How to Resist, Rebuild and Recharge with Your Wellness Community

By Janine White

In response to Trump’s presidency, gyms, yoga studios and wellness centers across the country are experimenting with how to engage their clients and communities in the Three R’sResisting, Rebuilding, Recharging. Given that about 50.2 million Americans currently belong to health clubs and 36.7 million adults practice yoga, such spaces can provide a real opportunity for people to build healthy practices both physically and politically.

Here’s an example of how our yoga studio in New York has sparked new levels of mindful social action with our community. We hope our story might inspire ideas about how some of these actions could work at your favorite wellness spaces.

At Harlem Yoga Studio in New York where I teach, we’ve created a monthly Mindful Community in Action group, hosted by studio owners Erica Barth and Laurel Katz-Bohen. Political issues deeply affect us and our communities: from Women’s Rights to Black Lives Matter, Healthcare, LGBTQ rights, the environment, the list goes on. Our yogis are committed to taking what we practice on our mats — compassion, mindfulness, self-care, and community well-being — out into the world.

In designing these Mindful Community in Action gatherings, we cast a wide net across our HYS community and beyond, drawing on a number of guiding resources. I originally met Erica in 2014 at Off the Mat, Into the World’s Yoga, Purpose and Action Intensive, inspiring yogis to work towards social change. In partnership with CTZNWell, we co-hosted a Vote Together Circle just before the 2016 election as part of their VoteWell Campaign. This workshop connected our yoga practice with a reflection on how our election choices could promote well-being in our communities. The Indivisible Guide and Wall-of-Us have also been great resources.

In a nutshell, our monthly meetings take place on Sundays from 2-5pm. They’re open to all members of the HYS community and anyone else interested in participating. We devote the first half of the session to yoga and meditation, and the second half to discussion and civic action.

In the spirit of learning and sharing, here are more details and thoughts about how HYS’s Mindful Community in Action group has provided space for recharging, rebuilding, and resisting.

Recharge

I start with this one because it might seem the most obvious, and because it’s how we begin our meetings. The first hour involves gentle yoga and short meditation practices. This helps to ground us in our experience and brings us into the moment. Movement and meditation also support us as we process the stress we may be feeling as a result of what’s going on in our world these days. This practice can be transformative in the small way that we can almost guarantee a shift in how we feel (often for the better) by the time we’re done. Or we might have an a-ha moment when something makes sense in our bodies or our minds as we start to unwind. We often conclude this practice feeling more in touch with ourselves, and more recharged to dive into addressing the challenges going on around us.

Rebuild

Speaking more generally about our action group as a whole, practicing in this community lets us know that we’re not in this alone. It’s a chance for us to move together and breathe together. After the silence of our meditation, we also reflect in conversation on how we’re dealing with the current political climate. While it may at times feel like we’re preaching to the choir with our political views, HYS represents a diverse community of races, genders, ages, bodies, countries of origin, languages, etc. Through our shared practice and political engagement, we build connections across differences that are supposed to divide us. This in and of itself is an act of resistance, and something that has become more important than ever. The diversity reflected in HYS yoga practitioners and action group members makes for rich and wide-ranging conversation in our supportive group.

Resist

The second half of the meeting funnels our recharging and rebuilding into concrete resistance actions:

  • Each month, our agenda involves informing each other about and addressing a few key pressing, specific issues at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • We have divided up roles and responsibilities for the group (referencing the Indivisible Guide’s Toolkit).
  • Group members have also volunteered to keep tabs on issues identified as most important to our group and share updates with everyone at the meetings and on our Facebook group.
  • We often write postcards to local, state, and federal officials as well as to business leaders, influential people or institutions in the media to show our support for their actions, or offer our encouragement for them to change their direction.
  • The group has also been a platform for organizing attendance at the Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C. and New York City in January, as well as other local protest actions that have taken place over the last few months.

These actions highlight just a few ways in which a well-being community – whether it’s a yoga studio, a meditation center, or a gym or workout space – can join the Resistance. For many, the 2016 election has shown just how political our individual choices are, as well as the importance of our communities, which we cannot take for granted.

It might seem scary or unusual to bring up politics in this kind of space, but it can start with something as simple as introducing yourself to someone on the mat next to you, finding out what brought them there that day, and seeing where the conversation goes from there.

Do you think your local yoga studio or wellness community might be interested in hosting a community action group? Are you in the Harlem/New York City area and would like to join us? If you have any questions or would like to share your own story of how your wellness community has joined the Resistance, we’d love to hear from you!

 Janine White is a yoga and mindfulness instructor who works with non-profits focusing on the intersection between education, youth development, and social justice. She offers workshops for diverse groups of youth and mission-driven organizations to support leadership development, team-building, and health and wellness. She can be contacted here. You can also contact Harlem Yoga Studio via their website.