Focus of the Month: June 2020

There is a Light That Never Goes Out

written by TQ sims

YS I.36 “Viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī”                             
jyoti: light, brightness

viśokā: free from grief, sorrow-less effulgent light
vā: or
jyotiṣmatī: luminous, bright, shining, possessed of luminous bodies, a tranquil state of mind
matī: measure

“Or inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrow-less, effulgent light.” (translation by BKS Iyengar)

“Or by concentrating on the supreme, ever-blissful Light within.” (translation by Swami Satchidananda)

While the world is still processing the effects of a global pandemic and many of us are coming out of self-isolation, many of us feel like we can’t see too far ahead, that we’re maybe a bit lost. June is a very important time for the LGBTQ+ community, and I’d like to tell you a story about why June is so important. It’s a story about a community rising up from the shadows and stepping into the light. First let’s talk about a a force that guides us all towards each other: joy.

Yoga Sutra I.36 states, “Viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī.” The word vā, meaning “or,” appears in the sutra to indicate that this sutra (like all sutras really) is a part of a continuous thread. At this point in the larger body of The Yoga Sutra, a list of techniques are given to return the mind to peace, reducing and eliminating divisiveness, realizing Yoga. This sutra is but one of those techniques. There are many paths to the same realization, offering many paths for the diversity of humankind.

Viśokā is described as “sorrow-less, effulgent light.” We glimpse this Light when our hearts light up or when we witness the light in someone’s eyes. This radiance can be found within when we train ourselves to look towards it. Jyotiṣmatī could be broken down into two words: jyotiṣ (which means light and is related to the English word “joy”) and matī (which means “measure”).

How do we measure out joy? Because of our inherent biases, we might not recognize the Light within others who we label as “different.” It can be challenging to empathize with others, to see others as we see ourselves. There are so many groups who have experienced not being seen and denied a space measured out for joy in our society: women, animals, indigenous cultures, the list goes on!

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I can speak to the experience of not feeling that the larger society holds space for my joy in being who I am. There are so many subtle and overt messages that we LGBTQ+ people receive that tell us not to express our love, gender, and identity in a way that doesn’t fit what culture has deemed as acceptable or normal. These messages make it more challenging to live our own truth. No matter how we identify ourselves, when we live our own truth and we allow ourselves to live the Truth of interconnection, we measure out a space held for joy. Living our truth and freely expressing ourselves is liberating. Yoga teaches us all to free our minds and hearts and to come together in Truth.

“The richness, beauty and depths of love can only be fully experienced in a climate of complete openness, honesty and vulnerability.” – Anthony Venn Brown (LGBTQ+ activist)

Five years ago, I was excited to hear about a movie called Stonewall, but my delight was quickly dashed when I found out that this fictional account of an event that fueled a world wide revolution overlooked the significant contributions of key figures. Those radical individuals were drag performers (a drag king lesbian and two trans women), cross dressers—folks on the fringes of a fringe society. Activists stepped up and highlighted the true history of that event, shining an even brighter light on these angelic troublemakers so that the world would see them again.

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”—James Baldwin (novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist)

One June 28, 1969, police again raided a popular gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. This was a time when dominant culture imposed a great deal of shame on the LGBTQ+ community. Police could arrest anyone for simply not wearing three articles of clothing associated with their assigned gender. Raids on LGBTQ+ gathering spaces were not uncommon, but something unique would happen in those early morning hours.

During the raid, a crowd of bar patrons and neighbors gathered outside. The crowd was beginning to stand up to the harassment in their own way, mocking the police and being flamboyant, daring police to arrest them all. When Stormé DeLarverie, a drag king who described herself as a butch lesbian, was beaten violently by police, the shocked crowd recoiled, and she called out to them “Why don’t you guys do something?” It was in that moment, maybe spurred by some spark of recognition, some sense of union, that two trans women, Sylvia Riveria and Marsha P. Johnson, led the crowd in pushing back.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” – Bayard Rustin (civil rights activist)

That night would go down in history as the Stonewall Uprising. It was an act of resistance by the LGBTQ+ community, a rebellion in response to not just their present abusers but to the oppressive culture that had been shaped for generations, a culture which demanded that they hide their own light and live in shame. For several days following, thousands of New Yorkers would protest against the police harassment of the LGBTQ+ community, and the world took notice of this necessary act of resistance.

There is a modern aphorism that “what we resist persists.” While this phrase is catchy, it is not absolute. In many cases, resistance can benefit us, and there is a way to utilize resistance in our own yoga practices. Resistance comes up in our asana practice when we resist giving up, when we engage muscular strength, when we push into the floor or wall or yoga props. Resistance is a part of the whole, part of the human experience, and necessary at times.

There is a way to create healthy resistance. Just as our bodies resist diseases, we can build up an immunity to divisive influences that lead to oppression and violence. In the eight limbs of the Yoga Sutras, resistance comes up in the yamas, techniques for refining our yoga practice through how we relate to others. The first yama listed is ahimsa. Patanjali could have used another word here but specifically chose to shine a light on this one. Himsa is violence, and the a- is a Sanskrit prefix that negates. The practice of ahimsa is a resistance of violence. When we refine our deeds, words, and thoughts through the practice of ahimsa, we remind ourselves and others of love. Reminding others of love, negates violence, reclaims peace, and highlights unity.

