14 Yogis Leading the Way in Connection and Social Transformation
Michelle McCrary & Christine Chen
June 21, 2021
Category:
Humanity

While many elements of the Vedic sciences like Vedanta have greatly influenced Esalen’s intellectual foundations, yoga is one of the most visible and widely embraced on our campus.

Thousands of years old, these sciences are firmly rooted in a deep, holistic study ranging from knowledge of the self, methods of practice, and life-long exploration. Vedic (ancient knowledge developed in the Indian subcontinent) and Indic (related to India) invite us to go beyond the physical practice of yoga to other levels of existence.

In honor of International Yoga Day, we are spotlighting some of the practitioners and communities who reconnect us to the foundations of this ancient spiritual practice and remind us that yoga is a powerful force for both social change and personal transformation.

Divya Bala, yoga teacher, seated in her own, ancestral practice in Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Divya Bala (@divyabala)

An artist and a user researcher in productivity technology, Divya has been practicing yoga since she was a child. Yoga has guided her through the body dysmorphia and “white supremacy-fueled imposter syndrome” that blocked her from teaching her own ancestral practice. She encourages us all to move with strength and grace. You can find her at HiDivya.com.

Susanna Barkataki, yoga teacher and advocate for inclusivity and authenticity, seated in Baddha Konasana (Cobbler’s Pose)

Susanna Barkataki (@susannabarkataki)

Yoga helped Susanna love herself. A teacher, inclusivity promoter and yoga culture advocate, she’s been practicing yoga as long as she can remember. Her passion is “to help others bridge the gap between yoga as an exercise and yoga as a lifestyle.” You can find her at susannabarkataki.com.

Melissa Shah, yoga therapy teacher, demonstrating Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) with Vrksasana (Tree Pose) variation

Melissa Shah (@findyourbreath)

Melissa Shah grew up learning “unfiltered yoga” in her South Asian community. Yoga was an integral part of her life, from deep-breathing exercises to manage childhood asthma to cultivating community and connection. With a background in public health, and a passion for chanting, she’s an advocate of yoga as therapy. Keep up to date with her digital and in-person course offerings at findyourbreath.net.

Damien Alexander, yoga teacher in Marichyasana III (Sage’s Pose)

Damien Alexander (@flowforwardyoga)

Damien came into his yoga practice after years of working in the music industry. Yoga sustained him while navigating the corporate world; but, more importantly, it awakened his soul to discover a deep connection between mind, body and spirit. Connect with him online via Instagram or his web site.

Tejal Patel, yoga teacher and co-host of Yoga is Dead podcast, practicing yoga in a park

Tejal Patel (@tejalyoga)

Tejal is the co-host of the Yoga Is Dead podcast, which revolutionized the digital conversation around privilege, fair pay, race, and capitalism in America’s yoga and wellness sector. She is also the organizer of the abcdyogi community, which seeks to increase visibility for South Asian yoga and mindfulness teachers. You can listen to the Yoga Is Dead podcast and find Tejal’s current offerings at tejalyoga.com.

Neil Wadhawan, yoga teacher, playing Indian tabla (musical instrument)

Neil Wadhawan (@neilwadhawanyoga) 

A student of both eastern and western music, Neil Wadhawan began practicing yoga with his father when he was a boy. With a B.A. in philosophy, he believes the path to growth is to remain a student, in constant search of learning. You can find out more about experiencing Neil’s practice at yogawithneil.com.

Zainab Zakari, yoga teacher, learning forward in Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Zainab Zakari (@zainabzakariyoga)

Zainab Zakari creates “brave spaces that cultivate truth and social justice” in her yoga practice. She’s taught flow yoga for more than ten years, connecting the mind and body to the sacred and creative. Her passion is to create “brave space” for all. Learn more about her at zainabzakari.com.

Monique Minahan, author and yoga teacher, demonstrating an empowering pose from her grief practice

Monique Minihan (@mominihan)

After struggling with depression in her teen years and suffering great loss in adulthood, Monique Minahan says yoga took her from “surviving to thriving.” She is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner-in-Training, and her practice flows through a “polyvagal-based, trauma informed lens.” Monique is the author of The Grief Practice and has done several interviews about how grief manifests in the body. Learn more at moniqueminahan.com.

