January 4, 2012

Can Yoga Really Change the World? ~ Jasmine Gill

There have been a multitude of recent events that lead to a feeling of unease at the moment, a general malaise that permeates many of the facets of our general society. Am I the only one feeling this? Perhaps it is the weather, or perhaps the 2012 apocalypse talk or climate change and the million other news reports out there. It seems that people are being led by harsh feelings of hatred, fear, and despair. Something is changing and it is unclear whether it is for the better.

On the other hand, there is also a sensation of awakening going on. Yoga is becoming more and more mainstream. While there is certainly a debate on whether this is good or if it will serve as yet another means of exploitation, there is no denying the growth. In Tampa alone we’ve had a mini yoga revolution. On one street in Tampa we now have three studios among the numerous other studios that have opened within the past year or so. It has been amazing to be involved in this growing yoga community.

Maybe both of these have always existed to this degree and my awareness is simply increasing. Regardless, these two seemingly dichotomous movements, one of increasing cynicism and hatred countered by a movement towards a simpler and more mindful living, cannot be occurring without influencing one another. What has been taking more of a shape is that yoga has the very real potential to help something beautiful blossom from the muck that is being stirred up in this world.

Modern society and all that term implies has essentially destroyed most people’s direct connection with their physical body. We eat when we’re not hungry; starve ourselves to fit the ideal body image; drink and do drugs; and sit all day in chairs that compress our spine while staring at a computer screen for hours on end and straining our eyes. We make a thousand seemingly arbitrary choices that lead to creating sickness in our bodies, minds, and the earth. In order to be able to tolerate these experiences our minds have literally severed the ties with the physical body.

Our living experience is primarily interpreted through this lovely gifted and abused mind. No wonder our minds are overrun with thoughts, as all of our direct experiences are going straight there instead of being integrated by the rest of our body, which takes on a numb, heavy, and gelatinous-like quality. This is where the physical practice of yoga (asana) comes in.

As yoga practitioners we know that once you have truly connected to your physical practice with integrity (and not used it as a means of self-destruction by competing, using your body as a machine and pushing too far), your body starts to feel pretty incredible. If you come into the practice with pre-existing injuries or debilitating physical ailments, there may come a point at which the body will start to physically heal. It will not be an easy or comfortable path.

Posture could improve; a practitioner may stop slouching all day and stop putting pressure on the lower back. An awareness of how one holds the body will become more finely tuned as small but effective changes become new patterns. Tight hips may open and the tension in the shoulders and neck will slowly ease. At some point the body will experience a feeling of lightness, no longer that numb and heavy physical prison. This does not necessarily translate into the capability to float in and out of a handstand, but an increased awareness in the body may come to a level that it has not experienced since childhood, or perhaps ever. The practitioner comes home – back to body.

This reconnection with the body leads to a connection with the present moment and increasing awareness of everything else. In short, the poor mind gets a long awaited break from all the mental craziness and crap it has been carrying around. The projections of the future and rehashing of the past over and over again start to loosen. The daily physical practice gives an opportunity to come back to the body and return to this awareness. Old mental and physical patterns are bound to return, and that is simply a part of it. It is a practice. Over time the awareness becomes an almost constant presence, and that is when one has jumped down the rabbit hole. The things that were being avoided present themselves again and there could be feelings that are undesirable. That old trauma that was buried years ago, it’s still there. It will not be fun, there will be work to do, possibly more than a lifetime’s worth.

But with this increased awareness and reconnection with the body (and possibly through other outside sources like therapy if necessary), healing begins. With this healing comes a connection to oneself in a genuine way. There comes a realization of the things that need to change in one’s life. Hate that job? One may quit and pursue a more fulfilling career that comes with a huge pay cut and no health insurance. Recognize the cruelty of the meat industry? One may become one of the only vegans in their own circle. Unavoidably, steps are taken within life where at some point there was an unknowing compromise and pieces of one’s own soul were sacrificed in order to create a life that one “should” be living. Those compromises can be reclaimed and new “sacrifices” can be made along the way. There is the realization that one does not need to have that salary/that car/that house/those shoes to be happy. Once external contentment ceases to give you happiness and pleasure, then you may be able to look upon yourself with love and begin to life a more fulfilled life.

After a reconnection with living an authentic life and new steps are taken (perhaps quitting that job, getting a divorce, starting a new career), that is when an individual will finally be able to genuinely connect with other people. Strangers are no longer looked upon with anxiety, co-workers are no longer a threat to a promotion, and friends and family are companions that an individual is fortunate enough to get the most time with in this life. People are just people, beings are just beings. Fear will start to fade because there is the recognition that there is this essential part of every person that cannot be harmed. It is not connected directly to the body and it is not connected directly to the mind – it simply exists and by cultivating our own authentic life there is a connection to this essential part and the practice makes its presence in life stronger.

It is from this place free of fear and full of compassion and love that one begins to see this. At first it may be with those closest. It becomes clear when defensiveness is simply pain, anger is simply fear. There may be a point where it is seen in strangers, in everyone. The differences that have been continuously manufactured and dispersed, racism, nationalism and all the other isms, are nothing but fabrications of the mind. Those differences and their application in the mind begin to fade, thereby changing interaction treatment and views of others.

So this is the point where I simply ask the cliché: what if? What if every person on this planet began to reconnect with their body with integrity and went through their own version of the above transformation through yoga? What if through this reconnection with the body they began to change their lives so they were genuinely fulfilled? What if through this genuine fulfillment they were able to truly see other people for what they are, simply other people and nothing more or less? Do you think it could change the world?

Jasmine Gill has been practicing yoga for about 10 years, although only “seriously” practicing for the past two years. She is a 200hr RYT certified in Prana Flow Energetic Vinyasa and recognizes that the teacher training was just the beginning of a lifelong of learning and practicing. She currently lives in Tampa, FL with her boyfriend and two puppies, longing to one day return to living in the mountains.

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