Yoga Improving Lives. Yoga Creating Social Change. Yoga in Calgary.

This blog post provides an example of yoga contributing to social change, starting with the individual.  It goes on to discuss how yoga may contribute to social change, with an invitation for yoga instructors in Calgary to consider a trauma-sensitive approach to their teaching to flood survivors and responders.

Increasingly, examples of yoga supporting those recovering from trauma and suffering from mental health challenges are being seen in the media.  This is a recent video and article – Yoga Helps Mentally Ill Improve Their Lives – published within Voice of America.  It opens a small window into an example of creating change amongst those who can’t, won’t, and don’t access yoga studio’s for a number of reasons (more on that in another blog!).  In addition, the video exemplifies shifts and changes available for someone, anyone, who practices yoga.  It exemplifies that a yoga class does not need to take place in the serenity and beauty of a studio for people to feel an impact.  The class does not need to involve a vigorous physical practice, nor does it require fashion conscious Lulu Lemon patrons.  Instead the practice invites yoga students into their reality, to explore what it feels like to acknowledge their breath, to be present within their body and notice how it moves – to meet themselves exactly where they are.

One person at a time, yoga invites people into a journey of curiosity, inquiry, and compassion – perhaps asking people for the first time to consider compassion for their body.  One by one people are invited to explore what it is to be and feel alive, perhaps a foreign experience.  One by one people are changing and shape-shifting themselves on a deep subtle level – something words cannot sometimes articulate.

This, I believe, is a root towards social change – yoga is simply an available gateway.

The Voice of America article is one small example of how the yoga gateway contributes to social change…and many other examples contributing to social are small until the different threads entering through the gateway of change begin to weave into a common fabric.  The change demonstrated in the video – an individual shifting pain and anger, another choosing a healthier lifestyle – offers insight into experiences of connection.

The root catalyst and cause for change is through relationship because – being human means having a need for connection.

Connection begins with ourselves – the intimate and subtle acknowledgement of relating to the experience within ones body.   Michael Stone (2009) writes, “when we see the shadow of our actions, we can get motivated to change our habits.  Non-violence is the essence of such change” (p. 64).  This quote can be viewed within an individual’s experience of change, in addition to expanding the quote’s perspective outwards, it reflects on society’s actions upon the natural biosphere.  The interrelated health of an individual directly correlates with the health of the planet – and many people are arguing that internal, in addition to external non-violence will contribute social and environmental change on this planet.  In his article “Ahimsa Can Save The Planet’, Pankaj Jain (2012) states,

The West must now emerge as a new ecological leader, with Gandhi [non-violence] as the foundation of its lifestyle…There cannot be and should not be a separate “war on terrorism,” “war on climate change,” “war on drugs,” “war on corruption,” “war on obesity” and so on. All aspects of modern life—our physical, mental, and spiritual health, the environment, the global security and international peace, social justice, and so on—will get a great boost if we first become nonviolent in our most basic activit[ies]. (p. 36)

Our most basic activities rely on simple choices and perspectives – what we eat, how we care for ourselves, what we consume or do not consume etc – and a mind and heart that feels clear and calm supports perspective surrounding those most basic activities.

My experience living, learning, and teaching trauma-sensitive yoga over the past several months affirms the complex integrated web of health and well being between an individual, community, and the planet.  In recent weeks Calgary has experienced a shock wave of water delivered by the planet that has disturbed stability, health, and well being amongst individuals and the community.  This brings me to an invitation for readers to consider and share amongst community – I am returning to Calgary at the end of July.  I intend to initiate opportunities for people such as those within the video to access experiences of yoga, to offer trauma-sensitive yoga training workshops for yoga teachers and those interested, and to pursue dialog and action that invites healing to both people and the planet.

The gateway for trauma-sensitive yoga in Calgary is open after being traumatized by the impacts from Mother Nature’s response to climate change.

Change is the most constant thing in life.

