AN EPIC RESPONSE TO InStyle’s October 6 Featured Story in Health & Fitness
Our studio has no connection to this story. We work tirelessly at making all our yoga offerings a safe-space sanctuary free of racism and the cultural divisions that are undermining our community in already stressful times of a health pandemic.
Speaking of undermining efforts…our students, staff, instructors, and ownership (which, should be noted, is majority woman-owned, and minority BIPOC-owned) are aghast to read a recent online magazine story inaccurately implicating our studio as being silent and complicit toward openly racist behavior.
We offer the full story here and welcome this below-the-belt kick during such trying times as an opportunity to remind and renew our steadfast support of those seeking racial justice and criminal justice reform. Our unwavering interest in equality is founded on the knowledge that yoga benefits all. Yoga is for every body. We stand firmer than ever on the foundation that is literally etched on our floor and the very definition of our name EPIC: We are here to empower you and hope to inspire change for a better community. Empowering People Inspiring Change.
If you care to go down the rabbit-hole further please continue to read on:
SATURDAY, APRIL 25, 2020
-A month and half after closing all in-studio classes for the COVID-19 pandemic (per state/county guidelines), on April 25, a longtime member and workshop teacher approached us via email, with a formal request to publicly condemn a fellow instructor. This member's request was rooted in offense taken to the instructor’s outspoken social media messaging related to “freedom rallies,” “social distancing, not wearing a mask and gathering in large groups.” Race was never mentioned, presented, or connected to this member’s concern with the instructor.
-We explained to the member that we could not hold instructors accountable for their personal political opinions and views—CA 1101 is clearly stated as a statute that prohibits employers from taking action against employees for their political activities that don’t directly affect their job performance. We were closed for an unprecedented pandemic and the last thing we needed was some California labor law interests construing that we terminated an employee for their political opinions. We recognize freedom of opinion, not only under California labor laws but also as a matter of practice and policy: We have long instituted instructor and studio protocols to keep personal politics out of the studio, we also recognize that employees and contractors undermined and defied the leadership of EPIC Yoga on this request after giving them trust, marketing efforts/dollars, and our platform.
We can only work to improve and move forward from here. At EPIC Yoga we do not claim to be and are not perfect, but we strive and will continue to keep all practice areas a sacrosanct space for personal escape and growth.
-This emailed exchange, and our unwillingness to denunciate what we deemed a matter related to a former employee’s personal opinions on individual rights and risk, lasted well through May 25, when George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police ignited a historic cultural reckoning on race and equality that quickly became a transnational movement of solidarity. Still, NO mention of race entered the correspondence.
TUESDAY, MAY 7, 2020
-While our doors were still closed, we received an email from the referenced instructor announcing they would not be returning to teach yoga. Several other local studios received a similar email.
FRIDAY, JUNE 12, 2020
-As we retrofitted our in-studio offering to reopen on June 12, to cater to and clearly promote science-based health measures like enhanced sanitization, social distance and mask usage, we published our support of the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, later in a newsletter, and on our website (we recognize the latter should have come much sooner, we needed time to listen and to collectively align our voice with renewed plans and policies to enact real change), explicitly reiterating and outlining the studio’s values regarding the plight of Black people in our country, and meeting their cries for change. During the brief one-month reopen, and the launch of our outdoor classes later in the summer, we did not reengage the former instructor, and removed all and any association with the studio (website, schedule, workshops, etc).
We did not make a denunciation of the former or ANY former instructors for that matter, because we saw no need to. At this point several of instructors had made personal decisions based on their own OPINIONS and comfort levels on whether they would be returning to teach in-person or not. Again, ALL positions from ALL employees were respected and protected. Their reasons were all over the board, some because of child-care issues, others because they were simply not comfortable, and even some that said they were disappointed in the “San Clemente yoga community and would not be returning.” All were met without judgment and given full respect and confidentiality.
So no- we did not denunciate one former employee at the request of the former member of our studio.
