I’ve had the privilege of practicing Yoga since I was nineteen years old. At thirty-one, I’ve explored, experimented, and internalized as much as I can. I am full of Yoga. I’ve cultivated a “safe” practice for myself that now feels stifling. I’m stepping out of the incubation of my practice and weaving my practice into my life. And I’m doing that because I can see and feel Yoga’s opposite so resolutely.
Divisiveness; I’m talking about the nature of hate, racism, and othering that we are experiencing ripping through our country, communities, media, and social constructs. I cannot ignore the violence, mass murders, poverty, and helplessness any more. The level of dichotomy in our world calls for my practice to evolve and be inclusive of these realities too.
There is a popular Sanskrit mantra that goes “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” it means “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” How though, if we are only using our practice to perpetuate our own safety and wellbeing do we cultivate thoughts, words, and actions that contribute to the happiness and freedom of others?
Over time my practice has matured me beyond the need for only safety and has propelled me into the Yoga of Action, into Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga states that one should act, but not be attached to the fruits of your labor. One of the powers cultivated in this practice is the ability to witness how the mind reacts to external forces.
Once we understand the impact the mind’s reactions have on our willingness to engage, we can begin to investigate how and why we avoid, shy away from, and detest certain people, circumstances, and feelings. When we move through our resistance, we can identify and overcome the illusionary fears that keep us in avoidance.
As I act and educate myself of the injustices in our world, I am learning that they get stronger the more I (we) avoid and reject them as truth. I am seeing and feeling the dichotomy, the violence, the hate, the racism, the systems that oppress and it hurts.
As I embrace these realities my worldview is challenged and my “safety” feels threatened. What I’ve been able to understand through strong practice, educating myself, and action is that right now it IS unsafe, violent, and dangerous and it isn’t my safety that feels threatened it’s my privilege.
If you are feeling safe it is because you have the privilege to be unaffected by the violence, the hate, and the racism that are thrashing about in our world. I believe that a practice that only cultivates the ability to tolerate the good, the ease, the righteous creates a fragility within us. The need for only good means we turn away and avoid the bad this action perpetuates and emboldens privilege.
When we ignore the hate, judgement, and fear inside of ourselves it is easy to avoid it out in the world. This kind of avoidance stunts our growth, endangers the future of inclusive progress, emboldens violence, hate, and racism and is out of integrity with the purpose of Yoga which is to create union. There’s a word for this tendency it’s called Spiritual Bypassing.
I encourage each of us to investigate the practices we cultivate. Are our practices only perpetuating our privilege and our relationship with that which is comfortable, safe, stable, and easeful? Or are our practices also fortifying and preparing us to sit with, tolerate, and welcome the realities that are uncomfortable, violent, hateful, racist, and oppressive?
To the spiritual white women reading this: It is time for us to begin practicing Yoga as action rather than using it as a tool to further isolate. We can only really do this if we can sit with our own shadows, our hate, our racism, our violence, our rage, and the oppression we experience and internalize, and witness, welcome, and weather whatever confrontation it brings.
You may feel like this action will tear you apart, impact your mental stability, or break you. I ask you to take that belief into your practice and test it. Karma Yoga states that we find ourselves in these times (Karma) and should act in line with the tenants of Yoga for the sake of Union, but not be attached to the fruits of our labor or let our attachments guide our actions.
The Sanskrit mantra “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” means “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all”; it really does mean FOR ALL PEOPLE. If we are only practicing love and light and celebrating the beauty in the world we are doing an injustice to the practice, to our Self, and to others; we are Spiritually Bypassing.
I challenge you to call in the other half of life, the violence, the hate, the racism, the systems that oppress and the shadows. If we do not start to take accountability for the internalized shadows that are part of our nature; we will only prolong the hate, racism, and othering happening in the world. If we cannot dismantle our aversion I am not sure our Yoga practice or mantras like “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” can benefit all.
If you call what you are practicing Yoga, yet you’re ignoring the injustices happening outside of yourself, I ask you to reconsider what it is that you’re practicing and teaching others. Is it Yoga, if it ignores injustice or is it Spiritual Bypassing.
I would like to hear your reaction to this blog, please email me at Rachel@ViraBhavaYoga.com.
The article linked about has several foundational citations within it so that you can educate yourself further on topics touched on in this piece. I also recommend you follow Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams, Rusia Mohiuddin, Kerri Kelly (CTZNWELL), Rachel Cargle and Layla F. Saad for profound inclusivity work around racism, spirituality, Yoga, feminism, inclusion, and the revolution.
Rachel Tuck is the Associate Director and Operations Officer of Vira Bhava Yoga. She spends her time internally within the Vira Bhava Yoga Company supporting and co-creating the offerings, cultivating thought capitol, and intermingling with the forces greater than her to call in what’s next. You can also find her teaching in various weekends of Vira Bhava Yoga teacher trainings around the country and soon to be leading her own programs within the Vira Bhava Yoga School. Rachel is a 500 RYT who has been teaching Yoga for 8 years. She lives in Nevada City, California and can be found on social media as Rachelle Luck.