The Practice of Leadership

Hala & Tessa talk Ojai Leadership Training!

Our final training in 2015 is right around the corner! We're coming to Ojai, CA, Dec 3-6 for our Leadership Training Intensive on Social Justice & Community-Building. We revamped this 4-day retreat-style intensive, making it more of an introductory training on social justice issues & effective activism. Read on to learn why Hala and Tessa (who will again be joining us this year) are jazzed about this training, what you can expect, and who we've designed it for...

OTM: Tessa, as both a co-designer and co-leader of this training, who do you think this training is geared towards? Who would benefit most?

Tessa: This training is for all those who wish to make a difference in the world and who are seeking tools, knowledge, community, and personal growth that can aid in doing so effectively. Raising consciousness about social justice is crucial in order to understand where/how we each might play into the injustices that exist in the world and where/how we each can intervene, prevent, and transform these injustices. This training is especially for those interested in taking their personal practice of yoga or community service to another level in order to enact social change and critical community engagement. 

OTM: So, does someone need to be a seasoned activist or social change leader to attend this training? Or could this training be an introduction for someone who is maybe just starting off in social justice and is interested in expanding his or her knowledge and understanding? - a way to gain tools and greater confidence in the concept and practice of social justice. 

Hala: Yes! I think that often people shy away from talking about issues of inequality, racism, sexism, etc. because it can be scary.  We worry that we’re going to offend someone or say the wrong thing.  Some people have the privilege to stay away from this conversation because they don’t feel that their lives are directly impacted by inequality.  Others don’t have that same opportunity.  And it’s true: conversations about social justice can get very heated, and even ugly.  But what's so exciting about a training like this one, that brings yoga and mindfulness into the experience, is that we are cultivating embodied tools to be able to have the difficult conversation in a grounded and non-reactive way.

OTM: So how does this relate to yoga? Are social justice and yoga mutually-beneficial? Why does OTM offer a training that includes both at the same time?

Tessa:  Both social justice and yoga operate on the premise that we are caught in a false perception of duality when in fact we are all interconnected. Yet, while we are spiritually one, we are not all the same. The ideal of "oneness" can sometimes obscure the reality that real inequality and oppression occur at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and religion that implicate each of us in the perpetuation of dualities that exist in our world today. Learning how to reflect candidly about ourselves and the world, transform personally amidst discomfort, push ourselves to our edge and find our breath there, negotiate not-knowing and difference with compassion, patience and grace-- these are the lessons we must confront both in our yoga practice and social justice education. 

When we confront our lessons with humility, mindfulness and honesty, we learn to see duality of self and other as something we must dissolve while recognizing the realities of pain and injustice that have resulted from the divisions imposed in society. We can take personal responsibility for dissolving these tensions in our own mind-bodies-spirits as well as the communities we are a part of. We can recognize our social responsibility to Martin Luther King's charge that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and use the tools of mindfulness and yoga to making tangible and lasting peace within and with community.

OTM: Love that quote! That illustrates a fantastic reason for someone who is interested in community engagement to attend this training, right?

Tessa: Definitely. Anyone interested in advocating for or directly making small or big changes in the world around them must think through the critical approaches to community engagement that ensure that individual participation is carried out ethically, respectfully, with integrity and with purpose. Understanding the structural, political, economic, environmental, social, cultural and personal causes that have led to the inequity and injustice that exist in our world today will not only broaden our scope of knowledge and personal awareness but will allow us to more effectively tackle big issues through tangible strategies in the communities near and far from us.

OTM: Beautifully put. We feel so fortunate to have you, Jacoby Ballard, and Leslie Booker as co-facilitators again at this year's training along with Hala, Seane, and Suzanne. Now that's one powerful collective of leaders!    

Hala: One of the things that all of our co-facilitators bring to this training is beautiful role-modeling in being authentic and real with what they feel, while being both compassionate and curious about others’ experiences.  Last year’s training was so powerful, in a huge part due to our amazing faculty, which included Tessa, Jacoby, and Leslie. Each of them modeled such wisdom and grace in their own way. 

I’m excited to have our students spend time with them and see how it’s possible to engage in these touchy dialogues in a grounded, honest, and self-responsible way. 


