How These Philly Yoga Teachers Are Using an Unexpected Tool to Spur Social Action
For many, this past November 9th was filled with a LOT of questions, starting with “WTF?” and “Holy crap, what are we going to doooo?” A few months later, a good chunk of us can probably say we’re still saying “WTF” on a daily basis — in my case, often in response to upsetting headlines filling my Facebook Newsfeed — but have yet to do much to try to make change in a world that seems to need a whole lot of fixing.
And maybe it’s just that: The world needs SO much fixing — where are we supposed to start? That’s where Meditate Your Action, a local group founded this December by Philly yoga teachers Katy Kopnitsky and Emily Tara Sabalbaro, comes in.
Instead of just repeating the words “What in the actual f*&$?” over and over again over the past few months, Kopnitsky and Sabalbaro, both yoga teachers at Fairmount’s Mindful Elephant Yoga, asked themselves this: What can we realistically do? As Kopnitsky says, “After the election, we saw these waves of shock and fear and anger sweeping through communities of vulnerable individuals. We felt compelled to act, and we realized as yoga teachers, we were really relying on tools of self-care.” Namely, the self-care tool of meditation. So they figured that’s what they could do: They could bring meditation to people and help them utilize the practice as a tool for what so many were expressing they wanted to do — get socially active.
As Sabalbaro points out, after the election, “So many people were sharing this feeling of ‘We have to do something,’ but there are all these barriers to action.” Think: a mountain of causes you could support and a bazillion different ways of going about helping those causes. As she says, all those barriers can create a sort of “brain fog” — it’s hard to see a clear path of action when there are just SO. Many. Steps. that need to be taken to solve a problem. And this brain fog can lead people to do, well, nothing — besides scream on Facebook (been there). But Sabalbaro says, people can use “meditation to clear that fog and move forward in social action, whatever their path is.” Kopnitsky goes on to say, “Meditation combats burnout and helps people find clarity in terms of what causes are important to them.”
This idea of utilizing meditation to spur social action quickly morphed into the group Meditate Your Action. In December, Kopnitsky and Sabalbaro started holding meetings at Center City’s Philly Yoga Factory on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Each hourlong meeting, all of which are free to the public and have different themes rooted in social action, starts with what they call a “centering moment” — a brief meditation to get everyone, well, centered. Then they discuss the theme of that Friday’s meeting. From there, everyone does a 15-minute guided meditation, with a focus on the day’s theme, which is followed by more discussion. The meetings also serve as a resource-sharing space for people to trade information on how to get involved in making change — whatever that social change may be. Sounds nicer — and more productive — than scrolling through your Facebook feed and ranting to your cat, right?
To give me an idea of what this would actually look like, Kopnitksy tells me that in one recent meeting, during the guided meditation participants were told to think about one issue that was of great importance to them. Then instead of imagining all of the work it would take to solve the problems in that field, to visualize what the world would look like if the problems were just — poof! — solved. This gets back to conquering that overwhelming “So many steps!” barrier that prevents people from getting involved.
Kopnitsky and Sabalbaro note that while their impetus for starting the group was political, it’s open to anyone and everyone, regardless of their political views. As Kopnitsky says, “We’re not making an effort to change people’s minds in these meetings,” they’re just looking to help you figure out what causes are important to you and visualize how to, yes, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Don’t roll your eyes — it’s noble! Plus, I know I could use some help in that department.
The group, free to join in on, is open to anyone who’s interested in getting more meditation into their life — whether you’re riled up about a social issue, or just stressed out. As Kopnitsky says, “Everyone wants to do so much — but if they were all meditating, it would probably be so much easier.” Sabalbaro follows with, “We’re going off of the mentality that meditation is great and action is great, but they’re better together.” You can see when the meetings are going down on their Facebook page here.
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