I think it’s useful to be clear about the kind of memes we use when talking about yoga.

A “meme” is kind of like a gene – but it relates to the whole culture, not just individuals. It’s something that spreads virally – and like genes, it can self-replicate and mutate. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) that word has been co-opted to mean funny photos shared on Facebook. (Here’s what Richard Dawkins, the guy who coined the term “meme,” had to say about that.)

In tonight’s webinar on Yoga U, one of the things I’ll be talking about are the cultural memes about yoga and how they influence the way we experience the practice. Since the 90s, the yoga meme has largely replicated itself as a white woman’s exercise class. But yoga has the potential to transform not only bodies, but also social networks, institutions and culture in general. It could shift the health care world from a crisis-oriented, profit-driven beast, to a compassionate refuge that promotes values and human dignity. Of course this is only possible  if we unleash yoga’s true potential and stop reinforcing and selling it as something exclusively for white people with disposable time and income.

Any dysfunctional stories we tell ourselves (about anything, including yoga) arise out of an interconnected biopsychosocial-spiritual web of reality. Our personal narratives are forged from our multiple interconnections – our families, support systems, generational connections, race, gender, financial status, access to education, health care, food and so much more. So people may think that they are not skinny, young, white, or female enough to do yoga, but that has a whole, huge back story to it.

Because we are intimately connected on every level, our stories are also interwoven. When you change your own story, you plant the seeds for change in your networks. When lots of us change our stories, we plant the seeds for cultural and societal change.

What could the new yoga meme be? 

Definitely something more than exercise. (Read more about why I don’t take my yoga hot and sweaty here.)

It could become a source of deep, interconnected power. It could be a catalyst for personal as well as social and cultural transformation. It doesn’t have to be limited to the few, and it doesn’t have to remain confined to the exercise world.

Yoga teachers are story tellers who have the potential to change the yoga meme.

But it won’t happen until we stop insisting on squishing it into the fitness industry box.


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