I have to accept that my worst fear has been realized.
For me and the thousands like me who use yoga as a refuge, Friday night’s shooting in Tallahassee that killed two yoga students and injured four others feels like the ultimate invasion of peace. Black churchgoers, aging synagogue goers, high schoolers and their teachers, concert and movie lovers, nightclubbers, 20 children ages 6 and 7, and now, yoga students: All people in places of reflection and learning and release are targets of deranged people with easy access to weapons designed, sold and purchased to kill.
To attack these places is to exploit people at their most vulnerable. This is when they’ve allowed themselves, for an hour on the mat or a morning in the pews or an evening in a theater, to let go and feel free.
The slayings at Hot Yoga Tallahassee is as insidious as the other shootings (mass or otherwise), but it especially hurts to imagine these students, claiming time and space for their own self care, suddenly immersed in a nightmare.
It bears repeating in 2018, and in the midst of #MeToo, that yoga is nearly synonymous with women. Of the more than 20 million people who practice yoga, 85 percent are female.
Yoga rapidly became a household word in the 20th century because it is a spiritual practice that simultaneously moves the body. It awakens sensations of relaxation, steadiness and strength, and it is a satisfying alternative to gym-based workouts designed for and by men. Though it has its roots in India’s ancient philosophy called The Vedas, Western yoga is a favorite outlet and exercise for modern women. The very positive effects of yoga on the nervous, respiratory and circulatory systems are well known in the industry and are increasingly validated by science. While many practitioners take yoga to relax and de-stress, just as many associate the practice with similar feelings that they get or once received in their place of worship.
After hearing about the shooting, a friend said, “Ever since I started yoga, I always thought that, no matter what happens, I just need to get on my mat.”
These words reflect the feelings of the hundreds of students who, in my 15 years of teaching, have said that yoga is a place in their body and in their community where they feel safe. People often discover yoga, in fact, when they’re hurting or stressed. For so many practitioners, it is a way to find strength and confidence and even, happiness — practicing poses called, ironically, “Warrior,” or even, in a macabre detail, “Corpse Pose.”
This is what makes the shooting in Tallahassee so painful.
All day, I’ve been asking myself, what happens now?
One well known word in yoga is the Sanskrit word “ahimsa,” which in English is non-harming. How can you practice non-harming — how can you self-improve — when you are afraid that your corpse pose could become murderously real? Will we seriously also discuss arming yoga teachers, fashionably described as warriors of peace? Have we really gone that far?
The foundation of any successful society is that it is safe and that its children can grow and thrive. It’s been said thousands of times since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that if as a nation we were unable to reform gun laws to prevent such atrocities as the massacre of 26 people, including 20 6- and 7-year-olds, we have no bottom. The deaths and injuries at Hot Yoga Tallahassee are another reminder that there are apparently no bounds for a murderous gunman determined to destroy. No one and no place, no matter how sacred, feels safe.
But next week, I will go back into the classroom. Just as thousands turned to Shabbat services this weekend to restore their faith, I hope my actions will encourage people to turn to yoga, rather than away from it. I know I will teach with a higher purpose. Every time we exhale, we let go. And every time we inhale, we recommit to inner, and outer, peace.
Kim Weeks started practicing yoga in 1995, and has been teaching it since 2001. Voted several times D.C.’s best yoga teacher, she has appeared on NBC4 Washington as a yoga expert and in a PBS documentary on spirituality. Kim currently teaches weekly classes at YogaWorks in D.C. and works as a wellness consultant. You can find her at: kimweekswell.com