Old man looking upon cloud covered Mt Agung, Bali from a temple

Perfect Storm

This weekend, I was due to fly to Bali for an immersive yoga retreat. The retreat was to be the highlight of my 200 hour yoga teacher training. Many hours of study had bought me to this point and I was really looking forward to soaking up some tropical Bali sun after a long Melbourne winter.

No one could have predicted the events that have since unfolded. Mt Agung, an active volcano, has been showing signs of an imminent eruption, though the timing and scale is unpredictable. The Governor of Bali declared a natural disaster ahead of the eruption and local villages within the 12km exclusion zone were ordered to evacuate.

Despite the airports and popular tourist destinations remaining open, Bali is in the midst of a slow onset natural disaster and large-scale humanitarian emergency. More than 140, 000 people have been internally displaced and the number of people living in emergency shelters are increasing.

Humanitarian aid organisations such as the Indonesian Red Cross are coordinating emergency preparedness operations. There have been local reports that many of the emergency shelters are overcrowded and facing dire resource shortages – inadequate shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation. International aid is flowing into Bali as well as in-kind donations from local NGO’s and community members.

There have been reports that ‘good face masks’ have sold out across Bali, leaving those displaced without basic protective equipment needed in the event of an eruption. The yoga retreat I was booked into is a 10 minute drive from Klungkung Regency, the second largest emergency evacuation centre in Bali.

The local government say there are too many people seeking protection in emergency shelters. They say these people live outside the exclusion zone and don’t need to be there. But, how can you blame them? Many can still recall the 1963 eruption of Mt Agung which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and continued to erupt for a year. The present eruption threat is triggering past trauma and people are fearful.

Deciding whether to travel to Bali during such a precarious time is complex and entirely personal. Bali is a tourist-based economy and a decline in the tourism sector will affect local people’s livelihoods and standard of living.

However, mass tourism in Bali is a double-edged sword. Yes, tourism boosts the local economy, however this wealth is concentrated to urban centres and does not reach people living in rural areas. The number of people living in poverty in rural Bali remains unacceptably high despite mass tourism.

Mass tourism is also unsustainable and drains precious natural assets such as clean drinking water, food, healthcare, electricity and transport. Bali’s Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has described tourism in Bali as ‘a disaster for the poor’ and has been working hard to alleviate poverty in Bali.

Natural disaster zones in developing countries are not places tourists should visit. Tourists place further stress on an already strained system and divert scarce physical and human resources such as clean drinking water, food, shelter, protective equipment, communications and transport away from local people who have been displaced and need life saving resources the most.

This creates a second tiered emergency and takes life saving resources away from the actual emergency response. Based on the reports I’m seeing and my experience working in the humanitarian sector, it is my professional judgment that a perfect storm is developing to create a second tiered emergency. I simply cannot be part of this and believe I will be more effective supporting the Balinese community from home.

This is why I have decided not to travel to Bali this weekend to participate in the yoga retreat. This has had a big impact on me financially and the flow on effect of not participating in the retreat means I will not be able to continue my yoga teacher training. However, when I think of the 140, 000 people who have been displaced, my own disappointments are put into sharp perspective.

No amount of ‘positive vibing’ or ‘surrendering to the unknown’ on retreat will alleviate the fear and suffering of local people sheltering in emergency centers just 10 minutes away. Their fear is real. Their anguish is real. I refuse to be blinded by my own privilege. For me, no yoga retreat or teacher training should ever cost this much.

In the words of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh,

“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?”

Have an up coming trip to Bali and reconsidering your need to travel?

I highly recommend you follow Dr Janine Krippner on Twitter – she is a volcanologist and has been doing an incredible job translating the latest official information relating to Mt Agung, specifically for travellers and expats. She has compiled all the essential information on her blog In the Company of Volcanoes, which I also highly recommend you read.

Mum Travel Diaries has a blog specifically for travellers which clearly lists everything you should consider before you take off.

Want to help but unsure how?

Australian’s have a close affinity with Bali and in times of disaster many of us feel the urge to help. While helping is excellent, as donors, we must be responsible! This USAID Centre for International Disaster Information article speaks directly to in-kind donations including unskilled volunteering. It’s a must read!

Why is giving cash often the best way to help during humanitarian emergencies? USAID’s Centre for International Disaster Information give an excellent insight in this article – Why Cash is Best.

Photo credit: The Australian

Woman wearing #whitepeopledoingyoga bag in the street

The problem with #YogaEveryDamnDay

#YogaEveryDamnDay is one of the most popular hashtags used by yoga students and teachers on instagram – 9, 987, 342 people have used this hashtag. I am guilty of using it regularly on my instagram posts too. However, I’ve been feeling a growing sense of unease with using this hashtag because it has become a loaded term.

Yoga teacher Rachel Brathen was the creator behind the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag and she explains her intention behind its development in an interview with Yoga International.

“I had just joined instagram and wanted some inspiration and I started noticing these crazy challenges. I disagreed with a lot of the challenges because they seemed really unsafe. People in their work clothes just getting into a no-handed headstand for the first time. When I started the hashtag, I wanted to get away from the idea that ‘yoga is a pose.’ I wanted to remind people that it’s about more than that. It’s meditation, contemplation, it’s pranayama, along with the asana.”

A quick instagram search for the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag will show you how far removed it has become from Rachel’s original intention. The hashtag has become synonymous with white women wearing expensive activewear and white shirtless men performing advanced asana, often in exotic locations around the world.

There is very little cultural  or ethnic diversity and almost no reference to the ancient roots of yogic philosophy from which it stems. It’s cultural appropriation at its worst. It’s also exclusionary and assumes that to practise yoga you must fit within the dominant cultural norm and have a certain aesthetic – one that is white, thin, flexible, heterosexual, cis gendered, able bodied and fit.

It promotes this ideal that yoga as advanced asana should be practised every day. For many this is an unrealistic and unsafe expectation and ignores the other seven limbs of yoga. It also implies that if you’re not practising yoga asana every day you’re somehow less of a yogi and this reinforces the idea that yoga is something that must be attained through rigid practice of asana.

This is often a confronting and uncomfortable conversation and I am guilty of much of this myself. However, I believe it’s a conversation worth having if we are to change the western mindset of yoga and reclaim the original intention behind #YogaEveryDamnDay. This is not a judgemental diatribe, it’s simply an honest act of love from my heart to yours.

How can we turn this around? Here are some of the steps I am taking personally:

  • Disrupt the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag by flooding the feed with more diversity and everything yogic apart from asana – meditation, self study, non-violence, non-attachment, self care etc.
  • Stop using the #YogaEveryDamnDay hashtag altogether and build a more mindful community on social media with alternative hashtags that really reflect who you are, your practice and your intention.
  • Lead by example – be honest and humble about your own yoga practice and make sure your contribution to the yoga community is mindful and authentic both online and offline.
  • Learn more about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, practise the eight limbs of yoga and make this visible by acknowledging what you do and don’t practise.
  • Educate yourself and be conscious of the cultural appropriation of yoga on a macro level as well as within your own practice. Try not to contribute to it and call it out when you see it. Nisha Ahuja provides an excellent online resource that is very accessible – exploring yoga and the impact of cultural appropriation. I highly recommend watching her short film and reading some of the articles in the resources section.

‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public’ – Cornel West.

I would love to hear how others within the yoga community are also reflecting upon their practice and taking action, please feel free to comment below.