[A statement calling on yoga practitioners to reimagine their yoga practice toward Palestinian liberation, “International Yoga Day: A Call to Action in Solidarity with Palestine, was published on June 21st, International Yoga Day, by a collective of yoga practitioners and Palestinian activists. The statement calls on yogis to condemn the deployment of yogic culture as a tool of repression and to pledge their support for the Palestinian-led Campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israeli apartheid – and other indigenous struggles around the globe. It has gained signatures from yogis across the globe, including in Palestine, Lebanon, Australia, Singapore, Brazil, the UK, the US, Canada, and more. As people continue to invite more yogis to endorse the statement by embodying their yoga practice toward global solidarity, we share it here:]
We use International Yoga Day to call on yogis to reimagine what spiritual and political solidarity with Palestinians, Kashmiris and all oppressed people can look like within the embodiment of one’s yoga practice. As yoga teachers and students who strive to embody yoga’s commitment to interconnected healing and collective liberation, we cannot remain silent and breathe away the horrendous and brutal acts of settler colonial violence that the Israeli apartheid regime and Israeli settlers continue to enact upon the indigenous Palestinian population.
We call on yoga practitioners worldwide to assert their solidarity with the people of Palestine -- both in supporting the Palestinian-led campaign for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions[i] of the Israeli government and in disrupting the weaponization of yoga as a form of cultural propaganda for ethnonationalism.
While the Indian Government and its supporters have framed International Yoga Day as a peaceful day of awareness that pays homage to “ancient” India for bestowing yoga to the world, in fact, it is used as a tool of repression.[ii] The Indian Government uses it to rewrite India’s history and to obscure its right-wing, Hindu nationalist, and fascist agenda. While the Modi government enjoys strong support including among urban middle classes and many in the diaspora, the spectacle of large-scale yoga day celebrations that will take place in India today belie the crackdown on all dissent, including the massive ongoing farmers protests, and opposition by Dalits, Muslims, and resistance from Assam to Kashmir of the projects of Hindu nationalism and neoliberalism.[iii] In the spirit of collective liberation and with the intent to re-appropriate from Hindu nationalism and caste supremacy, we are calling on fellow yogis to commit ourselves today to a true internationalism that is rooted in global solidarity and principled action towards collective spiritual salvation.
The Indian government is not alone in its deployment of yogic culture to conceal its violence. Both India and Israel, and their respective Hindutva and Zionist ideologies, find common cause in using yoga and spirituality as tools of cultural propaganda.[iv] In light of Israel’s most recent atrocities, this year’s International Yoga Day presents an opportunity for yogis to deepen our commitment and obligation to all oppressed people, including indigenous people whose lands are occupied by settlers in Turtle Island[v], Kashmir, and Palestine. We are heeding the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott the Israeli government and pressure Israel into ending its apartheid system of colonial oppression. We call on yoga, wellness, and trauma practitioners to use the momentum of this day of commemoration to purpose their yoga practice toward disrupting our complicity in Israeli apartheid.
We are aware of the yoga programs that are held for Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) soldiers[vi]; the Masada Sunrise Yoga, Ein Gedi Oasis, and Dead Sea Wellness Experience Tour[vii] that offers tourists a sunrise yoga session; and the Israel Outdoors’ Birthright Mindfulness & Spirituality 10-day trip for Jewish Youth.[viii] These projects exemplify how the Israeli government and tourist industry use yogic culture to “omwash” their reputation and weaponize yoga for the purpose of advancing a Zionist agenda at the expense of Palestinians having a right to return. They attempt to indoctrinate and rewrite history while displacing indigenous Palestinian narratives around their connection to the land. We reject the use of yoga as a camouflage for oppression and militarism. Yoga as a path to liberation requires being in solidarity with oppressed people in the global south, around the world, and in Palestine.
We enthusiastically support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, dignity, and self-determination.
Finally, we condemn the US government’s and related media institution’s complicity with Israeli apartheid.[ix] The US government fuels Israeli settler violence by actively funding the Israeli military while the US media legitimizes Israeli’s war crimes. The historic and ongoing alliance between Zionism, Hindu nationalism, and US imperialism is found in the ongoing occupation of indigenous lands across Palestine, Kashmir, and Turtle Island.
