This is a guest post by my sister, Amy Lewis Faircloth.
The news around the world is dreadful. Two young black men recently killed by police officers, one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana. Police officers fatally gunned down in Dallas and Louisiana. Terrorists attack in Turkey and across the globe. Hate attacks in Orlando. Over 80 people murdered by a truck driver in France. The presumptive Republican presidential candidate praises Saddam Hussein. The United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union out of fear of immigrants crossing its borders.
And I wonder, in this fractured world, why have I spent the last year studying to be a yoga teacher? Could my time have been better spent? Am I fooling myself that as a yoga instructor I can be the change I want to see in the world? Can one person in Bangor, Maine influence a planet?
In 2014 Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, presented before the United Nation his idea of an International Yoga Day. In support, he listed the benefits of yoga: the reduction of greed and violence, a decrease in the cost of healthcare, the lessening of conflicts and the increase of collaboration within families, communities, and between nations, more compassion, and an influx of innovation.
“To sum up,” Prime Minister Modi concluded, “in a world of excess, of seeking after materialism, yoga promises restraint and balance. In a world suffering from mental stress, yoga promises calm. In a distracted world, yoga creates focus, creates concentration. In a world of fear, yoga promises strength and courage. A healthy body and a disciplined mind are the foundations of a world free from fear. In crafting a new self through Yoga, we create a new world.”
As I finish my yoga teacher training and begin a new phase of my practice, I am surprised to find myself questioning the wisdom of Prime Minister Modi’s words that through yoga the world can heal and start anew. It seems presumptuous and silly to think yoga can have any effect on the issues dividing our nation and world.
According to 2016 Yoga in America Study conducted by Yoga Alliance, 38% of practicing yogis are over the age of 50. The goal of many is general physical wellness - strength, balance, flexibility, coordination and body awareness. In addition, mindful yoga, which is training in concentration and self-awareness, aids emotional wellness. A calming of the mind relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, increases our awareness, and helps us make better choices.
How yoga helps individuals is widely reported. I wonder whether yoga can help on a grand scale. With all those fifty-somethings practicing yoga, can yoga have a broad effect on society’s ailments? Can a mindful yoga practice shape the way we treat our friends and families, our behavior towards strangers, the products we buy, the politicians we elect, and the governmental policies we endorse? Can it encourage us to evaluate our stances on important social issues such as poverty, economic imbalance, prejudice, and social upheaval that fuels terrorist movements and civil unrest? Can yoga lead us to examine our habits of consumption, as individuals and as a society, and how our choices affect the environment? I think so.
Mindfulness, as taught through yoga, opens our eyes to actions that are thoughtful rather than reactive. Thoughtful action can then be taken to relieve suffering on an individual basis such as by donating blankets to a humane society or volunteering at a boys’ club, and on a societal basis by challenging systematic policies that encourage racism and concentrated poverty.
Mindfulness leads to examination of our own behaviors, both as individuals and as a society. Do we carpool or walk to work to help reduce dependence on oil? Do we use words that are racist or discriminatory? Are we doing enough to help our communities? Do we run for local elected office? Paper or plastic?
Mindfulness can cultivate wisdom and compassion. Mindfulness can teach us to live our lives with integrity and presence rather than with hate and mistrust. The practice of mindful yoga can teach us how to best handle the conflicts and distractions of our personal lives.
Mindfulness lies at the core of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Svetasvatara Upanishad states, “…when the body is in silent steadiness, breathe rhythmically through the nostrils with a peaceful ebbing and flowing of breath. The chariot of the mind is drawn by wild horses, and those wild horses have to be tamed.” By taming our wild horses and learning to focus, we cultivate self-awareness on and off the mat. Self-awareness leads to compassion towards others, increased patience, and heightened and healthy curiosity.
Mindful yoga helps us avoid getting caught up in our own life stories. We must never forget nor take for granted that to have the time and health to practice yoga is a privilege. We should take time on the mat and off to consider how to give back in exchange for that privilege.
Prime Minister Modi was correct when he said, “In crafting a new self through Yoga, we create a new world.” The key to social reform is through individuals who are mindful of the world around them and the actions available to make a difference.
While the news of late is horrific I have come to believe that my time has not been wasted over the past year as I pursued my yoga teacher training certificate. In fact, I cannot think of a better way to have spent my time. I have learned what yoga can and cannot do, and have realized its power starts and stops with me and with you. We are individuals on the mat and off, yet we are also families, communities, and nations. Through mindfulness, yoga heals, and then one person in Mount Hebron, West Bank, another in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and this new yoga teacher in Bangor, Maine can make a world of difference.
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