Fight for $15: How can we as Yogis help bring our community into balance

When Laurel and I first decided to open Harlem Yoga Studio we knew that we wanted it to be somewhere where EVERY body felt truly comfortable and welcome whether they had ever practiced yoga or not.  We wanted it to be a space for our community. 

As part of keeping Community at the center of everything we do, last year we began to partner with an organization each month who we would feature and bring awareness to (and to whom we would donate a portion of our class proceeds) thus broadening our connection between our HYS Sangha and our larger community.  Recently I was asked to think about why our community partner for April, “Fight for $15”, is so important to me.   Fight for $15 (www.fightfor15.org) is the nationwide movement for a fair and living wage of $15/hour, plus union representation, being led by workers in the Fast Food Industry.

There are many worthy organizations out there that seem more directly related to Yoga, so why this one?  Because the fight for $15 is representative of the stark income and wealth inequality that has become increasingly pervasive in our country. With a median wage of $8.17/hour, many low wage workers are living in poverty, sometimes skipping meals and living in homeless shelters despite working all of the shifts available to them, while the CEOs of these same companies earn an average of $23 million  per year and NY taxpayers subsidize these companies to the tune of more than $700 MM a year.

Ultimately this is not a fight for a specific industry or against a specific company, but a fight for the health and wellness of a system that we are all a part of.  When some members of our community cannot meet their basic needs despite working hard for themselves and their families, there is an imbalance that is harmful to all of us.   

So many of us practice Yoga to bring ourselves into balance.  Bringing our awareness and attention to our body, mind and breath in order to find that equilibrium is what we do every time we get on the mat.  We each use our own breath as the link uniting body and mind, but coming together to move and breathe in community is what deepens and supports that practice. It is that feeling of moving, breathing,  and exploring together, that sense of interconnectedness – that makes Yoga such a transformative practice for many of us.

The first step in the transformation of asana is turning our awareness and attention TO, rather than away from, engaging with ourselves rather than ignoring or numbing out. We are asked to feel the sensations in the body and breathe into them. The same must be done for our community. It is certainly easier to turn away and ignore those issues that don’t obviously impact us directly.   But to do so would be to ignore our interconnectedness.

When some members of our community are out of balance, none of us in the community can be truly balanced.  And when the system in place continues to ensure that some of the community cannot thrive, or even meet their basic needs, then none of us can be truly well.  It is therefore our responsibility to support wellness for EVERY body by working to transform the system and bring it back to a balanced equilibrium.  The Fight for $15 is practical, actionable, compassionate way in which we can engage with our community, and be a stand for transforming a broken system. 

– Erica Barth is the Co-owner and Director of Harlem Yoga Studio

If you are inspired, we would love to have you join our HYS Community on April 15, 2015.  

Sign the Pledge Here

Join our action on Facebook 

On 4.15.15 Harlem Yoga Studio Teachers and Students participated in one of the country’s largest marches for Human rights, sitting, standing, and fighting alongside our community for a fair and living wage to help ALL be Well. 

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