State of the Union: Yoga’s Gonna Save the World
One of the meanings of the word yoga is union, derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means ‘to yoke’. When oxen are yoked, they must work together for a common purpose. In contemporary yoga, the union is often described as a process of integrating the body, mind, and spirit. This view of union looks inward toward the work each individual can do to become a healthier, happier, more fully realized human. The internal side of union is valuable for each person but also for the collective, because healthier, happier, more fully realized humans make a better society.
Union also has a more overtly external view, in which people willingly yoke together for the greater good. Getting our world to a place where all living things can be happy, safe, and free from suffering depends on the unity of people of conscience (also known as yogis, whether they practice asana or not!).
A current of divisiveness that emphasizes our differences and identifies some people as inferior or ‘other’ threatens to tear apart the essential union of all humanity. The exploitation of nature for profit and convenience threatens to destroy life as we know it on this planet. We need to work hard at achieving unity to counter these destructive threats. It’s not going to be easy but the practice of yoga can help us get there.
C’mon People Now
Yoga inspires us to make better personal choices that improve our own mental and physical health. But that’s not the end of the story. Once we feel right within, we naturally start to look for ways to expand the positivity our practices bring. That means that people don’t necessarily have to do yoga (though we hope they will) to experience its benefits. Each person on a mat in the yoga room during class stands at the centre of their own circle of influence. Their commitment to union ripples out in ten thousand directions.
Union means seeing every person as a member of our family. (Think what effect that could have at the highest levels of government!) It means becoming and coming together and showing up in solidarity when it’s time to be counted for social, environmental, and, most of all, political change. It means reengaging again and again instead of dropping out in frustration. Finding the energy for this kind of participation takes a deep well, the kind that a consistent yoga practice helps sustain.
Yoga for President
It may seem absurd to suggest that we can fight such institutionalized injustices as racism, sexism, classism, isolationism, and nationalism (all the worst isms right here!) from the rarified corners of our yoga mats, but yoga’s ever-expanding reach and popularity is one of the forces that is shaping contemporary society, which means that yoga is part of the solution.
Even though the personal changes we make to our interactions, our outlooks, and our habits are important, the biggest way we can get to a more just world and the only way to slow down the destruction of the planet is through political action. We need yogis at the top. We need real leaders that represent the real will of the people. For widespread reform to take place, we need widespread union.
We’ve all seen how division can be used as a strategy to maintain the status quo. Let’s see how unity can be used as a strategy for change.