Woman, Life, Freedom

The death of a 22-year-old girl, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the “morality police” of the Iranian Islamic government for her loose hijab (headscarf) has brought millions of Iranians across the world together to create a better future for their homeland, which is now encountering its largest protests ever against the Islamic dictatorship.

The Iranian people, women specifically, are fighting for basic human rights. Women of all ages are burning their headscarves and cutting their hair as a sign of protest against the “compulsory hijab” law in addition to all of the regime’s discriminatory rules against women. In a dictatorship where women are treated as second-class citizens, some of the archaic rules, which were implemented after the 1979 Islamic revolution when the current dictatorship came to power, include:

• The age of marriage for girls was lowered from 18 to 9.

• Schools are segregated by sex for students.

• Women are banned from most public beaches and pools unless they are segregated.

• Many buses are segregated in two parts, front for men and back for women. Other buses are women-only. Trains have wagons specifically for women.

• Women have been barred from entering sports stadiums. (recently FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, threatened to ban Iran from international competitions if this cannot be changed)

• Single women can not check into a hotel.

• Married women cannot leave the country without their husband’s permission — single women need their father’s permission.

• Women cannot marry non-Muslim men, while men can marry despite religion. For example, my marriage is recognized in all countries except Iran. For us to be legally married, my husband would have to convert to Islam.

• All females age 9 and older are mandated to wear a head covering or hijab. Violators face punishments that include up to two months in prison, fines, and up to 74 lashes.

These are only a fraction of the biased laws against women. In a regime where a mere 6% of women hold national legislative seats when the world average is 23%, it comes as no surprise that women are not being fairly represented in any aspect of the current government.

Today, with over 4 million Iranians living abroad, the Persian diaspora has only grown since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This is in large part due to the unjust laws, segregation, lack of women’s rights, economic instabilities, and hopelessness of imagining a future in a country run by fundamentalists in which the overwhelming majority disagree. But not everyone can just leave. It is difficult to immigrate from Iran due to the closed nature of the country and the limited acceptance of Iranian passports for entrance to other countries. Typically the path to immigration is solely through academics. It goes like this — study hard, get accepted into a foreign university, and don’t come back. The other options are through marriage, immediate family, or moving to a third country such as Turkey, which allows Iranians to enter, buy or rent a home and obtain a resident visa.

The people of Iran are resilient — whether it be finding a way out or standing up against tyranny from the inside. Today the people of Iran are not only protesting against mandatory hijab laws — they will no longer accept life under a dictatorship regime. This comes with a big cost. Hundreds of protesters and other innocent citizens have been shot in the streets of Iran by police. Many activists, students, and ordinary citizens are being arrested with no explanation and are in unknown situations. As I am writing this, the police in Iran are beating, detaining, arresting, and killing its citizens without explanation or consequence. The Islamic regime has shut down and/or limited internet access, so people can not communicate with anyone inside or out. All of these crimes against the citizens of Iran will go without accountability. Iran’s unjust legal system has no recourse for these crimes, and all will go unpunished, free to violate citizens indiscriminately to protect the regime.

The protests are now in the third week, having spread to hundreds of cities all over Iran. Many dual-Iranian citizens around the world are joining the protesters to show support. The freedom rally on October 1, 2022, in more than 150 cities worldwide demonstrated this global unity. My family and I joined the Toronto, Canada gathering,where an estimated 50,000 people came together in support.

“Women, Life, Freedom” chants can be heard at the rallies and protests inside and outside of Iran. These three words have become the cornerstone of this movement. These words are the echo of freedom. Many believe a peaceful middle east could be possible with dictatorships like we see in Iran abolished. The world needs to hear the words “Women, Life, Freedom” coming from Iranian voices — and the world needs to support them. This is a historical movement not only for Iranian women, this is a milestone for all feminist movements. If the sharing of information on social media, gathering in the streets with a common message and coming together to overthrow this brutal dictatorship, then I believe this can be an inspiration to everyone around the world fighting injustice everywhere.

Why does this matter to Yogis?

We can define yoga in so many different ways. What we strive for is connection and unity. The CONNECTION with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us. What yoga is teaching us is that even the smallest moves, muscles, and steps on the journey matter. Yoga is teaching us that everything is connected. Yoga is teaching us UNITY. This is what I call the TRUE YOGA. This is how I define yoga.

