March 23, 2016

Brussels Embodied: Practicing Yoga in Times of Terror.

Alexey Kuzmin/Unsplash

Yesterday, I prepared to teach my last three classes before leaving for India.

I had envisioned leaving my students with a piece of my writing. I feel it is through my writing that I convey what lies in my heart, and I wanted to leave them with this gift—one we all possess.

I have recently been describing this “gift” as a deep well of knowledge, which, through practice, I and my many teachers have been able to tap into.

I hope I can inspire others to tap into their well, too.

My last day of teaching before India came. I meditated before my first class and prepared for my day. I took in every moment of preparing the room, my mats, my music—everything.

Then, in between my first two classes, Brussels happened.

I prepared for my second class wondering what to do with this information. I couldn’t quote myself; it felt icky. I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room; that too felt icky.

As I pondered this, I realized this is why we teach yoga—for moments like these. Those of us who do practice, turn to our practice in hard times.

But how do you teach when you feel real fear?

How do you teach people to find compassion, understanding, happiness even, when 40 minutes away—I can’t even write it—chaos and fear are reality?

I struggled with this as I once again prepared my space. A completely different experience from just a couple of hours prior. I sat, waited for my students, and began to write.

I thought back to my own struggles with yoga, most notably in teacher training when our teachers asked us to have compassion for every being on earth. Even Hitler? One of us of course asked, and our teacher looked us straight in the eye and said he too was a living being—a lost soul who committed evil and unspeakable acts, yes, but still a living being.

Hard to swallow (especially after having visited Auschwitz). So as I sat there thinking and writing, I thought of Brussels. I thought about what I was feeling—fear. Fear for all of our safety, fear of flying in two weeks from Zaventem, fear for the world, fear for those in Brussels today, fear for humanity. And I thought about what fear was.

Yes, of course there was reason for my fear—and everyone else’s—but for those of us not in Brussels, what does our fear accomplish? Does it change anything if we feel fear?

Not really, except that our world around us will become much smaller because we are fearing the unknown, such that anything unknown, including people, is now to be feared. Fear is darkness. It is separation—the opposite of yoga, the opposite of what I was teaching.

I also thought back to philosophy. The ancient yogis were not meditating in the Himalayas or discovering yoga for themselves, but instead for the world.

We have a veil over our eyes that separates us from the world. If we look through this veil, all we see is other—disunion. All we feel is fear.

And I realized my job as a yoga teacher today was to help my students, and myself, to step away from that fear.

It is in these moments that the true yoga begins. The poses are child’s play compared to the real challenge: living in peace and in union in our world. Going against the pull to separate, to fear, and instead radically coming together.

Yoga wasn’t created for our health, or our well-being. To begin explaining my intention I had my students chant Om three times before each class. I explained to them that ancient yogis discovered that the vibrations of the sound Om are the sound of the universe. It is this vibration that connects us; we all carry it within us in our bones, our DNA—our deep well of knowledge. By tapping into that deep well, we are not just healing ourselves; we are healing the world. We are defiantly standing up to the pressures to turn to fear and anxiety—from the media, politicians and current tragedies to name a few—and instead remembering that the veil over our eyes is not reality. The reality is that amongst all that is bad in this world, there is far more that is good.

And yesterday showed us this. Yesterday, Brussels, just like Paris, just like New York, just like any other place that has experienced terror, stood up and tore off its veils. People stood together, prayed together, embodied the spirit of yoga; without knowing it, thousands of people around the world tapped into their deep well.

Last night as I shut my lights for bed, thankful to be home, I was reminded of a quote by Mr. Fred Rogers, a kids TV personality in Canada:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””

They’re always around reminding us what it truly means to be human, reminding us that fear is not the answer. Reminding us that only through compassion and love can we grow and heal.


Relephant Read:

Making Peace in Times of War.


Author: Maria Sophia

Editor: Toby Israel

Images: Julian Böck/Unsplash // Alexey Kuzmin/Unsplash


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