The former instructor’s focus seemed set on individual freedoms, business openings, mask usage, and virus misinformation, and we had not been presented any evidence otherwise of openly racist behavior at this point in June.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020
-We received a request for comment from an InStyle Senior Editor on the “employment of [Instructor Name] for a story about alt-right extremism in yoga.” We replied that this instructor “has not been an employee of EPIC Yoga since we were mandated to close our doors in March. Good luck with your story!”
-Our no-comment response was rooted in our desire for our yoga studio and our current staff to not be connected to a story written about a former employee’s alleged alt-right position and extremism in yoga, and to not be confused with or associated with white supremacy in any manner. Something that should be obvious and self-evident, which feels CRAZY to even have to type this out, so we can be 1000 percent clear: EPIC Yoga has and will forever denounce white supremacy. Period.
This referenced instructor had long been disconnected from us during the relevant time period anyway (that is, the summer period before AND after May 25 when the layer of racial injustices would be relevant to a story on alt-right extremism) that any consideration of our studio and our interactions with this former instructor, or former member, should have any bearing on a story—one that appeared as a ‘gotcha’ trap to somehow pin or connect one vocal subject who might sympathize with the extreme alt-right to our studio. Turns out, our fears were realized, and this connection proved the foundation of an article adding together two baseless assumptions:
Fabricating our silence on a political organizer’s stance on mask usage into silence on race.
Fabricating (as far as we knew) the former instructor’s actions as having to do with race—to provide the primary evidence used to deliver a conclusion of white supremacy being on the rise in the Orange County yoga community and untruthfully naming us and other local studios while we are trying our damnedest to even stay afloat.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2020
-The digital story was published online.
-We immediately presented the full evidence backing up our position with the InStyle editor: that our studio silence in April had to do with CA labor laws and our willingness to engage in former employee personal politics (which had to do exclusively with mask usage and the virus, and nothing to do with race), while our main business was closed; and our clear not-silent messaging related to our studio’s support for those seeking racial justice and equality (which, in our assessment, had nothing to do with politics). Reed updated the story, though it failed to disconnect our studio, or the former instructor, from “openly racist behavior” and a sensationalist conclusion connecting us to a broader trend without other reporting, cited sources, or relevant examples to back up that generalization.
-We are not saying that some of the article’s larger sentiments of yoga losing its way do not hold some validity. Our studio was, is, and will never be a place for extreme political positions that foment violence and feed directly into racism, hatred, and division. So, implicating EPIC Yoga as promoting racism in any way is factually incorrect. Period. The conclusion that OC is breeding white supremacy through yoga was fundamentally unsettling, and, frankly, one we have not witnessed and have not had ever been reported by our staff or instructors, members, students, or friends. It’s a painful gut-punch to hear this suggestion being made and one that’s shaken us to stay the course of where we began this journey 3 years ago when we launched a diverse suite of options for every age, race, body type: from a chair offering, classes for cancer survivors, classes en español, child care and kids classes. This is yoga for every body. This is yoga when we need it most— when our community and, ironically, this very article, is seeking to divide us into political camps of who supports what. This is not who we are.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2020
We are continuing to deal with the existential crisis of this pandemic and are trying to do everything we can to support a healthy yoga community as a coping mechanism to make our town stronger, healthier -- and maybe a little more empathetic and aware to help cope with the other, larger systemic problems of racism and police brutality.
Personally and professionally as the leader and Chief Changemaker for EPIC Yoga, I will not tolerate being bullied in anyway shape or form, from either side of the spectrum. Not for myself, my team, my family or my community. ALL of which this article has falsely linked us to.
If you care to read any of the time-stamped FACTUAL evidence on any of the above energy-draining-time-sucking-timeline that we have so clearly laid out, just to prove the reason why our name and the names of other local studios should not have even been given mention or THOUGHT to being referenced and linked to being racist in this article. Please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org to request copies. We are happy to provide you with any additional information supporting the inaccurate connection to EPIC Yoga.
At EPIC Yoga we are here to hold space for you. And that also means listening. Let this be a great reminder and lesson to us all. Let us continue to work together to create dialogue to better promote a collective understanding of the science around this health crisis; how we can curb the spread of misinformation (I now know how it feels to be twisted by seemingly biased media coverage all for the personal agenda of others), and ultimately, how we can lead a more self-less compassionate, true yoga practice with each other’s well-being in mind.
