Cover Photo from Yoga Rising by Sarit Z RogersI’m so excited to share my interview with Melanie Klein with you today! I confess I’ve been admiring Melanie Klein and her work with theYoga and Body Image Coalitionfrom afar for quite a while now. And I actually had a fantasy of meeting her in person one day so I could connect with her. So when she couldn't make it to the Accessible Yoga Conference in San Francisco, I was disappointed. But recently when her second book Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body came out, I thought to myself, “Why am I being so timid? After all, a few people have heard of me and know what I’m up to. I can just reach out to her and if she’s not interested in being interviewed, she’ll just say no.” Haha, needless to say, that strategy worked. And I just love the result (and feel like maybe I, too, am a yoga renegade).
Nina: What inspired you to create your new book Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body?
Melanie: Yoga Rising is the natural and logical extension of Yoga and Body Image. Upon completing the first volume of stories, it was clear that a follow-up was necessary to grow and deepen the conversation. In fact, my Yoga and Body Image co-editor, Anna Guest–Jelley, and I started working on compiling potential contributors and desired themes for the next book in the midst of editing stories for the first collection.
While there is critical commentary on yoga culture and the business of yoga in Yoga and Body Image, the primary intention of that book was to focus on the ways in which a consistent yoga practice had a positive impact on each writer’s relationship to self and their body image, and how the details of that same end were unique and varied for each person. Anna and I had experienced (and continue to experience) so many transformative moments in our respective practices—ones that we deem liberatory—that we wanted to share the gift of yoga and it’s multitude of unique and person benefits with as many people as possible.
Naturally, the underbelly of the yoga industry would be juxtaposed side-by-side with the varied beauty of the practice itself. And there’s plenty of critical discussion around this dichotomy present. But we wanted that primary thread to hinge on the more sublime and healing elements of yoga and celebrate the ways in which we can find personal freedom while simultaneously inspiring more and more people to come to (or return to) the mat and the cushion more often and consistently.
Yoga Rising was intended (and I feel it accomplishes) to specifically deepen the discussions related to the complex intersections of yoga practice and yoga culture/the business of yoga. Additionally, in that spirit of advocacy and activism, demonstrate to readers how each contributor used the strength, freedom, and/or personal peace they gained from their practice and translated into action. And that those actions show up and move in the world differently for everyone. These stories are intended to agitate, affirm, and activate each person in a way that is authentic to them. Yoga is a wonderful tool to allow us to access the authentic and unique nature of our self and ignite it for the benefit of not only our individual but our collective liberation.
As I write in the conclusion, “I hope you feel compelled to work collectively with others in a way that moves you. May this book nourish and inspire you in the deepest way possible. Here’s to raising consciousness and taking action… The world needs you, the world needs us.”
Nina: What is a yoga renegade? And why do you think it’s so important for the world to hear their voices?
Melanie: A yoga renegade is a conscious agent of change. As Dianne Bondy describes it in the foreword, “there is a renegade in all of us, a renegade dedicated to truth, justice and equality in all forms.” A yoga renegade is imperfectly perfectly human and demonstrates the complexities of living life as human in this world without shame or guilt. A yoga renegade moves through the world with courage and vulnerability. A yoga renegade is continuously growing and living their truth as well as proclaiming their truth even when it runs against the grain.
In a media-saturated world where there is little to no information or thought diversity, nothing could be more important or inspiring to others than the opportunity to be exposed to and hearing the voices of the yoga renegades doing the internal and external work of raising consciousness on every level and living that truth. It’s important that we have access to everyday role models and the messy reality that goes with breaking through these internal and structural confines.
Like Dianne, I know everyone has this flicker inside them ready to be ignited. Perhaps these stories can act as beacons of light that illuminate the way for others. Because when our flames are lit and we come together, we create an undeniable wave of energy with the momentum and power to burn through all that holds us back and holds us down.
Nina: How did you select the stories you included?
Melanie: The contributors come from all walks of life and varied backgrounds. It’s always been important to me to have diverse writers, voices, and experiences. I’m not interested in creating a monotone collection of homogenous voices that all sing in the same key.
Some of the contributors I knew personally as friends, colleagues, or allies and, in some cases, all of the above. Some contributors I met online, some I stumbled upon through social media or through shared communities. Some wrote to me or attended an event or workshop wherein they came up to me and shared the ways in which the first book moved them or how they related or felt seen and validated by those stories. In several cases, this would prompt me to invite them to share their own journey. Some book contributors were referred to me in a snowball effect.
At one point, there were over 50 potential contributions. In the end, a few were unable to complete their essays and many were moved to an upcoming third volume. As I was going through the submissions, a distinct new theme was being revealed. It became obvious that another book would be required. As a result, about 15 essays originally expected to be included in Yoga Rising are now on deck for this next collection. As an editor and curator of stories, it’s my job to not only collect and edit the individual stories but to make sure that they all fit together as a cohesive unit and flow with the overarching theme and intention of the given book.
Nina: Would you like to highlight some of the stories you think our readers will find especially inspiring?
Melanie: I can’t choose!
Nina: Fair enough. So far, our readers have been helping to change the image of yoga in the media by sharing photographs of themselves doing yoga along with their—God forbid—actual ages! And several have shared their own powerful stories by writing for our blog. What else can we all do to help the world learn that yoga is for everyone?
Melanie: As a trained sociologist specializing in the area of media and media literacy, representation is everything to me! Nothing excited me more or makes me happier than creating platforms for people to use as vehicles for their stories by amplifying their voices and allowing them to be physically seen. In that way, the monolithic and monotonous stream of imagery that assaults us daily is challenged and disrupted. I encourage everyone to continue challenging and disrupting the media machine that churns out unrealistic and one-dimensional narratives and images while creating and sharing new media content that highlights the true diversity of #whatayogilookslike and the varied nature of yoga practice. Through that process, uplift, support and share the stories, work and contributions of others. We’re in this together.
Photo by Sarit Z RogersMelanie Klein, M.A., is a successful writer, speaker, empowerment coach and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Moorpark College in Ventura County, CA. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016) and co-editor of the new anthology, Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014. The newly released follow-up anthology to Yoga and Body Image, Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body, is now available widely.
Instagram: @melmelklein @ybicolaition
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