From afar, I have seen many yoga studio’s in Calgary and the Bow Valley extend their generosity to victims and responders to the flood, aiming to support recovery and healing from this tragedy.  I would like to contribute to these actions by inviting yoga instructors to participate in an one-day trauma-sensitive yoga workshop at the end of August.  My intention is to support yoga instructors extend their generosity in a way that best supports those who are recovering from this traumatic flood experience.

Further details regarding specific date and location will follow shortly.

References:

Stone, M. (2009). Yoga for a world out of balance. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Jain, P. (2012). Ahimsa can save the planet. Hinduism Today. p. 36.

Searching but not finding, compared to being ever present!

Soundtrack to this blog – Searching by Blackalicious

I just finished a course on the precepts (yama’s) of yoga with Michael Stone and timing is everything!  I’m sure that no matter when I chose to do this course, it would align with life – but I can’t deny the incredible parallel process that emerged from the experience of slowing down to participate more fully in the intimacy of life!

I have a dear friend who often reminds me – “the struggle is the blessing” – a line in the song ‘Searching’ that stands out for me over and over again (as well as many other lines)!!

…And in this day and age, I realize that slowing down really is an art, a practice that requires conscious action because…even if we are simply sitting, being, breathing – we are in action.

Within the searching – I now understand that if I slow down enough, no longer is there a need to search…instead there is listening, watching, feeling…everything is already present!

The first precept is Ahimsa – nonviolence, non-harm.

The first exercise we had to do was sit face to face with our partner, a stranger for me, and answer the question – how do you kill?…and answering the question involved speaking for 20 minutes without interruption to your partner as they listened!  Well, firstly…it sure took a few minutes to get past the ego to authenticity!  What an incredible exercise of vulnerability and how amazing it was to hear and be heard!  I have been engaging with a sitting practice daily, and to witness the responsibility within non-harm is incredible.  It’s near impossible to truly live a life of non-harm to anything on this planet but to exercise an awareness is possible!  Stone (2009) argues,

industrialism is such an all consuming impulse that it’s hard to think outside the box.  In fact we have interiorized the aspects of industrial materialism to the extent that we treat our bodies as resources that should keep up with the impossible pace of increased productivity.  The body, however, just can’t keep up.  We tend to forget that we – our bodies – are nature.  The way we control and repress our own bodies and feelings is reflected in our treatment of other life.” (p. 64)

Meditation, yoga, ceremony…these practices and way of life support ecological intimacy within our bodies and soul.  There are so many layers to life in which we expose ourselves to harm – yet choosing to slow can down provide us with the experience of being present to the ecological system that we are, engaging in the intimacy of each moment.

I am present to the responsibility I have to slow down, to be present, to understand non-harm and so much more in order to sustain life on this planet.

Consider how does an awareness of your body contribute to the health of our biosphere, Mother Earth?

Stone, M. (2009).  Yoga for a World out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

The Practice of Social Action.

Be, don’t seek.

Sit warmly open,

lightness in your brow,

not questions.

Be ready for the quiet

when it comes,

and the creaking

of the house’s bones

and the wind’s music

playing the notes of the trees.

Be, don’t brood.

Don’t wait for life

to announce itself

in capitals

or high garb.

Be available to it’s whispers,

know how to listen

when it tells its true self

and not the lies

you’ve dreamt up.

Be able to breathe

and let go of your breath,

let go of life as you wish it to be

and take in the simplicity,

the facts-

The sky is.

The day is.

This sparrow is.

Be, don’t try.

Your weariness must have

shown you something by now.

Stay seated in your soul,

remember the sun is there,

truth and time are there.

Be, don’t seek.

You’ve already found.

You already have.

You already know.

You already are.

Elizabeth Page Roberts 2008

So much talk about social change and social action…often this leads to so much time and energy invested to solve problems, so busy, so much burnout, so much talking, not so much listening…

Is that not the process of living into the notion of progress, an ideology that frames present day society?

When thinking about ‘change’ there have been a number of moments in recent times that consistently return me to this one effort – that is…

…to be.

We hear it time and time again, in famous speeches, from spiritual leaders, from our community.  So I think about it, consider, contemplate, question – then life gets busy!

