Do you think that yoga can change society? Can it help those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in their society, particularly women?
This question was posed to me in a recent Skype interview with a woman who is working on her Ph.D thesis on Women and Yoga at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My response to this, and to many questions regarding the effects of yoga practice, is that it depends on the motives and sincerity of the practitioner. For yoga to be transformational the student must be willing to settle for less.
Less of what? Less mechanical and emotional reactivity, less distraction, less addiction to whatever takes us out of the moment, less restlessness, less egoism.
A meditation teacher recently quoted from a study by the Center for Disease Control that expresses the concern that we are becoming a nation of addicts. To paraphrase the psychologists who wrote the report, we are becoming a population that wants to not be present for significant portions of their lives. One that wants to be distracted by drugs, alcohol, Facebook, Twitter, TV, shopping and any number of activities that keep one on the surface of life. Addiction makes one unable to summon the vision to confront real life situations and the courage to meet challenges. Addicts have no capacity to tolerate suffering or to see the future clearly. They cannot summon creativity from deep within themselves.
This last comment is significant in regard to how yoga can help in transformation of the individual and collectively help to transform a society. By its very nature, addiction creates restlessness and anxiety. By its very definition, yoga creates restfulness and peace of mind. Paramahansa Yogananda once said:
If at this moment you could completely calm your body, your thoughts and your emotions you would instantly become aware of your true Self throbbing with the joy of Spirit.”
Krisna, in the Bhagavad Gita, directs his pupil Arjuna to Settle the mind in ME (in the heart where this consciousness abides), settle the intelligence and you will find abiding joy. Yoga practice itself can be an addiction if practiced for ego gratification, or with distracted senses and mind, as just another item to check off of the to do list. But, when it is practiced as a means of developing self acceptance and self awareness, for settling deep within oneself, it is transformational. Self acceptance is defined as satisfaction and happiness with oneself; the acceptance of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Yoga helps us to see ourselves clearly and then to go even deeper into conscious knowledge of our character, motives and desires, to develop self awareness moment to moment. With this understanding we develop self respect which leads to dignity and inner strength.
When we truly SETTLE the mind, a magnificent state of Being is revealed within that cannot be shaken. When we see that the same state is available and in the heart of everyone, and act accordingly with respect for all, that will change society.
I have more thoughts about the impact of yoga and women’s roles in society and will write more in my fall blog.
In every moment we are getting closer to, being indifferent toward, or falling away from the Divine.” – Brother Bishwananda