Yogic Activism: Changing your world from the inside.

Yogic Activism: Changing your world from the inside.

Article by Hayley Price

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ Mahatma Gandhi

Yoga is a way of life, a process of Self inquiry, Understanding and Connection. A true Yogi is not necessarily one who can perform impressive feats with their body, but one who has the perspective, wisdom and inner strength to remain in a state of Clarity and Equanimity amongst life’s many fluctuations and challenges; one who is consistently connected to their Dharma, or life’s purpose. The Yoga postures and practices connected with Yoga are tools to uncover this innate potential that exists within us all. 

As Sharon Gannon, Co-creator of ‘Jivamukti Yoga,’ states

‘You cannot do Yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.’

Yoga gives us space to relax and be without judgement or analysis and enables us to become more present, even as life changes around us. Gently, with time and practice, we can release our tight grip on things that have past and the resistance of what is to come and surrender into life and all it has to offer and teach us as confident, courageous, effulgent beings.

Yoga offers us a direct line of insight into our own inner nature and ripens within us a sense of Self and Universal responsibility. We can recognise our potential as human beings and allow ourselves to live a vibrant, joyful life that has not intentionally come at the expense of others, but that embraces and considers all as part of our own Selves; as living within our own hearts.

If we could see ourselves in the faces of all that we encounter, from the most radiant to the most grotesque, and truly experience them as different potentials of our own Self, how would we see the world? How would we respond? What would we offer?

‘And when he sees Me in all and sees all in Me,
Then I never leave him and he never leaves Me.
And he, who in this oneness of love
Loves Me in whatever he sees,
Wherever this man may live,
In truth, he lives in Me…’
Bhagavad Gita, VI: 30, 31

Yoga affirms that when we transform ourselves from the inside then, often, the world around us changes. We become living examples of our aspiration and, because of the yogic tools we use to deepen our relationship towards ourselves, a wider field of compassionate understanding, patience and forgiveness arises within the expanse of our hearts that offers perspective and a genuine heart-felt connection to those around us.  

Yoga, as with any form of contemplative practice from any tradition that encourages Self-awareness, Responsibility and Connection to ourselves and others is one of the most powerful ways to stand up for what we believe in. In yoga, we don’t just talk about how we would like things to be; we become them. And in this way, we offer ourselves to the world as living examples of our own inner vision towards peace, integrity and wisdom.

‘The practice of Yoga is usually not THE path as much as the path to YOUR path.’ Aadhil Palkivala

Yoga has many meanings. One of them is to Yoke, to Unite. This doesn’t mean to evaporate into a state of sameness with everyone else. There are about as many paths in yoga as there are people! The point is to be fully your own expression of ‘Unity within Diversity’; to find the part of the jigsaw puzzle of life that you fit into and give yourself fully to that. 

We learn to let go of destructive habits like comparing ourselves to others and the fear of what others may think. We trust that within our own uniqueness that there is a Universal Unity that can never not occur and, therefore, when we hold our integrity of being, our connection to ourselves, others and our environment then there is no need to feel shame or guilt in expressing our truth. When we are aligned with our own inner nature, how can we knowingly cause harm to another?

Being the change you wish to see in the world means embracing all potentials of your Self, relaxing into them and finding the part you play in the world that leads you to a state of true happiness and connection. 

‘He who knows not that the prince of darkness is but the other face of the king of light knows not me’ G. Manly Hall.

Yoga is also realistic. In Yoga, as in many ancient traditions, there are three aspects of being; Birth, Life itself and Death. In modern day society, the society we ourselves have created, we have come to fear, and even deny, the third aspect: death. This can be seen in the way we fear change and tend to hold a tight grip on the past and it is inside that these issues fester, waiting to explode.

In a society that clings so strongly to the notion that what we can control and know intellectually gives us power and life, the fear or change, the unknown, creates a deep psychological aversion. 

‘What we resist persists, what we look at disappears.’ Neale Donald Walsch

What would life be like if we could surrender to this inevitable change with more freedom? Were we to drop our addiction to excess stress, would we actually achieve our tasks with more efficiency and speed? What might we discover about ourselves in space and silence? Does our want to control lead to greater stress, pain and tension? 

