McColly bridges AIDS activism, LGBT awareness and yoga's healing powers
When most guest speakers ask audience members to turn off their cellular phones, Michael McColly asked his audience members to put their forks down, close their eyes and meditate.
McColly, a yoga instructor, Columbia College Chicago professor and best-selling author of “The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism,” read a passage from his book and spoke to a roomful of students at the Women’s Center last Friday.
His talk, entitled “Breaking the Silence: Yoga for Activism,” was sponsored by the Princeton Yoga Club and coincided with the National Day of Silence. The event focused on several issues, including using yoga as a tool for healing, the international AIDS epidemic, McColly’s experiences as a bisexual HIV positive writer suffering from depression and addiction, and activism in and outside of the University.
Before the talk, McColly held a two-hour “Yoga Workshop for Creativity” in the Rocky-Mathey Classroom, practicing sun salutations, simple asanas (postures), meditation, pranayama (breathing) and writing exercises to explore the link between creativity and yoga.
“Yoga has been very helpful and basically saved my life,” McColly said.
McColly spoke about his experience teaching a yoga workshop at an AIDS conference in South Africa, stressing yoga’s capabilities for healing.
Nine months later, McColly decided to become an AIDS activist and use the skills he possessed as a journalist and creative writer. “I sold most of my things, took out credit cards — four of them — decided to go back and see what I could do [about the AIDS epidemic].”
Currently, McColly is still in debt from his travels expenses and has no health insurance.
McColly interviewed sex workers, social workers, healers, leaders and doctors in Asia and Africa and recorded his experiences teaching yoga and interacting with other HIV positive individuals in his book. Through writing his book, he hoped to spread awareness of the scale of the AIDS epidemic.
“HIV and AIDS deal with so many issues collectively,” McColly said. “What inspired me was activism. The door opened for me and people led me around the world.”
“I felt like I needed to respond [to the AIDS epidemic],” he said. “I was teaching yoga to 30-year-old white women [in the United States]. There’s a problem sometimes with a lot of do-goodism in America.”
Though he felt the need to help HIV positive individuals through activism and yoga, having an American teach yoga in its place of origin “felt sacrilegious,” McColly said.
Vice president of the Yoga Club Olaf Sakkers ’11 said that McColly’s visit was personally significant. “I worked in a hospital in South Africa and that’s why [the] AIDS [issue] affected me a lot. Yoga is more a tool for the self. It’s not necessarily going to stop the pandemic.”
“I think it ran very smoothly and I think people enjoyed it for the most part,” Elizabeth Cooper ’11, president of the Yoga Club, said. “I really loved throughout the process how supportive people were.”
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