“Yoga is love, it is non-violence at the extreme edge.”
This past spring, I went to the anti war protest in San Francisco. It was a powerful event with hundreds of thousands of people gathering in the name of non-violence. It was nice to feel like I was part of a collective decision for peace. When I got home, I turned on the news only to find the coverage was all focused on a small group of people who thought the best way to promote peace was by defacing property and chanting hateful slogans at the president.
I found this contrast to be so disturbing that I sat in meditation. My head whirled with thoughts and questions. What is the point in protesting a war if the only people who are going to make it to the evening news are the ones whose behavior is no different than the actions they are screaming out against? Like many of my meditations, I was very distracted for most of my sit, but then, just when I thought my mind would never find stillness, a profound calm washed over me. It was out of this stillness that a major shift happened.
I realized that I no longer wanted to be a war protester. Rather, I wanted to be a peace demonstrator. I had always heard the two phrases and used them interchangeably, but during that meditation, I realized that there was a very big difference between the two. In that moment I no longer felt like an unheard voice. I felt like a powerful emissary of peace.
What I have learned since then is that going to a peace march is all well and good, but the real peace demonstration is something that I, as a yogi, am called to do every moment of every day. For me, yoga has always been a very personal practice that has brought me great peace. But what I have started to realize is that the poses, breathing and meditation that I practice are not just for me. A person’s yoga practice can have a profound effect on our world.
To some people, western yoga seems a bit self-indulgent. I guess I can see their point, when you look at a room full of people doing head stands on hundred dollar yoga mats (two hundred if you count the designer mat bag). But yoga is much more than that, and under the piles of yoga accessories is a practice that has the capacity to heal our tired world.
What yoga offers us is the opportunity to be responsible. The Universe is like a large garden, and our minds are a small patch in that garden. We don’t need to rid the whole universe of ‘weeds’, just our own mind, and one of the most powerful ways I have found to do that is through the practice of yoga.
When we come to the yoga mat or the meditation cushion and practice the eight limbs outlined in The Yoga Sutra, we bring awareness to the many seeds of discontent that have been planted deep in our minds. As this awareness grows, we are given the freedom to choose. In that choice lays the potential for peace.
What I have discovered is that as I have become more centered and peaceful, others around me have as well. Not because I preached to them or because I tried to guilt them into changing their behavior, but because I demonstrated a new way of being. As yogis we are all called to be peace demonstrators both on and off the mat. In chaotic times like these, that is the most powerful medicine we can offer this world.