Yoga and Trauma.

I have been interested in the path of Yoga as a tool for dealing with a traumatic event for sometime now.  There has been an exploration of yoga being used for veterans dealing with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) as a tool to subside the symptoms for a number of years.  The article hyper linked in the previous sentence, shared with me by Sarah Wade, provides an example of yoga applied in this setting.

I decided to explore yoga as a tool for dealing with traumatic events a bit further – to investigate peer reviewed literature that was researching yoga in international humanitarian relief situations ie: post natural disaster or violent conflict.   The intention behind the research was to consider yoga as a practice method within international settings.

As anything goes within an international development context – different practices are controversial due to the nature of relief coming from both external and internal sources – and yoga could only be considered indigenous to India, Sri Lanka or some other countries in East Asia.  Therefore, controversy remains within this suggested practice method – yet uncertainty and controversy resides within the international sphere and any mental health practices…

So explore for yourself…

I discovered some interesting findings – both positive and important things to consider – most importantly, ensuring the practice method is causing no harm!

I constructed a website to share my findings.  You can view it at ‘Yoga ~ Considering a Collective Practice Method’.

If you have any feedback, comments or stories – I would love to hear back! Discussion is welcomed!

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Yoga contributing to social change?

Yoga contributing to social change.

Yoga as a tool for social change.

A revolution beginning in the heart…

A revolution expanding into communities and beyond…

For many years I have been tumbling these thoughts around my mind, rounding out the edges of ideas, massaging the questions, and observing…

The west continues to tighten its grip on ‘yoga’ – stretching the imagination of classical Yogi’s in India.  The practice reaches across a broad spectrum of possibilities in present day culture.  Many people are drawn to yoga for a diverse spectrum of reasons…and westerners continue to flock to studios to catch the craze!  All generations are exploring the practice, from little people experimenting with their flexible young bodies, to the elderly aiming to soften the edges of aging.  The practice is not limited to any one ethnicity or cultural background.

The invitation is out for anyone who is curious to move, breath and observe…or embrace the stillness – all qualities of the natural order of life.  The dharma.

Prisoners are practicing.  Seniors.  Under-served youth. Veterans.  Survivors of life threatening illnesses.  Injured bodies.  Those with damaged minds.  Those with hurt hearts.  Those wanting to participate in life…and so many more…

All this being said – if we look to the beginning of the eight-limbed path of Patanjali’s yoga, we return to the restraints and observances…the ethics and morals possible to integrate into everyday life.

So what could be possible if those named above or those who went to simply stretch, get fit, exercise, socialize, move, breath…invited a curiosity investigate – why yoga?

What if their practice deepened into an inquiry of their expressions, postures, breath – into the layers of restraints and observances…compassion, truth, and integrity that reside within?

AND –

What if the looking inward at all the layers of gifts, manifested outward into community and daily life?

Could yoga contribute to social change?

Could yoga be a tool for social change?

Could yoga start a revolution beginning in the heart?

Could this revolution expand into communities and beyond…?

With the practice touching so many lives and integrating into western culture – anything is possible!  Right!?

Strive for the impossible, for what was once impossible is now possible!

Exploring duhkha and clinging…

Since my last post, life has continued to offer many rich lessons in spirit, community, practice, and intellect!

I was fortunate to create an opportunity to attend a workshop with Sri O.P Tiwari from India.  He focused on the Yoga-Sutras and pranayama (prana ~ breath, life force energy; yama ~ to extend, to move…breathing with awareness).  It was a weekend full of insights, humour and depth…consistently reminding us to practice with sincerity and not seriousness!

Tiwari also spoke often of duhkha (lack; felt sense of being unsatisfied; suffering) and upon reflection, I think a common quality associated with duhkha is clinging…clinging to ones sense of self, clinging to a reality created by the mind– as it appears to the mind, not necessarily as it is.  This clinging can limit possibilities and contract the potential for being intimately tied to life.

One can cling to anything–resistance, loneliness, desires–this quality provides us with a sense of control and ‘simplifies life’ by splitting it into categories…bits and pieces.

