The surprising way that yoga can help change the world
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”
Yoga is a powerful force for transformation, and the primary thing that is transformed through practice is our relationships.
Our relationship to ourselves. Our relationship to our environment. Our relationships to the people around us. Our relationship to Spirit.
And since yoga is a force for transforming relationships, I believe it is a force that can change the world. Changing the world starts with each of us, when we embody the change we want to see around us. And most of that change happens when we learn to sit in stillness and quiet with our own humanity and our own discomfort.
I predominantly teach Yin yoga. In the practice of Yin yoga, we come into poses held low to the ground, and hold them from 2 to 5 minutes. During that time, we soften our muscular bodies and our expectations, we get still and quiet, and we lean into the experience of what comes up, whatever that might be. And, often, what comes up is discomfort.
Discomfort at being still and quiet. Tightness in the hips. Ache in the low back. Boredom. Anger. Away from the usual comforts and distractions of phones and chores and conversations, we are alone with ourselves, and this is both the blessing and the curse of the practice. Because facing ourselves truthfully, honestly, and staring our own humanity in the face can be incredibly uncomfortable.
And there, right there, in that moment of discomfort, when we want to turn and run away from ourselves, is where we have the opportunity to change the world. Because when we learn to stay and hold a loving gaze on our faults and foibles, when we learn to welcome our own humanity in whatever messy form it shows up that day, we learn to welcome the messy, light-filled humanity of other people. And welcoming each other’s humanity is the foundation of building a world in which each person is valued, and enjoys the same basic rights as their neighbor. Welcoming our own humanity, and that of every other person, is the root of peace.
My job as a yoga teacher demands that I show up and hold space for students in moments where it can be painful to be in community. I taught a 10:30am Yin class the morning after the 2016 election. I taught the day after the Orlando shooting. In those moments I know many of the students before me are coming to class with heavy hearts. And what I tell them, from my own heavy, broken heart, is this:
This practice matters. The fact that you are here today matters.
Yoga is not not just a simple escape or relaxation practice--although it can function very effectively as both those things. When we open our hearts to our own discomfort, when we soften around our own hard edges, when we tentatively bring compassion and understanding to our own darkness, we strengthen our capacity to offer witness and compassion to another’s darkness. In doing so, we welcome their humanity. We reach a hand across the divide. We build bridges. We find out that we are not alone, that we are all made of the same stuff--sinews and bones and tender skin and hearts and heaps of messy feelings--and that if we are all made of the same stuff, then our task is to transform our relationships to honor this truth.
But it’s not enough to simply know that we are all made of the same stuff, and that our darkness isn’t so different than another’s darkness. In order to honor that truth in a way that can change relationships, we need to tend to and embody that truth through regular practices. The traditions of Yoga and meditation offer us a wealth of tools that can help us do just that. Tools that can not only help us effect the changes we want to see, but provide us with support and comfort as we root inside of the messy work of transformation.
We can begin to view each interaction with another person--whether our close loved ones, our colleagues and acquaintances, or strangers--as an opportunity to practice honoring the truth of our common humanity. We can make our words offerings of the same peace and joy that we’ve found for ourselves on the mat. We can step into uncomfortable conversations and approach them with the same skills as we’ve learned to bring to our most challenging yoga poses. We can practice creating firm boundaries for ourselves as an act of self-love and self-care, and in so doing give permission to others to create their own boundaries.
I created the Yoga for Relationships program because I wanted to create a body of work and practices around this central idea: that, through Yoga, we can consciously contribute to changing the world by transforming our relationships--with ourselves, and with each other. I wanted to give us all a framework from which to understand, and to deliberately practice, making peace with our own humanity. I wanted to gather the wisdom of Yoga teachings and philosophy, as well as certain Buddhist principles, into a set of simple but potent practices that can support us love warriors in the task of bringing the harmony we have found with ourselves through yoga off the mat, and into our everyday dealings with the people around us.
I invite you to join me on February 10th and 11th at Yoga Yoga Westgate. We will meet ourselves on the mat, learn to create a safe container in which to experience and honor our own humanity, and we will practice stepping off the mat to bring that transformation into the world.