Interested in attending this Leadership Training in Ojai?
Get more info and register HERE!

SEVA SPOTLIGHT! Interview with SEVA: Kenya participant Bryonie Wise

Today we're interviewing Bryonie Wise of Toronto, Canada. Bryonie is a participant in our 2015 SEVA Challenge: Kenya

OTM: Hi Bryonie! We are so happy and grateful that you are a part of our SEVA Challenge this year. What is your fundraising goal and how much have you raised so far?

Bryonie: I set my goal at $7,500 - $10,000. To-date I've raised $7,259.

OTM: That's fantastic! What does "seva" mean to you and why do you think it's important?

Bryonie:  'Seva' speaks to my own belief (culled & refined through the practice of yoga, creativity, and shamanism) that there is no separation between us; that although we roll around in our various corners of the Universe, when it comes down to it, we are connected if only by the thread of our beating hearts.

We all suffer, we all celebrate, we all grieve, we all love — we all need help at one time or another and are often too fearful to ask. Sometimes (most often) it's because we can't ask - where we live or how we fit into the hierarchy of the society that surrounds us often determines how loud we can speak & how far our voices are allowed to go. We are held down instead of encouraged to rise up. 

The older I get, the clearer this becomes: we are here to love, unequivocally -  and it is my responsibility as a human being with relative freedom of word & action to use my superpowers (my heart & privilege) for the safety of all beings. 

The more we begin to think of ourselves as connected, from one side of the world to the other, the stronger we become.

OTM: Yes! Superpowers! Your heart & privilege. We love that.  What inspired you to sign-up for the Challenge this year? What do you hope to gain or achieve by participating?

Bryonie: 1. The opportunity to support & learn from (and learn how I can further support) young girls & women who have experienced FGM or who are currently working to create alternate rites of passage & fighting for the right to choose how they step over into womanhood. 2. The opportunity to travel to a part of the world that has long tugged at my heart. And 3. The opportunity to study & work with Suzanne & Seane and to expand my capacity & ability to love as a human & as a teacher.

OTM: All beautiful reasons. You mention that the opportunities to support, to expand, and to learn were motivating factors for you.  What is the biggest lesson or skill you've learned so far by participating?

Bryonie:  I have learned how to soften my words & shape them differently in order to make FGM an accessible topic.

When we come from a place of love, anything is possible— and sometimes, in transmuting (not bypassing) our fear or rage into love or curiosity or surrender (or whatever is most authentic to our own personal experience), we spark someone else into a different kind of thought or action. 

We change the world, slowly, but surely. 

OTM: And that is a powerful lesson to learn. Thank you, Bryonie, for sharing your words and experiences about SEVA: Kenya! If you're inspired  by Bryonie and would like to take part in the Challenge, visit our SEVA: Kenya page HERE. We're finishing up Phase 2 (taking $75 pledges which provide a young girl at the new rescue center with a bed, mattress, and dresser). Pledge today and make a difference! The Challenge ends Sept 30.

Are We Ready to Really Live by Our Deepest Values?

 Posted by Hala Khouri

A week ago I moderated a panel discussion on corporate responsibility and yogic values at Yoga Journal LIVE! NYC. The panel included leadership from Lululemon Athletica (including the new CEO Laurent Potdevin) as well as bloggers and yoga teachers who have been critical of the company. This has begun a conversationamong yoga practitioners that I think is very important.

Panelists and audience members at The Practice of Leadership shared their concern that Lululemon does not operate according to yogic values, and thus is not a true reflection of the yoga community. Many expressed their opinion that Lululemon should change its marketing and production practices to be more inclusive and have more integrity.

I want to break down these arguments.

I’ll start by sharing who I am, which inevitably informs my perspective. I am a mother of multi-cultural children, a trauma therapist, co-founder of Off the Mat Into the World, a yoga teacher, a Lebanese immigrant, straight, able-bodied, educated and white (white is an ambiguous term that typically refers to people of European descent, so some would argue that I’m not white, but I pass as white and thus receive benefits from my skin color).

Who are we referring to when we say “yoga community”?