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.’ H.H. The Dalai Lama

The cells in our bodies are transforming each and every moment. What we believed ten years ago has most likely died in our awareness and evolved into a deeper and more connected understanding of life through our experience. And, indeed, what we believe ten years from now may be completely different. Death is an undeniable part of life, part of living and part of nature. It is not simply physical, but mental, emotional and spiritual too. If we did not die in each and every moment, we would not be able to evolve, to grow or to become anything more than a stagnant statue; stone, cold and incapable of feeling. Yoga invites us to look closely at our relationship with death and find relaxation within that which we cannot control.

‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest of souls; the most massive of characters are seared with scars’ Rumi

This is not to say that we knowingly invite suffering upon ourselves, but only that we transform our relationship towards it. There is no more space for blame or victimhood as the responsibility lies deep within us to create and fully embody the transformation we seek outside of ourselves. We become fully empowered and see all that we experience not as obstacles, but as tools to unravel the hidden corners of our Being and to bring each and every part of ourselves into the light.

‘Wariorship is a continual journey. To be a warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.’ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

We need not wrap ourselves up in cotton wool and deny ourselves life as there is beauty even in the darkest corners of our hearts. We could not appreciate the masterpiece of an inspiring painting were it not for its contrast of shadow and light. We can give ourselves permission and space to be whole. And in this wholeness, is Yoga. 

‘All methods are traps. We just have to choose our traps wisely, and hope they’ll self-destruct after they have served their purpose.’ Ram Das

Becoming fanatical about a particular path is a sure sign that the path has become a trap, that there is tension and that the heart has become cold. It is the typical black and white thinking of an inner child who has misunderstood. In yoga, we can become childlike, full of joy, but we do not become childish. We approach the path with Ahimsa, non-violence, Karuna, compassion, and the understanding that what works for us may not work for another. Each must carve their own journey. 

A wonderful way of checking if your practice is evolving or not is observing how much the essence of the practice overflows into and transforms your daily life, how much you wish to share the essence of the practice, not necessarily the practice itself, with others. 

‘As we evolve, our asana practice remains important, but if we focus entirely on it and make the performance of poses the end result of our endeavour, our practice becomes an obstacle to our own evolution.’ Aadil Palkhivala

Yogic Activism invites a process of honest Self inquiry and a courage that bestows an unwavering faith in our movements towards the Unknown. Looking deeply within, the Yogi humbly lives their Dharma and allows the qualities of wisdom, compassion, friendliness, celebration, love and a deep trust in life to unfold within and shine through. 

‘In relation to happiness, misery, virtue and vice, by cultivation the attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively, the mind becomes purified and peaceful.’ Sutra 33, Chpt 1; Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, translated by Swami Satyananda

In other words, through the practice of Yoga, the Brahmavihara, the four attitudes, blossom forth:

‘1. Friendliness toward the joyful
2. Compassion for those who are suffering
3. Celebrating the good in others
4. Remaining impartial to the imperfections of others
the same Sutra, translated by Donna Farhi

Yogic Activism is the process by which we live our day to day lives with integrity, awareness and contentment, imbibing the essence of Yoga given to us by the practice and by the potency of our presence.

‘Oneness doesn’t mean that we don’t honour our individuality. The more conscious we are of Oneness, the more our individual lives reflect that awareness. We’re no longer only concerned with our small, separate, individual world, so more harmonious qualities can flow into our lives.’ Ram Das

 There is no ‘perfect form’ we must adopt, no shape we must mould ourselves to. There is no need to indulge in elaborate displays of achievement or shout it from the rooftops (unless that is your Dharma of course!). It is simply who we are. And, through and within that, the world around us transforms.

 ‘And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’ Anais Nin

So, what does Yogic Activism look like for you? What matters to you? What do you live for? I ask again, if you are truly living a life of wisdom, connection and love is it possible to knowingly cause harm to another in the name of your success? Consider what it means to fully embody Yoga and before acting in the name of Yoga – Be Aware!

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.’ Viktor Frankel

Yogi Be. Yogi Do.

Recommended reading

‘Four Chapters on Freedom’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
‘Bringing Yoga to Life’ by Donna Farhi
‘Fire of Love’ by Aadhil Palkivala
‘Paths to God’ by Ram Das
‘River of Compassion: A Christian commentary on the Bhagavad Gita’ by Father Bede Griffiths
‘Conversations with God’ by Neale Donald Walsch
‘Shambhala: The Sacred path of the Warrior’ by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche