May 19, 2015

Is There Space for Politics in Yoga?


This morning, in class, I made a lighthearted comment regarding a general election.

We were discussing the throat chakra and how to avoid poisonous speech. I laughed and made a comment about digging deep to find something nice to say about the conservative party. I followed up by saying, “no, no politics in the yoga space.”

After class, I had a cuppa and chat with a teacher and new friend who I admire greatly. She said she made a similar comment in one of her classes this week. Then she said, “But actually I do think there is space for politics in yoga.”

As I went about the rest of my morning, I was dwelling on this and decided that I agree. If anywhere is a space for politics, activism and standing up for what you believe in, then the yoga space is surely it.

Here’s my rant.

The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa: non-violence and kindness to all beings. To me, it is the most important of these yogic commandments from which others stem. It is why I am vegetarian. It’s why I always give money for the street animals when I’m in Bali or India. It is why I passionately believe that we should all give back to the community in any way that we can. It’s why I ran a yoga for cancer charity in Australia. It’s why I’m running regular food bank fundraisers here in Falmouth. And, it’s why, on New Years Day, when the rest of the town was sleeping, I went and brought coffee and cake for a local homeless man who spent the night in freezing weather.

I’m not writing this to make me sound like an awesome human. I’m writing this because, to be honest, I wish I didn’t need to do these simple f*cking things. I wish things like food banks didn’t need to exist and that a homeless man in the rich, white county of Cornwall had somewhere to sleep when December ticked into January. But if I turned a blind eye to the things that stirred my soul, then what sort of yogi would I be?

I want the world to be a better, brighter place for my son to grow up in.

In Jivamukti yoga, the founders Sharon and David are animal activists. Sharon has written numerous books about veganism and animal rights. Many of the teachers in Jivamukti, NYC have their own personal campaigns and they are encouraged to take action, to speak and to embrace peaceful activism as part of their yoga teaching.

On the Jivamukti website, Sharon and David say this:

We can’t help but to be political. Everything each of us does as individuals affects the whole. The word politic refers to the greater body or the community in which one lives. To be politically active is to be conscious of how your actions affect the community and to strive to improve and contribute to the enhancement of that community. Yoga teaches that we have an individual body and a universal body, and when we perceive and care for both equally—when we try to see ourselves in others—then we are moving toward the enlightened state. Everything we see in the world around us is nothing more than a projection of what is inside of us, so If we don’t like something that we see happening in the world, as yogis we know that the only way to create lasting change is to root it out in ourselves.”

You can read more here.

My teacher, Jasmine, is constantly raising awareness of poverty, racism and prejudice in and around San Francisco. As part of my teacher training, we were all required to volunteer at a homeless shelter that provides food and community for the homeless of the city. It was one of the most moving, deeply upsetting and yet vibrantly uplifting days of my life. Talk about getting a perspective.

The Dalai Lama says, “I consider human rights work or activism to be a kind of spiritual practice. By defending those people who are persecuted for their race, religion, ethnicity, or ideology, you are actually contributing to guiding our human family to peace, justice, and dignity.”

One of the main paths of yoga is karma yoga. Karma yoga, as described in the Bhagavad Gita is the yoga of action. Help others, do good, speak out for those less fortunate then yourself or those who do not have a voice, make the world a better place.

I don’t need you to agree with my politics but, in light of elections and the anticipated changes to the healthcare, the need for even more food banks and the rise of people living well below the poverty line, ask yourself what you can do to make a difference.

Maybe start by donating one tin of food to the food bank this week.


Relephant Read:

6 qualities to Instill in our Children so they can Change the World.


Author: Keren Cooksey

Apprentice Editor: Kristi Trader / Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Mira66/Flickr

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Keren Cooksey