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“Self-Compassion and self-love”: One on one with Dalia Bender

Dalia Bender, first year at Mills College—and teacher of those free yoga classes you’ve been hearing about—pauses mid-vent to take a bite out of her Tea Shop pastry, “Ending climate change is more than using disposable forks.”

The native New Yorker sat down with me Monday afternoon to discuss the impact she is making on campus. Not only is she offering free weekly yoga classes on campus, but Bender also spearheads the Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people fighting to end climate change and create jobs in the process. She is organizing a campus climate strike for this upcoming Earth Day, trying to spread the message of legislative action to fight climate change.

The young activist explains that she has been teaching yoga for two years, and was looking for studios in the area when she saw that there were few classes that are financially accessible to all.

“Yoga has become a product to be sold. Even as a yoga teacher, I can’t afford to take classes,” says Bender as she explains her reasoning for starting her free weekly classes.

When asked her favorite part about teaching yoga, she ponders the question and responds, “Seeing how people discover what the practice does for their own lives. Yoga is a really good area to have some self-compassion and self-awareness.”

“I don’t believe that yoga is the only way to take care of ourselves,” Bender clarifies as she pauses to take another bite of her pastry. She expands that practicing self-love or self-care is “doing the things you like more. We are constantly moving. Take a second to slow down and ask yourself what you need: have you eaten, have you drank water, done something you really wanted to do today?”

“At least once in your day, check-in with yourself, see how you’re feeling and what you can do to feel better. Self-care is more than internal care; it’s community care. Activism is self-care. You’re watching out for your community.”

Bender encourages those who are cautious about trying yoga to step out of their comfort zone.”There are so many excuses we give ourselves. I encourage people to just try it. If they are hesitant because they aren’t flexible enough, well, then when they are ready to take that step and explore yoga, they can try it!” she states. “For me, moving my body is a way for me to get into my heart. We have a lot of the tools that we are looking for inside of ourselves. If someone wants to come, I want them to know that they are completely welcome. I always say at the beginning of class that if you want to lay on your back for the whole hour, I think that’s a wonderful use of your time. You don’t always have to do what the teacher does.” She wants her practitioners to “feel like they have autonomy and know that it is their choice.

In addition to teaching yoga and fighting against climate change, Bender is majoring in public health and is looking to follow a career in reproductive justice and work as a doula. However, she adds that she thinks “there are already enough white yoga teachers and doulas in the world, and I would like to make more of a systemic change. I love people and working with people, but I think my role is not going to be impactful if I just do direct patient care and not reproductive policy.”

By now we have finished our pastries, but that doesn’t stop Bender from informing me about her favorite class on campus: doula training, which is run by CornerStone Doula Trainings.

“Within the first class all of our [the class] perspective was changed of what doula work is. It’s not just holding the hand of a birthing person, it’s really serving as a patient advocate.” Bender continues by explaining, “You are their physical, emotional and spiritual support in whatever way they need in birth, and it’s really all about informed consent. So much of the work is just dropping your ego and what you think is best for them and really honoring that it’s their birth, and you are there to serve [their wishes]. You need to be able to hold space in one of their most vulnerable and intense moments of their life.”

When asked how she plans on using her newfound passion, she takes a moment before responding, “White women take up a lot of space in birth work and yoga as well; being a doula isn’t just about helping people give birth, but is about reproductive justice, and I want to analyze the way I can best serve people.”