The way I see it,  Lululemon,  Yoga Journal, and most mainstream yoga studios, operate from the belief that the “yoga community” is mostly made up of upper/middle class, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, slim women. This is the audience they appear to cater to.Yet there are lots of other people doing yoga out there who may never walk into a mainstream studio, Lululemon store, or purchase a copy of Yoga Journal. I’m talking about people of color, poor people, people who are incarcerated, veterans, fat people, disabled people, queer and transgender people, old people, etc.  And this is one of the problems with talking about a “yoga community”: There is not just one community of people all connected through their love of yoga.  In fact, I believe that this lack of cohesion is, sadly, a reflection of the larger divide that exists in our society—there is the community of privilege, and then there is everyone else.

If yoga means union, then we should not allow ourselves to be a reflection of the divide that exists in world at large. If we strive for greater consciousness, we should think critically about whom we see as included in our community—and whom we don’t. I know that some yogis are now thinking to themselves, “But everyone is welcome at our studio, no one is turned away!” And I’d say: This is a sweet, yet naive sentiment. Not rejecting people is not the same as actively creating spaces that invite everyone, and where everyone feels included.

This is where corporate responsibility and marketing comes in.

Do companies such as Lululemon and Yoga Journal have a responsibility to market yoga differently?

Lululemon is a multi-million-dollar company, with incredible visibility (254 stores worldwide and growing). Yoga Journal sells more than 300,000 magazines a year and is seen by millions.  Because these companies are so visible, they play a significant role in shaping the cultural image of what yoga is. So when these companies portray yogis as white, able bodied, and slim, they definitely send a message about who yoga is for. This message is so strong that Leslie Booker, and African American yoga and mindfulness teacher, says that in every class she teaches to youth of color, she has to convince them that yoga is not just for white people. I’m always surprised when someone tells me that they couldn’t ever do yoga because they’re not flexible enough, as if that were a prerequisite. We’re scaring away people who could use yoga the most!

What is the consumer’s responsibility here?

Corporations are fed by consumer dollars. We can’t complain about their marketing practices without acknowledging that we’ve been feeding the mouth of the beast that we are now fighting. Profit-driven companies will inevitably respond to consumer demand, so as we ask them to change their ways, we must also change ours. There is a segment of the yoga community (and now I am using the phrase to include the community of everyone who does yoga) that lives by yogic values, and put their dollars where their values are. But there are a large number of people who do yoga who have not yet connected their practice on their mat to the rest of their lives.

This is the challenge we’re tasked with.

If we are to transform the yoga community to a yoga movement, which is what I believe is called for, we have to find a way to engage in a conversation about what yogis value and how we can live those values in all aspects of our life. It’s easy to have this conversation with others with the same values, but how do we engage with those who don’t feel the calling to be part of this movement? How do we engage everyone who loves yoga, our true yoga community, in a way that is respectful to all points of view?

Privilege is real, and must be checked; but the truth is, the average mainstream yogi is swimming in an ocean of unacknowledged privilege. I know because that has been my process. I fit the mainstream yoga ideals in many ways (slim, white skinned, educated, and flexible). I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life unpacking my privilege (as well as the ways in which I don’t have it). Each time I think I’m aware, I find a new blind spot, it can be as small as little as realizing that band aids match my skin but not dark skin, or as big as taking for granted that I’m never going to be judged by my skin color or gender identity.

How it can be different.

My vision is that the face of yoga includes everyone; that yoga does not appear—in advertising, in magazines, in the branding and marketing to a target audience, even in our own assumptions about it—to be an elite practice for a select few. Instead I want to see yoga portrayed and celebrated as something that everyone can benefit from.  In order for this to happen people who do yoga need to actively stand together. We need to use our voices, our purchasing power, our patience, our ability to stay grounded and have difficult conversations, our passion, and our dedication to strive toward letting all aspects of our life reflect our practice.

Carol Horton, who was on the panel, wrote a great piece about the possibility of creating a new paradigm around corporate practices. She offers some compelling solutions having to do with marketing, production, community building, and staff training.

What does this mean for you?

If you do yoga, and want your practice, and all aspects of your life, to reflect your deeper values, consider these questions:

Where in your life are you not making choices that are in alignment with what you value?

What would you need to give up or change in order change this?

Are you willing to sacrifice some of your privileges in order to live with more integrity?

What is one thing you can do right now to move toward this?