Join us over the next few months as we explore the intersection of yoga and activism. How yoga can be used as an agency for social good. The posts in this series will share lesser-known stories about activist and yoga leaders, yoga’s place in transformative movements, and as tools for activism. We will also examine aspects of yoga’s history and philosophy.
Madison is a graduate of Yoga District’s teacher training program. She hopes her series will deepen your spiritual connection to the practice along with motivating you to engage with yoga and activism in your own life.
Yoga philosophy is complex and multifaceted. Its foundations of yamas and niyamas are the ethical principles upon which yoga is based (1). The first yama ahimsa is active love and nonviolence. Satya, truthfulness, is the second yama (2). These tenets are foundational to activism as well. Ahimsa challenges yogis to love themselves and all other beings through thoughts, words, and actions. At its core, activism’s motivation and power may be bolstered by love. Satya’s integrity is a crucial component as well. Truth and honesty can bring about a better reality than the status quo. Ahimsa and satya can aid activists with social progress and fighting for change.
Another foundational element of yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutras (3). This text is a collection of notes from Patanjali’s students and details his teachings about when, how, and why to practice yoga (4). The Yoga Sutras mention relatively little about physical practice. Patanjai does not touch on the varied poses we often see on social media or in advanced asana classes. Rather, he shares insights about the internal work of yoga.
The first sutra states that yoga occurs in the present moment (5). One interpretation is that yoga always exists. We embody and release it into the world by practicing asana, meditation, breath, or living yoga ethics (6). Each and every moment is an opportunity to live yoga. Therefore, each and every action as an activist is also an opportunity. Yoga’s practices, philosophies, and benefits are always at our disposal.
Activism can be defined as “efforts that promote, impede, or direct social, political economic, or environmental reform or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society (7).” Activism does not take one form and activists are not one type of person. What unifies them is their cause, whatever they support in their actions.
Taking action against systems they find oppressive can look diverse, from the Black Lives Matter marches across the U.S. to the Native American/Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island in the 1960s (8). It can involve calling one’s senator in favor of gun control legislation or fighting in the court system for one’s rights to demonstrate and be an activist (9). Several periods throughout American history brought sweeping social change and were characterized by activism activity. We currently might be in one of those periods.
Using Yoga Philosophy in Activism
When we call to mind the yamas and niyamas in the context of the first sutra, we see that grassroots, protest, demonstrative, and community building activism closely align with yoga ethics. Try sharing ahimsa with your fellow activists, practicing a loving-kindness meditation for your opponents, and examining the intentions of your own actions (10). These are all small but significant ways that yoga can fuel the fire of activism. The foundational texts, teachings, and philosophies of yoga focus on the spiritual and emotional. Perhaps there is something at the core of activism that relates to these topics and which resonates similarly.
Yoga Philosophy: Diving into the Yamas and Niyamas as an Activist
Yoga philosophy is an essential component of yoga practice, yet it is seldom included in classes. These teachings are accessible to any and all students. It can have a powerful effect on your personal practice. In this post, we will dive into the first two yamas and discuss how they speak to activism. We will also look at ways to engage in yoga ethics throughout each day as well as on the mat.
Yoga and the Black Community
This post will elevate Black voices, leaders, and practitioners in the yoga community. Diverse representation is sorely lacking in yoga’s public-facing image. With this post, we aim to share the powerful contributions of Black yogis and resources for practitioners looking to support Black yoga communities. Additionally, we will share a holistic view of yoga history within the United States— one that is inclusive of Black stories.
Yogis: Activists and Leaders
Yoga is a wonderful tool for activists looking to rest, rejuvenate, and recuperate or energize. Many yogis over time have raised their voices in support of their causes. This post will share stories of accomplished social leaders who used yoga to support themselves, connect their communities, and fight for social change.
Yoga Activism: Interview with Jasmine
Yoga District’s very roots are in love and service to the community. Our founder, Jasmine Chehrazi, is a renowned voice in the yoga community, especially regarding what it means to truly serve through yoga. She infused Yoga District and Yoga Activist with core values dedicated to these practices. This post will share her ideas, teachings, and perspective on the intersection of activism and yoga.
Bringing Activism into Your Practice
We will finish our Yoga and Activism series with a post about how to embody these two beautiful practices on and off the mat. Incorporating yoga’s teachings into your daily life as an activist and bringing the passion of the activist to the mat may help you engage with yoga philosophy in new ways. Each activist and yogi is unique. We hope you find these ideas helpful as you develop your personal practices.
- Yamas and Niyamas, https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/live-your-yoga-discover-yamas-niyamas
- Satya, https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5354/satya
- The Yoga Sutra, https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5518/the-yoga-sutras
- Patanjali, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Patanjali
- Sutra, https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/5004/sutra
- Asana, https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/4951/asana
- Activism https://guerrillafoundation.org/why-activism/
- Occupation of Alcatraz https://www.history.com/news/native-american-activists-occupy-alcatraz-island-45-years-ago
- Immigrant Activist Lawsuits https://rewire.news/article/2019/05/16/immigrant-activists-fight-their-deportations-with-free-speech-lawsuits/
- Loving-Kindness Meditation https://www.mindful.org/this-loving-kindness-meditation-is-a-radical-act-of-love/