But what is it to truly be, to surrender to the essence of the moment?  Or maybe the better question for us in this day and age – how the heck can one ‘be’ when there’s so much to do?

…And what does this have to do with social action?

Consider the practice of social action is stillness.

Consider evolving stillness and quietness within supports engagement with the intimacy of life, attentiveness to the subtle gifts always present, an opening to the essence of non-harm – the practice of meeting each moment as it is.

Consider meditation is the practice supporting social action.

Be, don’t seek.

Invite the moments of creative suspension to honour each situation as it unravels.

Gratitude…

How deeply can we sink into the ocean of gratitude?

We strive for joy and happiness to complete our lives, the essence of feeling truly alive…and I wondered what was beneath that?  What supports happiness or joy?

I had an experience in life that felt quite profound at the time – I say at the time because I believe this experience is possible to relive within many moments.  With time, space, and on going reflection of this moment…the experience continues to open new doorways.

Are you curious about the moment?…it was actually several moments of living, breathing, being, feeling the swells of the deepest, most abundant and expansive tide of gratitude stir within.  It was as if the full moon evoked a spring tide, pulling the deepest currents to the surface of my consciousness to be embodied within the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual planes.  Everything made sense.  Life had accumulated and continues to accumulate – all the impossibilities, challenges, riches, burdens, loss, gifts…

…it left me curious and with questions.

…is it possible for the essence of gratitude to be found within the layers and hardships?

…what is required of us to explore this essence during times of crisis and hardship?

…consider what contribution gratitude may bring within the moments of abundance or moments of darkness?

How deep is the ocean of this essence?  How can one tap into this ocean at any point in life?  Is it possible?

How can gratitude shift consciousness?

How can gratitude support being myself?

Sooo many questions…any answers…any feelings or thoughts?

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!

The tension within coexistence…

Aside

Image

“Coexist.”

That was the first word the stranger said to me, a provocative introduction between souls!  She sat down with me at the lunch table, stating the sticker on my laptop – and the synchronicity continued to reveal itself!

The night prior, her Tibetan Buddhist meditation group had focused on coexistence, an exploration of the concept – accordingly, the foundation of Buddhism is grounded upon the concept of “interdependent co-arising”. The conversation continued to expand into the nature of modern day society – the reorientation of ‘connection’ and isolation within this technological era.  This transitioned to discussing the possibility within shifting human consciousness, a revolution birthed out of an interdependent co-arising!

I wonder to myself, are we far from that arising?

What are the steps and possibilities within this?

Definition: peaceful coexistence

…without war, or a policy of peace between nations of widely differing political systems and ideologies.

Is coexistence simply to accept one another and tolerate living in harmony?

I’ve heard peace defined simply as ‘the space that exists between war’! However, often within a yoga practice, the mantra Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti will be heard. Om is considered an essence, a vibration of the universe with no direct translation and shanti, directly translated to mean peace.  However, we don’t call out Om Peace, Peace, Peace – because shanti is also considered a vibration within a mantra that calms and removes the obstacles of physical, divine and internal nature.

So what is the vibration possible within coexistence?

Could coexistence be more than the definition offered above?…consider the unity of opposites, the balance found within healthy tension, the interdependence required within an organic system – we have a responsibility to the planet to transition and transform habits of tolerance, of power over, and the beliefs of individual freedom.

If resistance to any entities that make up a system is present – on a cellular, individual, community, national level – interdependence is forfeited.  Granted, change is constant and ongoing, a constant tension is an integral component of coexistence.

So practically speaking…

On a global scale – coexistence with the planet has been and is still present within some societies (slowly coming closer to extinction!) however, with an overarching system that fundamentally believes in individual freedoms, separating the parts…the change and transition begins within a person.

What does coexistence look like in practice?

Are the terms coexistence and unity closely related – could coexistence be the space between our inhale and exhale, the tension in relationship between our breath, body. and spirit?

Perhaps the ‘vibration’ within coexistence is the tension present amongst the interdependent relationships within a dynamic planet.

Keep exploring the possibilities!