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.
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
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 unconditionally support the creation of the State of Israel to absolve themselves of their deplorable actions and inactions.
as every 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 and phone calling sessions, Teacher Education discussion groups, and āsana and prānāyāma workshops (Inner Warrior, Resting for Solidarity, Learning/Unlearning). We invite the global Iyengar Yoga community to join us in incorporating 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 advocate for 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.