A Call for Meaningful Dialogue

Since the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference ended two weeks ago, a group of presenters have been engaging in dialogue with each other about the incident at the Opening Ceremony. As part of this dialogue, they wrote a letter to the community and have asked us to share it on our blog. The letter is posted below:

Who We Are

We are a group of NWYC presenters or long-standing members of the Northwest Yoga Community. Three of us were present at the opening ceremony and directly witnessed the evening events as well as the events that followed.

Our Mission

We the undersigned yoga teachers and conference presenters support the Northwest Yoga Conference and have come together to support its future and the well being of our community.

There Are Two Sides to the Story

The incident which occurred during the opening ceremony was unfortunate and distressing for all involved, and could have been handled differently. We understand people have had passionate reactions to what occurred and we see the need for discourse and community engagement for the pain stimulated by this event.

We acknowledge there were dynamics none of us were privy to, including a disagreement before the speech regarding the time allotted for different aspects of the ceremony. We are seeking more clarity and believe it important to understand there are two sides to this story.

To those who watched the video it may appear this entire incident stems from the Conference Producer carelessly or even rudely cutting off a speaker mid-speech. We clearly see the complexity of a power struggle. We see how the act of taking away a mic from a presenter, followed by the subsequent refusal of the speaker to relinquish the stage, can ignite feelings of abuse on both sides.

We acknowledge that some of us see white privilege emerge in the video as the primary imbalance of power. We also see how this out of context and incomplete video could ignite the flames of an already simmering divide – a profound wound which must be examined in our community and our country. However, to reduce this to a racially motivated incident is false, damaging and does not invite the nuanced conversations around race and power that are necessary for individual and systemic change.

It must be noted that for the duration of the conference there was a boycott, aggressive confrontations by protestors towards presenters and students alike. Sponsors of the NWYC were contacted and urged to speak out against the conference, a petition was circulated to students and then sent to conference presenters with coercive and bullying language. These actions throughout the weekend added increasing complexity to the dynamics of power and caused significant harm and confusion.

Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Bullying Don’t Mix

We stand together in our integrity even as we have been attacked and threatened with public shaming. We will not participate in a trial by social media, where selections of a video are shown without any context of what led to the incident or what happened after. We will not tolerate verbal abuse, social shaming nor manipulation of events and incidences through half-truths, distortions or assumptions.

Each of us has been engaged in the Northwest yoga community for years and are disappointed that the community we have helped build and nurture is asked to divide itself at a time when we need to gather and enrich each other’s practice more than ever.

We are disheartened that others believe they have a right to bully us, bully other students, fellow teachers, presenters, vendors and other participants of the conference, insisting we participate in a platform that that became unwelcoming to inquiry or respectful dialogue.

We do not support destroying the conference nor the community by a divisive culture created by spreading conflict, rumors and attacks over social media.

What We Support

We support respectful, compassionate conflict resolution between the individuals directly involved and look forward to hearing the outcome: it is our understanding mediation has been agreed to.

Since the conference ended we have not been silent. We have had meaningful dialogue with each other, our students and other conference participants “face to face”. We continue our exploration of racism and discrimination in the context of westernized yoga and we embrace the opportunity to deepen our understanding.

Community (satsang), is a cornerstone of any spiritual path and our community will grow immeasurably richer as we listen and work collectively toward diversity and inclusion through real, nuanced conversations that result in actions.

What Now?

This incident challenged us to reflect deeply, face our shadows and determine where we stand. For us the question is now, how does the community heal from it all?

We call upon the parties directly affected by this to continue their work of reconciliation with each other as well as to the community at large. We ask for patience, tolerance, introspection and personal interactions within our community to help us all move forward, and we hope the Northwest Yoga Conference can continue to be a gathering place for our yoga community to share equally and peacefully the teachings of yoga.

This Letter Has Been Authored by the Following Northwest Yoga Conference 2018 Teachers and Presenters:

Lisa Black
Theresa Elliott
Julie Gudmestad
Cobi Seslar
Roy Holman
Lynn Jensen
Sarahjoy Marsh
Ki McGraw
Kathryn Payne
Lynann Politte
Bob Smith

15 thoughts on “A Call for Meaningful Dialogue

  1. It is meaningful to get this response. I attended the conference, and though only learned of the events later, did find the overall experience distressing. I am also not pleased with the way I fell down the social media rabbit hole (even as I often remind myself: “don’t try to control the world via the Internet!”)

    What I appreciate about these events was that they reminded me that one, Yoga does not wrap us up in a protective bubble from history and humanness—our own and each other’s. And two, we are a microcosm of the whole. As a human whole and throughout our history, we have divided ourselves against each other. The chance to exemplify how to honestly, fairly, and compassionately work through conflict is on stage, no script with a full house watching. It’s fate? In the hands of right action for right action’s sake.

    We are all in this together, this being human. I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate my own behaviors, forgive, seek forgiveness, act more consciously, and move forward. Thank you.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for joining us for the conference and we are sorry to hear that this added distress to your experience. We appreciate your reflection upon how this has given us an opportunity to examine how conflict occurs on a local and global scale and that we all have an opportunity to learn how to navigate conflict. This has been a profound learning opportunity and we appreciate you sharing your insight.

