Yoga as a Peace Practice: A Curriculum for Our Times
By Jana Long, E-RYT, C-IAYT, Executive Director & Co-founder of Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Inc.
Yoga as a Peace Practice teaches ancient, contemplative practices of Yoga to help individuals and communities that have been impacted by violence improve their well-being and move toward self-love and wholeness.
Yoga as a Peace Practice (YPP) is the first national initiative of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA). The pilot launch of YPP took place in May 2017 in Oakland, CA, followed by a subsequent immersion training last July at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. After these two events, it was clear that YPP offers a curriculum for our times. There is a present need to bring contemplative practice to individuals and communities to support their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Maya Breuer and I, as co-founders of BYTA, sought ways to catapult the organization onto the national stage. The death of Trayvon Martin in 2014 served as the catalyst that led to the creation of the YPP framework as a curriculum to help people dealing with the aftermath of violence and trauma. Although we were miles away and had no blood kinship to the Martin family, we were traumatized by the experience. It led us to look at the painful history of violence against black people and the violence within many black homes and neighborhoods. As Yoga teachers, we asked ourselves what role, if any, was there for Yoga?
Our first decision was to look beyond Hatha Yoga towards a more comprehensive practice, aligned with Patanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga, that could be applied by everyday people to support their lives off the Yoga mat. It would require bringing real world definitions to the arcane language of Yoga to make it practical and accessible. We had discovered that many Yoga teachers we met were immersed in asana, but often had little understanding or knowledge of the philosophical tenets of Yoga. We hoped to remedy this with YPP.
Motivated by our personal experiences as longtime practitioners with direct knowledge of the power of Yoga to heal the body, mind, and spirit, we were inspired to develop a curriculum of contemplative practices as tools to help individuals and communities suffering from the deleterious impact of everyday personal assaults to those coping with the aftermath of trauma from violence. We saw an opportunity to apply a practical and modern interpretation of the ancient practice of Yoga to transform the impact of subtle and gross forms of violence, which have escalated in recent years.
The YPP curriculum is based on universal tenets found in yogic philosophy, such as the yamas (abstentions) and niyamas (observances), and will support the work of all Yoga teachers. It offers teachers already trained in Yoga asana an opportunity to learn how to facilitate and share the deeper aspects of Yoga to promote healing and create a peaceful and balanced life. YPP teachers will be able to relate the principles in accessible ways so that students may incorporate them into their daily lives, their communities, and ultimately the whole world.
The YPP initiative was created with the primary objective to train certified black Yoga teachers to facilitate contemplative practice. The goal was to encourage them to take this practice into their Yoga classes and into the communities where they teach. We believe, once taught, YPP has the potential to become a self-help intervention for individuals who seek healthful and positive ways of living fully in their hearts, minds, and souls.
We identified black Yoga teachers as our first legion of foot soldiers because of their ability to reach many diverse communities and engage in significant outreach to share the Yoga as a Peace Practice curriculum. Black Yoga teachers are uniquely positioned to serve as ambassadors in public schools, colleges, churches, prisons and detention centers, community and senior centers, and other places where they teach.
We recognize that violence, trauma, and dysfunction are not solely consigned to individuals or communities of color; they permeate the lives of all people regardless of race, class, or culture. In light of this, any certified Yoga teacher is welcomed and encouraged to integrate the principles of the YPP curriculum into their Yoga classes and communities. The YPP curriculum might also be useful to professionals in the areas of education, social work, and especially those who work directly with individuals who have been impacted by violence or have been the perpetrators of violence.
YPP also provides a collaborative platform for experienced Yoga teachers to share their depth of knowledge and experience. Last year, the program’s guest teacher was Mark Whitwell. This year, the faculty for the weekend training at Yogaville includes Dr. Gail Parker and Dana Smith who will share their wisdom and expertise. The BYTA plans to bring the training to more cities in 2018 and 2019. We are currently focused on the St. Louis/Ferguson, Missouri community for the next YPP training.
Yoga as a Peace Practice is not a panacea for all the troubles of the world. Yet, we believe the contemplative Yoga practices will be powerful catalysts for individuals who desire to recover from the trauma of violence and are willing to shift their thinking and recharge their lives in positive ways.