bring her experience in highlighting seva. “Otherwise,” she says, “it’s going to perpetuate what’s in place now—which is, well, Instagram, and people wanting to be famous on Instagram. There’s a big opportunity for Yoga Unify to be a voice that can hopefully, over time, shift that conversation and that perspective that people have of yoga.”
For Bauman, that unequivocally means the integration of political hot-button issues into the sharing of the practice.
Do you agree? Disagree? We want to hear from you! All Founding Circle Members have an opportunity to share their ideas with the Governing Councils, to help create an organization that best serves your vision for the future of yoga. Join the Founding Circle today.