Yet is it not this splitting the creates the lack, the splitting that shatters ones sense of belonging, therefore motivating us to find intimacy outside ourselves rather than connecting with the intimacy present within each moment of life?

I am intrigued to explore the concept and action of clinging because it is familiar in sensation and in my mind – and it has been fascinating to dialog with this quality and watch it’s connection to the ego as it tries to become something!  In this paragraph I speak of duhkha in reference to ones inner dialog.  Being a recent witness to an individual’s suffering largely linked to their experience of clinging…the emotion and sensation that manifested was emptiness and loneliness–sensations familiar to us all!  Within the western world, emptiness-loneliness-lack, is often dealt with by grounding ones self in external satisfactions of money, sex, or fame to support a sensation of feeling real in the world as it appears.

What if we were to accept, acknowledge and live with the experience of emptiness?

Consider there is opportunity in lack, in suffering, in the void.  Consider that one’s sense of inadequacy is the greatest gift waiting to be explored, an opportunity for transformation!  Michael Stone says it well – “if we can open up to that ungroundedness at our core, if we can let go and yield to it, then we find that it’s the source of our creativity and our spirituality; that at the very core of our being…there is something that transcends the self and yet is the basis of the self” (p. 44).

I speak of all this, not only because it feels relevant in life right now, but because I think duhkha and clinging can be closely linked to community change processes.  Consider clinging as a form of resistance to accepting ‘what is’ in the present moment…consider the ecological crisis that is occurring on this planet and the resistance to change from many governments and corporations…consider an anthropocentric view that “if we only see nature in terms of accumulation and the marketplace [to fulfill our insatiable lack], the natural world becomes nothing but bits and pieces” (Stone, p. 143). existing in a separate system from humanity.  Duhkha is experienced globally which calls for a revolution of the cultural heart.

Is it possible for those advocating for their communities, supporting change processes, investing in a sustainable future to integrate a subtle and mindful ways of being that could shift the roots of communities and migrate up the trunk and branches to impact the broader system?

It begins with one person.

Consider setting the intention to observe experiences where clinging is present, or observe moments of emptiness, loneliness, or lack and ask what lays beneath those sensations.

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think” – Gregory Bateson

Reference:

Stone, M. (2009). Yoga for a world out of balance: Teachings on ethics and social action. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Compassion; com pati: to suffer with

If I am to speak of mindfulness, a commonly used term these days in the western world, it’s important to have an idea of how it is defined.  With mindfulness applied to many diverse disciplines, different definitions continue to arise, yet they seem to maintain a common thread – awareness of the present moment with acceptance.  From a classical Buddhist tradition, sati (mindfulness) is cultivated as a tool for observing the mind and how it can create suffering moment to moment…mindfulness is a practice that develops insight and wisdom to support the alleviation of suffering.  So how is this relevant to yoga and/or community development, since most often it is a practice used in a clinical setting?  I’m in the beginning stages of make the links – so bare with me through these blogs!

I believe human beings are vast and expansive by nature, existing within a realm of consciousness, often limited by the mind that can create a sense of separate self.  If we look at the dominant global economic and political systems, their existence is based upon the pillar of separateness, as compared to relational systems of collaboration. For example, we are functioning within our economic sphere due to our dominant relationship with the Earth, one of polarity that values profit over a sustainable existence in life for all creatures.  For many years, it seems the human race has been working towards a model of isolation.

So what if we were to consider this – what if we were to engage with our vastness, our true nature – one that is in synchronicity with the Earth system, a conscious, sustainable, symbiotic system – is it possible to no longer be disturbed by our opposites?

If I think of challenges within collectives of people, groups or community, root causes are often due to a perspective of separateness – oppression, power relations, domination, conflict etc.   Is the universal model of separateness not being defined and lived out by individuals in relationship to community?  Therefore, is it not each person’s responsibility (participant or facilitator, political decision maker or family member) to begin to identify with one another from human to human experience?  How can people be supported to engage with that vulnerable place of being human – a dynamic system of intimate and subtle interactions between mind, body, and spirit?

This is where mindfulness and yoga comes into being!  How do you think these two practices could play a role in community development and social change? Would be really curious to hear any thoughts…