“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.” – Barbara Gittings (LGBTQ+ activist)

The very next year after the Stonewall Uprising, activists from various cities across the nation organized the first LGBTQ+ Pride parades, and every year after, more and more cities around the world would host their own Pride events to celebrate a community that refused to stay confined to the shadows and demanded space to live in the light. Pride celebrations, typically held during the month of June, would serve as a reminder of community, freedom, and joy in living our truth.

Satsang is a word often used for a yoga community. Sat means “truth.” Sanga means “to associate with.” When we practice yoga in community, we are gathered in Satsang. Community has the power to dispel those negative messages and heal the wounds they cause only when that community measures out a space for joy, allowing individual truths to be expressed while embracing a shared Truth. As we practice asana in community, we consciously engage with challenging shapes, and we can see that multiple truths exist and there is one shared Truth as well. As a class practices wheel pose, individuals will experience personal truth about their own spinal flexibility, space, strength, skill, and stability; and at the same time there is the shared truth about wheel pose: challenge and effort, connection to the Earth, our breath, and each other—a Truth of interconnection: Yoga.

In your asana practice, try exploring this concept of holding both your individual truth and the universal Truth. While you do this stay open to holding space for the individual truths others experience. When you practice a particular shape, notice how your body feels—where you experience ease or challenge within your body might be very different from where a fellow yogi experiences ease or challenge. What about the shape is common? There is Truth to be embraced. Tune in to the support of the earth, breath, and interconnection that is available to us all. Are you—even in challenging moments—remembering to to offer support from your own heart?

Each of us has our own truth about the challenges we face in life, navigating the world with our own identities, our individual self. When we practice in community, we’re reminded that we are not alone in facing challenges, and our empathy and compassion radiates, leading to a reduction in sorrow. We are fortunate to have this community to “in-joy,” to put joy into how we are connecting, to put joy into the space we measure out for each other. Through the welcoming vibes of a community, we can boost our own and each other’s self-confidence and help us reclaim a sense of Self, which is beyond our individual identity, a unified identity. Through community, we remember the importance of our own individual contributions and our own power to affect others, and we realize a sense of Self that is shared with humankind.

“Your existence is precious… Some days are going to be difficult, but just know that after the storm, there will always be a rainbow.” -Ash López (LGBTQ+ activist)

There is a light that never goes out. Some call this illumination the Divine or simply Love. I once heard a bhakti teacher describe all human beings as being Love itself. Someone in that class asked the obvious question: “Then why do we cause each other so much pain?” The teacher replied, “We forget about love.”

While we’ve made great strides in becoming a more accepting society, there is still much work to be done in our communities to ensure equal rights, freedom of expression, and the capacity to thrive. We do that work daily by reminding others of love. Many LGTBQ+ folks experience a feeling of being un-rooted, disconnected, or alienated, and often times those experiences lead to scars or trauma that is carried for a long time. By openly welcoming and holding space for groups that have historically been marginalized, we remind others that they are not alone, and there is a network of support for them. We cultivate steadiness for individuals through the connective support of community. By embracing our queer ancestors, allies, and support systems we highlight their contributions. Through our intentional acts we remind others of love, a light within which we are never without. We heal the harm caused by hate and offer hope. Every hero, every “angelic troublemaker,” every ally is a star in a constellation that guides us all home to love.

Through our own yoga community at Swan River Yoga, teachers, staff, and students too, work to foster a culture of acceptance for all beings. All are welcome to join us in this practice. It is a practice of remembering who we are, finding joy in who we are as individuals and as the Self that unites all. We can all do this work of fostering community through our kind actions.

In community and personally, we resource our strength through kindness. At times depending on where you are and who you encounter, your kindness may be met with neediness, greediness, suspicion, disbelief, or indifference… be kind anyway. Have faith in humankind. Be both human and kind. There are many beings who depend on your kindness—more than you know. Through kindness we measure out a space for joy, countering oppression. Your kindness is the strength needed to reshape the world.

Every act of kindness is a step towards justice. With every step towards justice, we ensure a stable future where humankind can “in-joy” who they are as individuals, connecting with truth in community and commonality, negating violence with kindness, and realizing the eternal Light within all, a Light that never goes out.

“We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.” -RuPaul
“We’re all just God in drag.” —Ram Dass



Teacher Tools

Suggested materials and considerations for the focus of the month:

Themes that can easily be lifted from this essay: LGBTQ+ history as it relates to freedom, equal rights, Pride, joy; healthy resistance—immunity to dis-ease; ahimsa (non-violence, negating violence); joy (radiance that removes sorrow); Satsang/community—where multiple truths exist along with a shared Truth; kindness is strength: Yoga Sutra 3.24 “Maitri Adishu Balani.”
When you choose a theme for your class consider why you want to speak on that theme and who you will be speaking to. Consider how you want students to feel, and do your best to speak with kindness, with words that feel important or necessary, and say what is true.