Vikram “Vik” Hirani, yoga and meditation instructor, in a kriya (one of the yogic actions), to lift the spirit

Vikram Hirani (@vinyasavik)

Vikram is a yoga and meditation instructor who believes deeply in shala, a Sanskrit word that translates to “home.” He suggests that community with shared intention and practice is the heart of the shala and the yoga practice, wherever it may be. Follow him on Instagram @vinyasavik.

Derric Harris, yoga and meditation teacher, smiling during Garudasana (Eagle’s Pose) on a public street

Derric Harris (@dthesmilingyogi)

Derric Harris is always smiling. He’s a positive, high-vibe soul who makes yoga accessible to everyone by encouraging self-exploration and self-expression that is void of judgment. He loves guiding students to free personal blockages and soar in life. Smile and practice with him on Instagram.

Europa Grace, yoga and meditation instructor, seated in Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose, and meditating

Europa Grace (@boi.voi.d)

Europa sees yoga and meditation as an opportunity to breathe oneself into existence and works closely with organizations to dismantle oppression collectively. They are the co-creator of a trauma-informed teacher training. Europa believes in generative societal healing and lasting change, sharing this thought: “The future can be filled with flowers and freedom. Plant the seeds today.” Connect with her on Instagram.

Emily Posselius, yoga teacher and life coach, seated in meditation by water at sunset

Emily Posselius (@empoweredyogi) 

Her friends call her EmPo for her ability to help you awaken your true self inside and discover greater meaning. Emily has spread her wisdom by guiding future yoga teachers to honor the history and philosophy of the practice. Learn about Emily at Empoweredlivingmovement.com.

Avita Bansee, co-founder of The Connective, a cooperatively-owned online platform to support equity for yoga teachers

Avita Bansee (@yogawithavita)

Avita Bansee co-founded The Connective, an online, cooperatively-owned platform where every teacher is an owner. Her passion is to debunk systemic racism, sexism, and economic exploitation of movement teachers within the wellness industry. Follow her on Instagram @yogawithavita.

Anjali Kamath Rao, yoga teacher and advocate for yoga education and social justice

Anjali Kamath Rao (@yoganjali)

A fierce proponent for yoga education and social justice, Anjali Kamath Rao is a yoga teacher, social justice activist, and cancer survivorship advocate. Anjali believes we can honor and celebrate yoga every day. Read more about her perspective in a recently penned article for Yoga Journal.

Yoga Communities and Organizations to Follow Online

Black Boys Om

Led by our own teacher in residence and former artist in residence, Danny Fluker, his Black Boys Om network of Black male meditation and yoga teachers who serve communities from North America to Africa. The network offers free classes, virtual instruction and yoga mentorship. You can watch our interview with him on IGTV, and connect on Instagram @blackboysom.

Trans Yoga Project

The Trans Yoga Project is a collaborative effort supporting spiritual wellness through community (re)education, advocacy within the yoga and wellness industries, community building, and the creation of supportive and affirming content and guided practices by and for Trans and non-binary people. Keep up with their latest work on Instagram @transyogaproject.

Sacred Sound Lab

Sacred Sound Lab (SSL) practices Nāda Yoga, the Yoga of Sound, a form of Indian devotional singing and chanting. Led by Sheela Bringi, SSL offers live virtual concerts, live stream concerts, and video courses. Follow them on Instagram @sacredsoundlab.

Accessible Yoga Association

Accessible Yoga is a nonprofit organization that believes all people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to yoga. Through education and advocacy, they share the teachings and benefits of yoga with those who have been marginalized. Learn more about their advocacy and offerings @accessibleyoga.

Black Women’s Yoga Collective 

Founded in 2018 and dedicated to increasing wellness accessibility for Black people and people of color, The Black Women’s Yoga Collective provides free and affordable yoga classes, free digital wellness resources, community outreach, and more. You can follow the collective on Instagram @blackwomensyogaco.

Yoga & Body Image Coalition

The Yoga and Body Coalition develops, promotes, and supports accessible, body-positive yoga that represents the full spectrum of humanity. One of their core values is the belief in the transformative power of yoga for a more just world, both individually and collectively. You can find them on Instagram @ybicoalition.

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Michelle McCrary & Christine Chen