May 7, 2014

Practice as Protest: The Radical Potential of Ashtanga Yoga. ~ Andrea Reid

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With the increasing popularity and practice of yoga in its various forms, I often wonder whether this increase in numbers is in any way helping to propel the change that is so vital to this world.

How can weas practitioners in the contemporary context of neoliberalism and global crisismaintain the radical impulse inherent in ashtanga yoga, taking our practice beyond the mat to envision new worlds, new relations and new modes of being?

There is no part of my life that has not been significantly altered by this wild love affair with practice. Simply having the context of practice in which to live your life opens you up to a more mindful way of living, cultivating a sense of curiosity and interest towards even the most seemingly mundane aspects of life.

Practice helps us appreciate just how subtle change is, grounding us in the present moment and reminding us that the possibility of transformation exists in the here and now. Practice transforms life into an art— a truly creative expression of ethics, joy and passion.

By placing our lives in the context of practice, yoga connects us with the impermanence of life, destabilizing our sense of self so that we can see our lives as process rather than as something fixed and permanent.

This simple yet profound shift in perspective offers endless possibilities for transformation by illuminating every moment as an opportunity for practice. This practice represents a chance to disrupt our compulsions and narratives so that we may create the space and clarity necessary for creative responses rather than defaulting to our conditioned reactions to life.

So often our lives are driven by our compulsionsour self-constructed narratives about who we are and how the world works. We get caught up in the momentum of these energies and they obscure the possibility of any real engagement with the way things actually are.

Through practice, we learn to develop the trust necessary to stop, to take a step back and look honestly at the stories we tell ourselves and the conditions those stories create and sustain.

Often we are afraid to stop because we don’t want to see.

We don’t realize that in that simple act of stoppingin that willingness to seethere is freedom. This freedom comes from understanding both ourselves and our conditioning, and allows us the ability to respond from a place of clarity and compassion.

Practice should facilitate dialogue.

It should expand our awareness and dismantle our notions of what is “other.”

Change cannot happen in the absence of connection and conversation. Every day, in every moment, we should practice with the intention of realizing alternative non-hierarchical relationships  between ourselves and the world and beings around us.

If we see yoga as a radically creative impulse that propels us to awaken the intelligence of our bodies and minds in order to critically engage with the dysfunction that has been normalized to almost unbelievable levels,and we discover for ourselves what is real beyond the habitual conditioning of our attachments and aversions, then the social and political implications of such a practice are truly boundless.

One person cannot change the world. One person can, however, have an impact on those around them, and collectively the possibilities become endless.

Through consistent, dedicated practice we can cultivate a deep sense of independence and self-knowing that will allow us to realize the critical and creative capacities inherent in each and every one of us.

From this place of self-knowledge, we are equipped with the faculties necessary to ethically and critically engage all aspects of society, no matter the form or content.

The practice of ashtanga yoga has allowed me to understand all of life as practice.

It has transformed my mind and body into a fascinating field of insight and investigation, allowing me to explore and understand the ways in which internal and external change are not separate, but are one and the same.

Every thought and interaction provides an opportunity for practice.

It is up to each of us to develop the awareness and courage necessary to really look at ourselvesto stop often and long enough to see the conditions we are creating and to cultivate the trust necessary to change them.

We cannot wait or hope for someone else to come along and change things for us—we have to embody those changes and creatively live them into being.

Transformation exists in the space created through practice.


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Apprentice Editor: Brandy Mansfield/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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Andrea Reid