Research the Stonewall Uprising and the era leading up to it. It wasn’t exactly the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, but it was a key moment. Recognize your own privileges as you do this. If you identify as heterosexual or cis-gendered there may be many privileges or forms of oppression you weren’t previously aware of, like the privilege to not at all consider how your gender expression will be received when you walk into a yoga studio. How can you shift to be more aware of what individuals in your yoga community need? How does the yoga culture in the spaces where you teach, work, or practice welcome or deter diversity? What can you do to create a more welcoming atmosphere in your community?

Research and perhaps teach from the remarkable stories of these luminaries (pronouns are included to avoid mis-gendering):
Stormé DeLarverie (she/her; pronounced “Storm De-Lah-vee-yay,” born in New Orleans,
Marsha P. Johnson (she/her;
Sylvia Riviera (she/her;
Bayard Rustin (he/him; associate of Dr. MLK Jr;

An article from Ram Dass on sexual identity:

What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy resistances? We can resist oppressive culture and injustice to the benefit of all, but if we resist looking at those aspects of our culture that are oppressive, we allow disease to fester in the public body.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. What does it mean to celebrate diversity in spaces where we often speak of unity? What does it look and feel like for you to find joy in being who you are, with and without the “garment” of identity?

How can you be more inclusive in your speech? Teachers, please, eliminate binary speech when addressing classes or groups. Change “ladies and gentlemen,” to “y’all, folks, holy beings, everyone, etc.” to be more inclusive of any and all gender expressions and identities (seen and unseen). When speaking about asana, avoid using “for men, practice this way… for women, practice this way…” Instead, speak more to the anatomy of individuals or to the pose itself: “for folks with broad shoulders… etc.”

On light/darkness, please, avoid vilifying darkness. Do your best to not prioritize the light over the dark. Be equanimous. Without the darkness, we don’t have the light. When speaking of light within, we might speak of it’s opposite as the shadows within. Don’t throw shade on the darkness.

Focus on your community’s liberation and joy. Avoid telling students what they “should feel,” and teach them how to explore with a sense of freedom. Avoid telling students “I want you to…” or “you want to…” Let them find joy in their own practice. Offer modifications, and encourage students to explore all the variations and then practice the one that they feel is best for them. Use language that is empowering and up-lifting.

Let part of your classes or personal practices include time for Ujjayi breath, focus on the vibrant and radiant qualities of this pranayama practice. When teaching, include super clear instruction on how to practice Ujjayi breathing.

Meditate. Look within and be honest with yourself about what you find there… Expect no response from yourself in regards to what you find within. Simply be with it. Look beyond your own fears, cloudiness, and shadows, without being overwhelmed and without discounting them. Just be. You might even visualize an effulgent, sorrow-less light that fills every cell of your body, every vibration of your being. There is nothing to overcome, no lacking. The source of illumination is consciousness.

Inspiring quotes:
“Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (civil rights leader)

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” – Bayard Rustin (civil rights activist, associate of MLK Jr.)

“Whatever is hidden out of fear could always be used against [ourselves]—one imperfect but useful argument for honesty.”
“We have been raised to fear the yes in ourselves.”
“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”—Audre Lorde (self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”)

“There are some who see me by the same light in which I am seeing them. Our natures are one. Without reference to any strands of lineage, without reference to texts or traditions, we drink the life-water together.” —Rumi (poet)

“We’re all just God in drag,” —Ram Dass

“We’re all born naked and the rest is just drag.” -RuPaul

“When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”—President Barack Obama.

“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.” – Barbara Gittings (LGBTQ+ activist)

“The richness, beauty and depths of love can only be fully experienced in a climate of complete openness, honesty and vulnerability.” – Anthony Venn Brown (LGBTQ+ activist)

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” —James Baldwin (novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist)

“Your existence is precious… Some days are going to be difficult, but just know that after the storm, there will always be a rainbow.” -Ash López (LGBTQ+ activist)

“All identity labels are umbrella terms to some degree… It brings together a bunch of people who are maybe shades different from one another. And maybe that’s the beauty of labels: that they force you to be with other people and see the difference.”—Charles M. Blow (Journalist)

“Who would give a law to lovers? Love is unto itself a higher law.” — Boethius (6th century philosopher)

“Please remember, especially in these times of group-think and the right-on chorus, that no person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.”—Alice Walker (Novelist, Essayist, and Activist)

“We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.”—George Takei (ACTOR, DIRECTOR, AND ACTIVIST)

Inspiring films and shows to watch:
We’ve Been Around (
Paris Is Burning (Netflix)
Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (Amazon Prime)
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix)
Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin (Amazon Prime)
Queer Eye (Netflix): Sky’s the Limit, season 2, episode 5 (also:
We’re Here (HBO): Twin Falls Idaho, season 1, episode 2

Local Museum Exhibition:
Grand Illusions: The History and Artistry of Gay Carnival in New Orleans (on view at The Presbytere next to St. Louis Cathedral until Dec 6, 2020


June 2020