You, yes you, can be a yoga activist. Sharon Gannon shows you that true societal change begins by going within.
When I moved to New York City, I began attending yoga classes as a last-ditch effort to relieve back pain caused by a recent fall. Yoga not only helped my back, but the practice also instigated a reintegration of all parts of my being. During those first few yoga classes, I had the rare experience of going deeper into the feelings in my body as well as the judgments, assumptions, and opinions in my mind. Was it painful? Extremely so! But, perhaps for the first time in my very physical life, I was actually being physical. I wasn’t trying to get out of my body—I was actually going deeper into it with a sense of adventure.
Previously I had objectified my body, considering it to be a tool I needed. After all, I was going to change the world, save the animals, and bring peace on earth—and I needed a body to accomplish this great work!
I realized through the practice of yoga that ideas were not enough to change the world or to change my own life. Whatever I wanted to see in the world around me had to first become real in my own life, in my own body, down to the molecular level. Change had to start with the way I lived, the way I breathed, and how I spoke. Yoga gave me the means to dehypnotize myself from the cultural conditioning to which I—and everyone—had been subjected. Yoga taught me that the disease of disconnection that causes us to say one thing while meaning another—and to do a completely different third thing—stems from a deep lack of self-confidence. Yoga taught me the unitive power of well-being, which arises through aligning with breath (the animating life force) and allows one to feel part of the community of life rather than feeling at odds with it. Yoga taught me, above all, that life provides us with opportunities to be kind. Kindness leads to compassion, and compassion is essential for enlightenment, which is the goal of yoga….
I consider myself an activist—a yoga activist as well as an animal rights activist. What does it mean to be an activist? An activist is someone who actively wants to stimulate a change in the world. We all know that pointing fingers and trying to change others is an endless job. If we can’t get to the root of a problem, our efforts will only end in frustration.
Yoga offers an effective form of activism because it teaches us that there really is no “out there” out there. What we see in the world around us is only a reflection of what is inside of us. Our present reality is a projection of our inner reality, and that inner reality arises according to our past karmas. Our past karmas are the result of how we have treated others. How we have treated others in the past determines our present reality.
We create the world we live in. If we want to change what we don’t like in the world, we must start by changing what we don’t like about ourselves. That is a task we can handle and one that will actually succeed in changing the world.
Excerpted from Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon. Copyright © 2008 by Mandala Publishing.