Yoga is a self-journey. People are unique, and so is the journey. My journey was never easy due to my nationality and culture. I’m sure your personal journey has come with obstacles that needed great strength and resilience to overcome. We have learned when something is taken away from you, you become even more passionate about it — I never gave up on my dreams, and I never will.

I studied IT, and when I graduated from university, I left my country, Iran to pursue a yogic life in India and Nepal which has since led me to the US.

Today, as I look back, I see that every step in my life was necessary to be here where I stand now — to get up every day and think about how I can help somebody today.

Over the last decade of my life practicing and teaching yoga, I try and do my very best every day by asking myself — How can I make the world we are living in a better place? I have tried to do this by devoting my yoga practice as a teacher to focus on the inclusion of the underrepresented Persian-speaking community. We hold multiple 200-hour yoga teacher trainings throughout the year directed towards Persian speakers who may not have the resources that other language speakers have to go deeper into their practice. We offer hundreds of free Persian language yoga videos on youtube and are developing an app that intends to bring together other Persian yoga professionals to teach courses in Persian, building a community where yogis can come together and share yoga like the rest of the world.

Sometimes the best way to be of service is by helping the Iranian yoga community get recognized by the global yoga community.

In these troubling yet important times, the best thing I can do for my community is to cancel all classes and postpone all yoga projects, risking a business 10 years in the making, to lend my social media platforms to the people and messages that need to be seen. I am using my voice and privilege to share their stories, and their bravery with the world. From Yoga, I have learned that what we do in order to help others doesn’t have to be something special or big, it could be anything to teach, to give, to share. All that really matters is to do something with good intentions in support — a good deed for others.

As a yoga instructor, I believe we should always educate, elevate, guide, and support whoever shows up on our path of yoga, not necessarily only in our yoga classes. I always do my best to lead others on the path to self-achievement and harmony to the best of my sometimes limited ability.

Yoga has helped me through some of the hardest moments in my life. With that perspective, I try my best not only to teach asana and theories but also to teach what yoga gave me — a sense of purpose and hope.

As an Iranian American woman who was forced to leave my country for the very same unfair rules against women that I write about today, I stand with all my Iranian sisters, for I too know this pain. But besides being an Iranian woman, I am also a yogi, and isn’t yoga about standing with what’s right? Isn’t yoga about being truthful? This can be understood best by Satya, the second limb of Yama, from the eight limbs of yoga, which translates to being truthful in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. What’s happening in Iran should matter to you because, as a yogi, this is what we practice.

Just like everywhere in the world, yoga is very popular among Iranians. Though Iranian yoga teachers and practitioners, again mostly women, face obvious obstacles inside Iran, they still practice yoga with all their hearts and with passion. Many of them admire many of well-known western yoga teachers — following them on social media, listening to their podcasts, reading their books, and attending their workshops globally.

Last week when Kino MacGregor, Sadhguru, and Deepak Chopra showed their support for Iranian women on social media, their stories were being shared all over the Iranian yoga community in addition to the global community. By being the voice of people, you can give them hope for the future. You can show them that you see them. You can tell them that they are not underrepresented anymore. You can show them that they matter.

This is how you can help

You can write to your public officials about what is happening in Iran and ask them to stand with Iranian women and all affected Iranian citizens. Ask them to recognize and protect the people of Iran and not the Islamic regime.

If you have any platform such as podcast, blog, social media, etc., raise awareness by talking and sharing this issue or by inviting someone directly affected by this issue.

If you are an activist, journalist, or you know anyone that can talk or write about what is happening, inform them.

Share what you can, where you can, and however you can. A little support goes a long, long way.

Finally, I will leave you with this quote from 13th-century Persian poet and philosopher, Rumi — “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Please, meet us there.

By Samin Pourkhalili Solum

Samin is an experienced Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher ERYT 500, Om Mani Padme Hum School of Yoga Lead Trainer & Founder, and Liforme Brand Ambassador. For over 10 years, she has studied multiple variations of yoga discipline. The different styles she’s greeted on this path have been Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin, and traditional Hatha yoga. In addition, pranayama, meditation, chanting, anatomy, diet, mindfulness, and yogic philosophy are essential to her practice. She has developed a Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program designed specifically for Persian speakers.