What “should” and “should not” form part of a yoga class is a pretty frequent topic for conversation in yoga circles along with what “is” and “is not” yoga. A hot debate is: does politics have a place in yoga? Many people feel that yoga should be a retreat from the troubles of life, we come to our mat to relax and forget about the world. True, that. Yoga is a powerful tool for relaxation and wellbeing.
However, a sustained practice of yoga cannot, for me, be anything other than political. Note the small “p”. I’m not talking party politics. I’m not talking about asking who you voted for, making people of different political opinions feel unwelcome, inviting you to join a party. But *why* is it so taboo to talk politics (never mind periods! that’s for another blog!)? We are all adults are we not? What are we so scared of? Causing offence? We all have opinions, which we should be free to express considerately, and we can also choose to listen to different opinions without being offended, providing the sharer of the different opinion is not being outright rude! I enjoy part of my role as a facilitator of these conversations and have been told I hold space well for this and encourage a respectful debate. Yoga is my reference point for my own political positions, and it is my vehicle for sharing and communicating with the world.
As we practice yoga over time, we become initially more self aware. We might start to make changes – to eat more healthily for example. To prioritise self-care. We then start to connect more with ourselves and through that connection with ourselves comes connection to others and to our lived environment. As we explore making healthy choices for ourselves, we become more aware of the impact of our choices on others. Where are our clothes made? Is someone exploited at some point in the supply chain? How is our food grown? Do the chemicals used on our fruit and vegetables harm not only us, but the people who live and work on the land, and the other species of animals and plant who inhabit it? How are the animals we eat raised? The homeless person outside the station – but for a couple of different twists and turns, could that have been *me*? *Can* we continue to consume at the rate we are without destroying the planet? The conscious yogi cannot avoid these uncomfortable questions. The conscious yoga indeed should not avoid these uncomfortable questions. This is about getting real, seeing things with clarity as they truly are.
We begin to act from a place of increased connection and awareness, so rather than “switching off” through our yoga practice, we “switch on”.
We develop compassion first for ourselves, and then for others. This order of play is really important because part of a conscious practice is knowing our limitations – the courage to change what we cannot accept, accept what we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. It means we act from a place of awareness: I see pain and suffering in the world. I cannot fix it all. I cannot fix any of it if I am depleted. So I will practice my daily yoga, I will rest and eat well, and I will make a donation to the foodbank; I will stop and chat for 10 minutes to the homeless guy and take him a hot drink; I will take the train today rather than the car; I will buy organically grown food where I can; I will make time for a friend I know is struggling. These small conscious actions add up if more of us do them. And sometimes we do just need to forget the world for an hour. Our actions start to generate a wider influence – we quietly lead by example. And sometimes we take the risk of loudly calling out something that is not right. Anger is not often discussed as being an “acceptable” emotion on or off the yoga mat, and so gets suppressed. It’s a natural human emotion and a completely legitimate response to terrorism, abuse and senseless destruction. When we’re told not to feel it, that creates more disconnection and distrust in our own responses. When we engage with it, name it and hold it (rather than acting on it on impulse, which can be extremely unhelpful!) we can channel it to help us change the things we can, and should not accept.
I was delighted to receive this totally unsolicited comment after a workshop I ran last weekend under the title of “Changing Seasons”, in which we explored some of these themes in terms of life sometimes being difficult and messy, and not always love and light. “Thank you for a brilliant workshop yesterday. I was touched so deeply by some of the practices you shared. You have a real gift of communication – such evocative language and such fkn truth.”
So, of course, come to class and relax, there is always time and space for that. And also be ready to change the things you can’t accept, shake off some taboos and ask some awkward questions.