What are you learning in yoga? How to stretch those hamstrings? How to have the perfect handstand? This is all great when it comes to the physical practice of yoga. But remember the overarching intention of yoga.
Asana, the Third Limb of Yoga, is only a fraction of the totality of what the philosophy and lifestyle of yoga can offer you. The Third Limb focuses on the movement of the body, but we know that yoga is more than just a physical practice.
What else can yoga do? Can it help in real life situations? Yes. Of course. Yoga goes beyond the yoga mat.
Asana, the physical practice of yoga, is exactly that – a practice. It is a “rehearsal” of sorts so that we can take what we learn on the yoga mat out into the real world.
If we take a look at the philosophical nature of yoga – it’s ancient intentions – we can see how these lessons hold true in a modern society. It can be effective in walking through everyday situations: relationships, careers, college exams, and even politics.
If you are privy to any news these days, you can see that there is a lot going on right now in the political arena. So, how can yoga help you in a heated political climate? Let’s take a look.
Be Here Now
Not only does yoga teach us to stand gracefully on one foot, but it also helps us to stay present; to stay in the moment.
We can easily get caught up thinking about the past and worrying about the future. In the mindset of yoga, those two entities really do not need to concern us. The past is the past; it is gone. Yes, we do reminisce about the past or remember past events, but if we use those moments to create our self-identities, we can fall short of our full potential.
In yoga, we learn that we are more than the events that make up our historical timeline. Even in the ancient teachings of yoga, we learn that in this bodily form, we are an extension of all that is love. If we can live in the present moment with that true identity – we are love – we live our fullest selves. Aspects of the past and thoughts about the future do not fit into the equation of our authentic selves.
We can recall this when we are confronted with political mayhem. We are constantly being inundated by trivia from the past and promises for the future by politicians. They all want to promise us a better tomorrow.
But what about today? It is important to step out of those days gone by and uncertainties of the future and appreciate what we have right here, right now.
Become the Witness
In yoga, we are taught to release the ego. We do this by paying attention to the breath and the sensations that arise as we move from pose to pose.
The crucial element in this task is to not let judgement take the spotlight: that is an ego-focused process. Instead, be the witness to the breath; be the observer of the feelings when they arise during your yoga practice.
For example, when you chastise yourself for not being able to get fully into a yoga pose, that is an ego-driven thought.
Through conscious practice of yoga, we learn to dismiss those thoughts and accept the situation as it is. You find that there is really no reason to chastise or put yourself down because there is no truth in that.
You can do the same thing when you’re faced with political situations that stimulate your emotions. Watching a heated debate among presidential candidates, for example, is sure to stir up some feelings.
Rather than get caught up in the drama, take a deep breath, and remember to rise above your feelings. Recognize that you’re reacting to the debates, then set those emotions aside. Continue being the witness to all things: most importantly, be a witness to your own emotional reaction to things. This will help you to remain open minded to all ways of thinking in these modern times.
As a yoga practitioner, you learn to listen to your body.
If you engage regularly in a moving practice like Hatha Yoga, you learn to pay very close attention to the feelings and thoughts that show up within you.
You’ll also begin to experience the subtle notes of each of these feelings you have. When you have such a fine-tuned connection to your feelings and thoughts, you have a deeper understanding of them and even more control of them.
Practice controlling those thoughts and emotions when you’re listening to someone who may have different political views than you.
Notice if you find yourself wanting to react or argue or get upset. Use your yoga skills and be a good listener. Listen to your own reactions, then set them aside. Leave room to listen more intently to the person across from you.
Even if you disagree with their statements, ideas, or beliefs, give them the space to state their mind. Honor them by giving them the respect to have their own opinion that can be voiced. If they are a like-minded individual, they will do the same for you.
It’s not a matter of who is right or wrong, it’s about appreciating who they are as a person – give them the rightful platform to be heard.
Don’t Hurt Anybody
In yoga, there are a set of ethics.
These ethics actually comprise the first two Limbs of Yoga (the Yamas and Niyamas). It’s important to understand and study these principles while practicing the other Limbs.
The very first ethical principle is called Ahimsa which means “non-violence.” This standard is set at the very beginning of the yogic philosophy. It means to not harm others, but it also applies to yourself; don’t harm yourself.
Harm can come in the form of physical violence, hurtful words, and negative thoughts.
These are not congruent with the practice of yoga. The intention of yoga is to reach Enlightenment, and there isn’t a clear path to Bliss when the road is cluttered with hurtfulness. Be impeccable with your words, choose them mindfully, and be respectful when sharing words with one another.
Political affiliation doesn’t make up the whole person.
It’s just a small element that describes an aspect of the human condition.
You are more than your politics. You are more than your emotions and thoughts. With a yoga mindset, you are about love, gratitude, and appreciation. That is what we practice in our yoga classes. That is what we can live off the mat.
Remember that in your next political debate.
The yoganum family