October 3, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Practice of Tolerance? ~ Kevan Gale

Photo: Kevan Gale

Turn on the radio or scan the news headlines and you’re sure to find an example of intolerance in the world today.

Topics such as sexual preference, political views and religion are so hotly debated, and beliefs on these matters so firmly held, that anger and violence often ensue. What is it about hearing someone else’s viewpoint that could lead to such violence? Have we lost our practice of tolerance?

The practice of tolerance has long been an important part of the yogic practice. Dating back as far as 6000 to 8000 years ago, the Upanishads (Hindu philosophical texts) emphasized tolerance as one of the ten yamas (personal restraints). Likewise, the Pali Canon emphasized khanti (tolerance) as one of its paramitas (perfections). Today, Western science tells us that tolerant people are happier people. So we know that tolerance is important, but what exactly is it?

Tolerance is a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one’s own. From a yogic standpoint, tolerance is composure of mind and heart in the face of adversity and differences. It’s the ability to restrain oneself from acts of aggression and insult, and instead practice acts of patience. Tolerance helps us develop compassion, love and understanding while enduring criticism, aggression or hate. Through tolerance, we begin to move beyond the afflictions of our own mind, and end up in a place of compassion toward others, where we can clearly see our similarities and appreciate our differences.

Tolerance is not the denial of feeling or thought, but rather the opening of our hearts and minds. It comes through the hard work of mental training, meditation and asana practice. When we hit the mat and are faced with the irritation of not holding a balance, or feel frustration from a difficult pose, we return to our breath and find peace. When we are meditating and afflictions arise, we return to our breath and find peace. So when we hit the streets and are challenged with insult, aggression or arrogance, we should do as we would in our yoga practice, and return to our breath and find peace.

Here are some other practices for developing tolerance beyond the yoga mat:


Feeling weak, achy or a little under the weather? Be mindful of these emotions, understand where they are coming from and transform your feelings into gratitude for the body you have and the things you are able to do.


Is a friend or stranger ranting and raving about a political view that you disagree with? Try to understand that person’s point of view, and, more importantly, understand your own mind. Are you feeling threatened by what he or she has to say? If so, why? Can you find anything the person is saying which you partially agree with? Embrace that commonality.

Still feeling irritated? Try a compassionate meditation like tonglen. Specifically, imagine inhaling the other’s pain and suffering, and then exhaling relief and happiness.


Stuck in line when you’re trying to get somewhere? Accept the reality of your situation and don’t waste your energy thinking about where else you’d like to be. Instead, use this time as an opportunity! Take time to get to know the people in front of you. Making a connection with others is a great way to increase your own happiness.

Through our practices of asana, meditation and active mind training, we can enter a place of understanding and tolerance. To perfect tolerance is to shed some ego and be one step further on the path of liberation. Doing so will surely lead to a happier world.


Kevan Gale is co-owner of Stil Studio, located in Dedham, MA. His dynamic and vigorous Fluid Yoga classes are an expression of meditative movement. He has been featured in the Emmy award-winning news program Chronicle, Stuff magazine, Boston magazine and others. Kevan has taught large-scale classes throughout New England and beyond, including at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Wanderlust, Boston’s Liberty Hotel, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Lululemon’s Salutation Nation which featured 1000 yogis practicing on the Boston Common. You can practice with Kevan at Stil Studio or online at www.myyogaonline.com. His goal is to spread happiness far and wide and to inspire students to live their fullest lives.


Editor: Jayleigh Lewis

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