We are endlessly seeking ways we can do better, and how we can continue promoting anti-racism. If there is ever – you the member, student, instructor, follower or friend, issues in class or concerns, please reach out to me immediately and know that my inbox and communication is always open to you at 949.558.5111 or email@example.com, as we are taking this moment to develop additional protocols and practices to ensure there is never EVER confusion again with who we are, and the better individuals and better community that we can become, moving together. And moving forward to better. Together.
MONDAY OCTOBER 12, 2020
We amended the timeline above after speaking with parties involved on every side of the fallout from this online magazine story, much of it based on this timeline and its explantation presented, plus the dialogue it engaged online and in person. Our statement and personal response was grounded in acting from a place of defense being put in a no-win corner, and acting with the intention of being objective and fair to all sides in hopes of breaking the cyclical spread misinformation that this article in question cogently warns against.
The reaction to our response produced an outpouring of love that was overwhelming in support from students, instructors, and friends knowing exactly who EPIC is, and what we stand for in terms of our core identity and fundamental orientation against racism. But within that outpouring of love, we received a handful of messages from students, members, instructors, and allies outlining the harm we had done in our over-reaction in defense, and not affirming what EPIC stands against.
These voices were in the minority. We realized then, that this is the whole point. Listening to the members of our community who are themselves minorities, in terms of both their skin color and in terms of pre-existing health conditions, make their voices matter more. All sides of our local yoga community cannot carry the same weight until the voices of those marginalized are heard first, in the same way that in our larger national community, all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter.
COVID-19 is a novel virus that we are only finding out more about as 2020 mercilessly marches on. As we get more facts, we keep adapting, and we need to proceed with caution on information espoused and shared in the cauldron that is social media. As a studio that works hard to adapt—creating multiple outdoor spaces that cater to CDC health guidelines and social distance—we sought to not feed any more attention or credence to vocal calls that counter public health consensus. Only after listening to our community, though, do we understand that even if political-seeming messaging unrelated to the studio that we had dismissed as benign, or simply related protesting mask usage (and not race), we are responsible for addressing how it is heard and internalized in our community. If that message makes our students afraid to come to class, it is our problem to dismiss and dispel—and when we listen to science and empirical data showing racial and ethnic minority groups being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, we must to do more for those afraid to even leave home in fears of being met with open hostility.
These voices matter. Our studio is not the victim here. We are a radical vector for community health, growth, and empathy. We will continue to adapt to this virus and continue live streaming for those whose health does not permit them to attend outdoor classes in person. We will continue standing up and showing up to hold a safe space for all bodies who feel their race prohibits them from practicing in a dangerously politicized and polarized environment. We will not advocate chest-beating in the streets when we need to be advocates for every member of our yoga community, full stop. We are already setting an example of how to navigate these crises together, on the streets, in the parks, on the rooftops, on the lawns of our community center, proclaiming that we can do better good practicing together in humility, moving as one. We do not need to broadcast our strength, or amplify judgements of others' views; we know our power in collective movement and compassion.
Like we do in our yoga practice, we recognize the tension and the irritation of this moment, we feel it deeply, we listen to our bodies, and then we release, breathe, and move forward as a better collective body.
This article hurt us deeply, and for our emotional, kneejerk over-reaction we now bow and offer a formal apology if it caused any harm, or any ambiguity with where we stand on science, health, and racial justice. But we will no longer wallow in poor-me victimization. We are done crying. We can take a gut-punch from having our business name slandered and still stand in power for our community. Sure, it was a shock to our system, but for that jolt we are grateful this story and moment could prove an agent for reminding us of who we are and who we stand for, and how to listen, how to check our biases, and how to maintain integrity—to keep doing work to become better versions of ourselves. So we will take our lumps and look to improve with this reminder of yoga’s power to make real, positive empowering changes in each of us, business by business, body by body—necessary changes making us a stronger community who can keep adapting and keep listening and keep growing together.
Chief Changemaker | EPIC Yoga
Empowering People Inspiring Change