Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Yoga Report from Berlin, Part 1: Covid Deniers, QAnon, and Shantifa

Reichstag (Parliament) in Berlin, Germany

by Katharina Pewny

The term yogi:ni that appears in this article is used in the German language to refer to women, men, and others in between genders. The colon (:) indicates that it includes people between genders –– similar to yogi*ni.

Simultaneous with the ongoing pandemic in Germany, I am witnessing a rise of voices from the yoga scene, as well as from esoteric and other spiritual circles, that deny the pandemic as a fact. Some people, yoga teachers among them, claim that accompanying measures such as contact tracing and vaccinations result from a worldwide conspiracy aiming at total surveillance of citizens. In public demonstrations, QAnon signs appear in front of Berlin's parliament building, the Reichstag, and some yoga teachers appear to be more in tune with these voices than with what I and others understand as yogic ethics.

In Germany, the denial of Covid-19 sometimes goes hand in hand with the claim that people who refuse to get vaccinated will soon be oppressed just as Jewish people were oppressed by the National Socialist terror regime in the 1930's. Simultaneously, some claim that people who accept the pandemic as fact are as misled as the German “masses” who believed in the Nazi politics of Adolf Hitler.

I recently saw an online post with claims like that on the page of someone who represents a Berlin based yoga studio that offers both yoga teacher training and yoga therapy trainings. Since we have evidence, written, verbal, and photographic, that the Nazis killed six million Jewish people and members of other vulnerable groups during the Holocaust, these other claims are blatant historical falsifications and dangerous twisting of historic facts.

Consequently, many yoga teachers speak out against such falsifications and in favor of democracy. I am especially glad to be part of the network Shantifa and the connected Facebook group Yogi:nis gegen rechts. Shantifa is a hybrid word, created from the Sanskrit word for peace, shanti, and antifa, meaning antifascist.

An older antifa movement here consisted of people who have dismantled hidden Nazi-heritages since the 1970's in governmental institutions, in the broader society, and in our own families. In these forums we discuss yoga as empathy for, and therefore equity for, all beings. We passionately debate the thin line between being against something (fascism) and for something (love, equity, and social justice).

The female goddess Green Tara is both centered within herself and ready to act up for those in need of support, sothe Green Tara symbolizes for me the simultaneousness of loving kindness and the urge to stand up for this ethical value. As I practice and teach more and more, my somatic perception deepens. I perceive differing energies, emotions, and all kinds of dynamics more and more precisely. I understand the teachings of AY as a political practice of equity because we intend to create yoga spaces for all formerly excluded practitioners. The concepts of ahimsa, nonviolence, and satya, speaking the truth, often serve as a common point of reference for the Shantifa yogi:nis.

What else should we do? Some people collect links of organisations that develop discussion strategies against Covid-denial, others write open letters to yoga studios that appear in the zone between Covid-denial and rightwing ideologies, and others offer Shantifa solidarity yoga classes. The profit from these solidarity classes goes directly to support organisations for refugees such as Seawatch, a nonprofit organization that rescues ship-wrecked refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, or non-governmental organizations (NGO's) that work against antisemitism. Personally, I am grateful for both the AY and the Shantifa-community, as both together nourish what, for me, is yoga: a holistic practice far beyond the mat or chair.

How could it end there? Mutual interconnectedness is both the source and the goal of many yoga practices and philosophies. We share this conviction with other spiritual beliefs, because spirituality is, according to Philip Sheldrake, and I paraphrase here, ...the relation to the self (or non-self, in Buddhist philosophies), and to all surroundings, including sentient beings and non-sentient materials. How we organize yogic practices and teachings is therefore, for me, inherently political.

Katharina Pewny
I did my teacher training in Zen Yoga at Dynamic Mindfulness in Berlin, and in 2019 I did both a Senior Yoga and an Accessible Yoga training. As I have recurrent health issues and my mission is to offer practices for a range of movement abilities. You can find me here: and

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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