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“After the 2017 election, I noticed that my classes were packed with people wanting inspiration, guidance, and a safe place to be and feel. The collective trauma my students experience and the misalignment of the practice of yoga with the current political landscape, called them into a political action through meditation, asana, and dharma discussions. The larger cultural context and how people are experiencing it connects the personal internal transformation with the political terrain. 

Yoga is personal and political.

-Michelle Cassandra Johnson, author of Skill in Action

I’ve named previously that every month I will highlight a resource or person that can help us uplevel our practice from an antiracist lens. This month, I am introducing you to the book Skill in Action: Radicalizing your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World, by Michelle Cassanadra Johnson. 

Have you ever read something that resonated with you so deeply that you thought the person who wrote it must have found your journal? No? Just me? …Fine.

Skill in Action is that book for me. Most gently and beautifully, Johnson gives language to the experiences that so many marginalized identities have felt while also calling us into awareness and action with the topics that she presents. The book asks us to explore this transformation practice of yoga and to become a social change agent so that we can create a world that is safe and just for all people. It introduces the concept of liberation for oneself and others and demonstrates and even guides us on using our agency–the power that we have in our practice. 

Johnson writes in the introduction that the book has roots in the ancient text of the Bhagavad Gita. She talks about attending a workshop in which this text was referenced, and how the phrase “we are one” that was used annoyed her initially, noting that her reality as a Black woman in wellness didn’t reflect the “oneness of all beings.” 

But then the facilitator followed up with two texts from the Bhagavad Gita–one being “yoga is skill in action. Do every action to the best of your ability.” She laments that this is a conversation that is absent in yoga practices in the Western Hemisphere. Still, the Gita calls us into the urgency to live into our dharma and use yoga as a guide to meet the call to action for the collective good. 

This book’s content is as rich as truffle oil, while being extremely accessible and easy to read. After the introduction, the book is divided into three chapters: 

1) What is skill in action? 

2)What skill in action is not and 

3) Building Skill in Action

Each chapter includes the education and content that we need and guided meditations, journal prompts, and breathing exercises to drive each point home. The reader can explore their own identities and actualize how those identities contribute or take away from the wellness spaces they occupy.

I love quotes; period. One of my favorite passages in the books is from Lil Watson and opens chapter three. It reads “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

On this spiritual leadership journey, some of us may feel like we need to “save” or “help” others. Depending on who those others are, we may be falling into the dangers of our own implicit or explicit biases. But when we acknowledge that our liberation is connected, we can use our practice to ensure that all people are seen, feel safe, and connected regardless of the similarities or uniqueness. If you’re looking for a text to supplement your online yoga teacher training, let this one be first on your list. For more information about Michelle Cassandra Johnson and her work, visit her website.