  2. Honestly I’m writing this from a place of love. You just published a letter signed by 11 white people telling people of color who saw this as an issue that had racial overtones that this wasn’t about race. Please don’t continue gas lighting POC members of the community. Actions can have elements of racism and sexism and ageism even when the intention isn’t there.

    • Hi Brandon,

      Thank you for the opportunity to engage in dialogue about this. We believe that all presenters were invited to be a part of this presenter dialogue/discussion group including several POC.

      As for the part about racism, could you please provide more insight about how an action can be racist even if the person doing the action does not believe that their own race is superior to another which is in its simplest form the definition of racism?

      Also, please note the definition of gaslighting: Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. We honestly do not think that the presenters who prepared this letter are trying to manipulate anybody or sow seeds of doubt but rather encourage reasonable and meaningful dialogue. If you think that their behavior is gaslighting, it would be helpful for you to explain how this behavior is gaslighting so that we may all further our understanding.

      Thank you for being a part of this conversation.

      • It doesn’t matter what the “person doing the action” believes. Just because she doesn’t believe it doesn’t make it non-racist. A white woman treated a brown woman terribly. That in and of itself is a racist act. It is the very nature of racism. And the fact that you need clarity on this issue shows a deep need for education on your part. And the presenters didn’t say anything of substance in their letter. It was a lot of non-saying…”there are 2 sides” “we practice ahimsa” “Love is the way”….blah blah doesn’t address the very core of the outrage that has been brought up over and over again from multiple folk on multiple posts in multiple ways. Power dynamics were so obviously at play and it was painful to watch the videos and the blatant disrespect (which was NEVER) addressed. Honestly. This is why yoga in the West is referred to as cultural appropriation over and over again.

        • Hi Martha,

          Thank you for being a part of this dialogue. One thing that we have found interesting is that it at least seems that most people have different definitions of racism. We turned to the Anti-Defamation League for their definition which you can find here: https://www.adl.org/racism as well as below.

          “Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.”

          According to this definition, belief is required.

          We have realized that one of the challenges to this overall dialogue is the reality that many of the words being used hold different meanings to each person. And perhaps the first step is to clearly define what words mean first before discussing if an action meets that definition.

          We would greatly appreciate it if you could share your definition of racism in an effort to help further understanding.

  3. Dear Presenters,

    I appreciate your efforts at meaningful dialogue. It might be helpful to have someone neutral facilitate this space, however, to give you a better opportunity to receive comments and realistically move toward reconciliation. Rarely can we move into a cycle of reconciliation when we also hold the power over the dialogue. What concerns me as a white-identified yoga teacher is that you haven’t responded above to many of us who were commenting on Facebook. We were not simply reducing this to a racially motivated incident but rather asking you to look at the role race played in power dynamics and the outcome. That is the nuance. There is a difference between those two points on the spectrum. And, as white yogis, our capacity to cultivate awareness must be inclusive of a nuanced comprehension of the complexity of racism and the ways it plays out at both structural and interpersonal levels. None of us are immune to replaying this stuff. It happens every day. Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams’s book, Radical Dharma, is a helpful guide and jumping off point for exploring these issues and the way they unfold in yoga and Buddhist cultures. Sincerely, Gabby Yates

    • Hi Gabby,

      Thank you for the thoughtful response as well as the book recommendation.

      Could you please clarify how we are holding the power over the dialogue and how the conference director held the power over someone who refused the relinquish the microphone? We would appreciate clarification to help further everybody’s understanding.

      Please note, in regards to Facebook, though we were not opposed to trying to facilitate dialogue on Facebook, we realized it was not a platform conducive to doing so.

      Thank you!

    • Gabby, thank you for you kind and nuanced comment. I appreciate your effort at meaningful dialogue as well. I do not identify as “white”, but am reluctant to say I am a person of color (it’s complicated, some call be biracial but mostly people just say, “what are you?”.). Personally to you, I want to say that I can tell your communication is sincere, and so I wanted to respond. I did “look at the role race played in power dynamics and the outcome”. I speak for myself only here (not the other presenters): when I looked at it, I did not see race as the motivating force in the incident. Has it had an impact on the continued outcomes? YES. Will I personally continue to look and expand my understanding of race? YES. Do I believe the yoga conference should end because of deeply embedded wounds coming to the surface? NO. I can’t believe that destroying the conference is the solution. Perhaps we could all work hard to bring in speakers that are people of color, perhaps we can have educators come to the conference and help all western yoga teachers understand how to be sensitive to using the Eastern Indian yoga traditions.
      I support creativity and integration, not destruction and alienation. I am hopeful – and I will check out Radical Dharama. Thank you for your input.

      • Hi Kathryn,

        I just saw that you responded. The Yoga Service Council has excellent resources regarding the intersectionality of yoga. As does the Yoga and Race Conference and Niroga. Thanks for your reflections and I hope to see some of the growth and learning from this incident reflected in next year’s conference!


        Gabby Yates

  4. As a presenter I appreciate this letter. The incident is being addressed and I do not know the facts of the occurrence. I attended wonderful workshops and met amazing people in the workshop I presented. Blessings and healing to all so that we may continue to reach others with the healing practice of yoga.

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