As thousands of people flock to the public squares and yoga spaces on lands that their governments have stolen, to commemorate International Yoga Day, we call on yoga practitioners to refuse to breathe in the colonial propaganda that conceals a genocidal reality. Instead, may we breathe in and activate solidarity for all oppressed people’s struggles for freedom, dignity, and self-determination.
We urge yogis to endorse the following CALL TO ACTION:
We, the undersigned, pledge to:
- Support the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli Apartheid state as called upon by Palestinian civil society
- Refuse to participate in wellness events and yoga retreats in Israel (occupied Palestine) that “omwash” settler violence and that are complicit in Israeli apartheid.
- Call out the co-optation of yoga by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and other imperialist law enforcement institutions that weaponize yoga as a tool of repression
- Commit to solidarity with Palestinians and all oppressed peoples around the globe who struggling for self-determination
And since yoga is weaponized across the globe, especially by Hindu right forces in India, we also pledge to:
- Divest from the related International Yoga Day projects that advance Hindu nationalism in India and the entrenched militarism in Kashmir.
- Challenge the Hindu Right’s claim on yoga in America, for example the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Back Yoga” campaign[x] presents itself as decolonial but in truth, further entrenches a Hindu Nationalist agenda amongst South Asians in the diaspora.
- Commit to supporting and creating abolitionist yoga and wellness programs -- that are anti-casteist, anti-racist, and anti-Islamophobic that support Black, Indigenous, Palestinian, Kashmiri, and Dalit self-determination and liberation
Candy Alexandra Gonzalez
Adrieh Abou Shehadeh
Amanda Jo Wright
Ciara O' Gara
Lucinaira De Jesus
Nitzan Nili Vardi
Haja Dominike Radic
Amani Abu Hashem
Heba mahmoud Abdel Latif
Fatima bibi Hassan Shaik
Dr. Chloe Diamond-Lenow
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Yoga Warrior Tales LLC
Incense, Trap, & Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga Hong Kong
Party for Socialism and Liberation - Milwaukee branch
Yoga by Nadiya
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia
FunFitness, Inc. Personal Training
[i] “Cultural Boycott,” BDS Movement, May 9, 2016, https://bdsmovement.net/cultural-boycott.
[ii] Jyoti Puri, “Sculpting the Saffron Body: Yoga, Hindutva, and the International Marketplace,” in Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2020), 317–32, https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780190078171.001.0001/oso-9780190078171-chapter-018.
[iii] Sheena Sood, “Spectacles of Compassion: Modi and the Weaponization of Yoga,” Jadaliyya, May 4, 2020, https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/41048.
[iv] Rimsha Syed, “Zionism and Hindutva, Two Sides Of The Same Coin,” Wear Your Voice, March 17, 2020, https://wearyourvoicemag.com/hindutva-zionism-ethnonationalist-states-two-sides-same-coin/.
[v] “Turtle Island,” accessed June 19, 2021, https://www.deadlystory.com/page/culture/articles/World_s_Indigenous_Peoples_Day/Turtle_Island/.
[vi] Jessica Steinberg, “Yoga Mom Seeks Namaste for the IDF | The Times of Israel,” The Times of Israel, June 21, 2015, https://www.timesofisrael.com/yoga-mom-seeks-namaste-for-the-soldiers/; Shira Makin, “TikTok… Boom! Israeli Army’s Social Media Has ‘big Smiles’ and Soldiers Doing Yoga. You Know What’s Missing,” Haaretz.com, October 13, 2020.
[vii] “Masada Sunrise Yoga, Ein Gedi Oasis, and Dead Sea Wellness Experience Tour - Tourist Israel,” accessed September 8, 2020, https://www.touristisrael.com/tours/masada-sunrise-yoga-ein-gedi-oasis-dead-sea-wellness-experience-tour/.
[viii] “Mindfulness & Spirituality in Israel,” Business, Israel Outdoors, accessed June 19, 2021, https://www.israeloutdoors.com/choose-your-trip/specialty-groups/mindfulness-spirituality-israel/.
[ix] Syed, “Zionism and Hindutva, Two Sides Of The Same Coin.”
[x] “Has Yoga Strayed Too Far From Its Hindu Roots?,” NPR.org, accessed June 19, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134822766/Has-Yoga-Strayed-Too-Far-From-Its-Hindu-Roots.