Yoga and Activism
In October, 2015 one of my dreams came true. I was arrested. In tree pose. With my hands behind my back I grew roots from the bottom of my right foot and balanced on one leg as the police officer placed handcuffs on my branches. I swayed gently back and forth and sang a song of solidarity with my fellow arrestees as I protested the larger forces that are jeopardizing the state of our life giving, natural environment as I sought to give voice to the trees of the world that are being felled in great numbers to make way for economic development. Trees which give us oxygen, trees which give us food, trees which give us shelter and so much more and which inspire us with their grandiose beauty.
On that day, my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Kelly, and I decided we’d be arrested for the cause of preventing toxic chemicals from being stored underneath the waters of the life giving waters of Seneca Lake that we live next to. On that day, we went with the purpose of representing ourselves as yoga practitioners and decided we’d try to stand in a tree pose while we were handcuffed to represent the actions which are occurring locally and globally that threaten the health and well-being of nature and humans. We were yoga activists.
It might seem counter intuitive. Most people think of yoga as an internal practice. Well, most people actually think of yoga as flexibility training. But a complete practice of yoga encompasses so many other things. As yoga teachers, we watch and listen as people first come to our classes. They usually tell us that they want to be more flexible or that they want to relax and release stress in their lives. That’s great. We invite them in and we begin to teach them poses that help them with their flexibility. We ask them to breathe consciously and they start to notice that by moving mindfully and by connecting their movements with their breath they begin to relax. In time they notice that the yoga poses also build their strength. And with increased practice they start to become more relaxed and centered in more aspects of their lives and they often start to realize how their own health is connected to the health of the environment and their communities. And all of this is great, because the word ‘yoga’ is an Indo-European word whose etymological root is ‘to yoke’ or ‘to bring together, to unite’. So, it’s all about connection. It’s about connecting our bodies with our minds and our minds with our breath. It’s about connecting all that we feel inside us with all that we observe in the world. And it’s about connecting our own actions with that of others. And ultimately, it’s about connecting our individual selves with something bigger – with a bigger purpose and with a bigger source of cosmic energy.
So, how does Yoga connect to the world of environmental activism? We see it in three ways.
1. Yoga renews our energy
We see yoga as a great tool for those who are already active in the world, fighting the tough fights for social and environmental justice. The work of standing up for change can be tireless work, absorbing not only our time but also our energy and passion. It can be stressful even though it’s all for a good cause. So, we recognize that once in a while we all need a break. Our minds and bodies need a moment to draw inward, to de-stress and to renew their energy and yoga is great for that. Luckily our energy is renewable!
2. Yoga illuminates connections and generates energy
Yoga is a tool for those who don’t yet see the inherent connections between all life forms. We believe that through a comprehensive yoga practice people connect more deeply with their internal self. This personal connection begins to illuminate the connection with the external world as well. And once these connections are made a yogi will feel that his or her own health and happiness are intimately connected to the health and happiness of the world around them – both the natural environment and their human communities. And with that recognition they’ll be more apt to take actions to ensure that life is being lived sustainably and they may in fact, become activists in some form. Their energy will be regenerated!
3. Yoga inspires
Many yoga poses draw their inspiration from nature. There’s a cobra pose, a pigeon pose and a cow pose. There are sun salutations. There is the breath of fire to build up heat and seetali breath which cools us down. We teach people to root their feet and stretch their limbs during tree pose and to flow like water from one pose to another. And there are warrior poses which teach us to stand strong and proud. These poses and attributes create great metaphors for us to connect more deeply with nature and to literally feel that we are OF the earth. So, we aspire to teach others these poses so that they can feel these connections and to express them creatively to send a message to the world that yogis care and are willing to stand up for change!
If you’re interested to know more about these concepts please visit Astrid’s websites:
– Yoga for the Earth
– Vahana Yoga & Eco-Tours
Or better yet, join Astrid on a yoga retreat near Granada, Spain from July 23rd-28th, 2017, in collaboration with Lucia Yoga Retreats.
We welcome you on our journey!