Spotlight: Roseanne Harvey & Carol Horton on 21st Century Yoga Culture, Critical Conversations and Social Activism

It’s our deep pleasure and honor to highlight this driven duo of gals, who, on their own are vocal powerhouses for positive change and socially-conscious living. Together they create a force for good through the tool of yoga, the art of writing, online and in print, and the exchanging of ideas through conversations in communities near and far. Needless to say they are Saltie inspirations you must meet!

Q&A_duo

 

SPOTLIGHT: Roseanne Harvey & Carol Horton

So, what do you do for a living?

Carol: Ha ha. If that means, “make money,” not nearly as much as I should. Earning power aside, however, what I’m doing right now is 1) writing about yoga (blogs, articles, and hopefully another book getting off the ground in the next 6 months or so); 2) offering yoga teacher training (YTT) modules on yoga history, ethics, psychology, and culture; and 3) building the capacity of yoga service programs in Chicago, including Yoga for Recovery, which teaches yoga to women in Cook County Jail, and the Socially Engaged Yoga Network (SEYN).

Roseanne: I’m a freelance writer, blogger, editor and sometimes-yoga-teacher.

 

When did you start on your path of yoga and speaking out/writing about the social aspects and impacts of the modern practice?

C: I started taking yoga classes back in the mid-90s, did a teacher training with Ana Forrest in 2008, and was committed to writing about contemporary yoga by 2010. It’s been a long journey and never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d be doing what I am today.

R: I started practicing yoga in the mid-90s, when I was a university student, and got serious about it 10 years ago when I made the life-changing (and life-saving) decision to live in an ashram in western Canada. I started writing and thinking about yoga when I was editor of ascent magazine.

 

You co-edited a book called “21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice,” and will be leading a discussion next week on the fast-changing culture of yoga in North America. Why do you feel it’s important to keep the discussion going on these topics?

C: I believe that our world is in crisis and that yoga is a powerful tool for healing, regeneration, creativity, and growth. Because we live in a very competitive consumer culture, however, there’s a natural tendency for yoga to become absorbed into whatever the most popular market trend of the moment might be. Allowing this to go on without critical awareness will inevitably undermine the positive potential of the practice. I believe the yoga teachers, practitioners, and studio owners need to be much more reflective and strategic about how to keep the practice meaningful and sustainable given current social conditions. This requires raising critical awareness of the complex relationship between yoga, society, and culture. The best way to do this is through a dynamic, evolving conversation that’s open to anyone interested in such a project.

R: I think there’s a hunger and need for honest, critical and intelligent conversation about yoga and culture. The book and these NYC conversations are only scratching the surface.

 

What do you think is the biggest problem/issue with North American yoga today and what do you think we can do as a community to help solve it?

C: I feel that the biggest problem is the tendency to practice yoga in ways that encourage disconnection, distraction, and escape, rather than connection, awareness, and engagement. There’s a lot of unconscious consumerist fantasy about realizing endless serenity, beauty, and bliss through the achievement of the perfect “yoga body.” Alternatively, yoga can be an Orientalist fantasy escape; a dream of exiting Western culture (and the problems of postmodern life) to enter the supposedly pure, spiritual realm of the “mystic East.”

To solve these problems, we need to practice yoga (and life) in ways that keep us grounded, honest, compassionate, and connected to each other, our society, and the world.

R: Lack of critical thinking, rampant commercialization and overemphasis on the ¨body beautiful.¨ I think conversation is one step towards resolving these issues, but most importantly, creating alternatives (forums for discussion, community gatherings, diverse and subversive imagery representing all practitioners) will have a positive impact.

 

Do you feel yoga is inherently socially active?

C: No. But it’s a choice we can make if we want. I don’t think that yoga is inherently either socially engaged or disengaged – where we take the practice is up to us.

R: I used to feel this way, but recent social media conversations have convinced me otherwise (perhaps most importantly, that yoga may not be inherently anything). But I do see that there is a huge community of yoga practitioners with social leanings and activist tendencies who want to unite their practice with their social worldview. My work as a blogger, now, is to highlight and celebrate yoga and social justice/change projects for those of us who are trying to straddle both of these worlds.

 

What does work/life balance mean to you?

C: An endless project of trying to do meaningful work, maintain vital relationships with family and friends, and make enough money to pay the bills in the process.

R: Making time for my friends, setting blocks of time when I’m offline, exercising.

 

How do you make it happen? As in, what’s your key to getting things done?

C: It’s always a work in progress. But, I’ve found that committing to a dynamic balance of the rational (think, plan, strategize) and the extra-rational (feel, intuit, trust) works best for me.

R: Getting rid of my smart phone has given me a greater sense of control over how I manage my time. I’m more present with people, and more focused when I am online.

 

What are two essential tips you would give to a budding yogi today? And to a budding yoga blogger?

C: Yoga and writing can both be incredible ways of connecting with your innate creative power. Find practices, teachers, and friends that support you in the process of developing this connection more strongly. Stay away from those that cultivate dependency, suck your energy, or make you feel bad about who you are on a deep level.

R: Find a teacher you connect with and commit to practicing with them regularly. A full practice can be 10 or 15 minutes a day. For the yoga bloggers out there: write fearlessly.

 

What’s next for you? Any projects we should keep an eye out for?

C: I started offering YTT modules in yoga history, ethics, psychology, and culture this past fall, and would like to continue to develop those offerings. I’m also brainstorming with some really interesting interlocutors about a possible book project on integrating yoga, mindfulness, activism, and work dedicated to social justice.

R: I’m gearing up for the 3rd annual Yoga Festival Montreal (yocomo.org), a community-driven grassroots event that I co-founded to celebrate all the yoga amazingness in my city. Then I’m packing my bags and moving to the west coast (Victoria, BC) to start a new life, reconnect with my family and be close to the ocean.

 

Yoga pants or sweat pants?

C: Yoga pants! Even more comfortable and yes, let’s admit, stylish :)

R: Yoga pants, all the way.

 

Old school paper books or tablet?

C: Old school paper – for books, in particular, there’s nothing better. (For articles, blogs, letters, etc., electronic is fine or often better.)

R: Both!  

~

Carol Horton, Ph.D., writes about yoga from the unique perspective of a social scientist who is also a certified yoga teacher. She is the author of Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body, and co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Carol serves as a volunteer teacher and Board member with Yoga for Recovery, which offers classes to women in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. She is a co-founder of the Socially Engaged Yoga Network (SEYN), an all-volunteer organization dedicated to sharing the benefits of yoga with underserved communities in the Chicagoland area.

More about Carol at: carolhortonphd.com.

Roseanne Harvey is a writer, editor and geeky girl who lives and loves life in Montreal. As the former editor of ascent magazine, Roseanne isn’t afraid to use her media literacy skills to call out the hypocrisies and contradictions of modern yoga. She is all for dismantling the dominant hegemony of rock star teachers, expensive class fees and designer clothes/accessories/products. She also loves supporting progressive yoga projects, innovative and independent teachers, and general awesomeness. Roseanne is a co-director of Yoga Festival Montreal and the co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice.

See Roseanne’s renowned blog at: itsallyogababy.com.

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