While the yoga practice is often portrayed as something zen, bendy and brightening, the heart of yoga is far from passive and apathetic. The stereotype of the carefree hippie may still be strongly tied to the practice, and yoga may bring about feelings of well-being, but at the end of the day, this practice has the power to create warriors out of us . After all, the hippies practicing yoga of the 1960s and 70s in the U.S. were often passionately protesting violent wars and advocating for civil rights. Consistent yoga practice has the tendency to open our hearts, expand our awareness and can unearth such deep empathy that we’re sprung into action. Today, I want to discuss with you this intersection of social justice and yoga, why it will always exist, and how to find your place in it.
While there are technically four spiritual paths of yoga, Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless action. There may be many Western yogis that don’t necessarily adhere to Hinduism and consciously choose this path of Karma Yoga, yet this intersection of social justice and yoga is still a natural occurrence. Yoga practice, along with the study of the self and the eight limbs, can often lead to a more expanded sense of empathy, as well as awareness of ethics and injustice in the world. After all, when you spend time in meditation exploring the darkest parts of your being, it can be hard not to look around and see everyone else’s inherent humanity, too. Practices of cultivating gratitude and sending metta (loving kindness) can amplify this as well. Our yoga practice then teaches us to use our voices (open throat chakra) and tap into our intuition (third eye chakra) to follow our path in this life (dharma).
However, in a world full of stimulation, online conversations and endless news alerts, it can seem overwhelming to know WHICH actions to take. Doomsday thinking can make daily efforts feel pointless. Big-time, school-skipping activists like the incredible Greta Thunberg can be awe-inspiring, and at the same time leave you thinking, what can I do? My answer to you: a whole lot. In a world this large, we need activists big and small. We need the dramatic movements and the mindful efforts. We need people yelling for justice, and people breathing through a yoga practice together. Every moment counts, and your efforts, no matter how small, have a ripple effect.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about this “ripple effect” and it changed my life. She was telling me how she truly believed her smallest efforts added to a larger impact. She told me how she wouldn’t have come to recycle if she hadn’t seen her parents dedicated to the practice, and she believes that her recycling, composting and reducing her waste will inspire others just through the act of it. This took me aback because I realized I had, in fact, been inspired and moved to action by her efforts myself.
Even just yesterday, I was listening to a yoga podcast in which the host, Rachel Brathen, spoke of having recently posted a short yoga flow video to Instagram, centered around neck health. She did it without a second thought, only to receive a message from a woman thanking her, for she’d recently been almost completely paralyzed and this video was her first accessible reintroduction back into yoga since her accident. Small action, huge impact.
Anne-Marie Bonneau, a zero-waste chef, has recently been quoted saying “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Whether it be zero waste, or other ways in which you take action, this quote applies. Do it anyways, no matter how imperfect. We might never know how our actions affect others. Our ripples may not even show themselves to us in this lifetime, but they exist all the same.
Want to learn more about yoga and social justice? Check out the links below!