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Wed, September 11 2013

The Politics of Loving Kindness

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I remember the day I awakened to the idea that yoga was inherently political. I was sitting in a class when one of my teachers said: Yoga is inherently political because the practice is about awareness.

To be honest, at the time I didn’t really want to hear it. I just wanted to do yoga. It would be a while before I finally understood that my teacher was talking about the politics of loving kindness.

We live in fairly tough times, politically speaking. It can be exhausting just tuning in to the news, with today’s politics so filled with rancor. Not just in the United States, but abroad as well.  Yet on the positive side, citizen groups that once were silenced are no longer willing to sit back and be stifled. The old guards and governments filled with patronizing dudes who’ve always had control now face more massive resistance, largely thanks to swift and accessible communication methods like we’ve witnessed in Egypt.  

So how does yoga become political? Well, politics are about people, and it is people who are fighting one another. A true yoga practice awakens us to our humanity, and this awakening translates to action. Slowly.  

Before I had discovered yoga, both exercise and spirituality seemed mutually exclusive. That is, until I experienced a genuine yoga class. The practice immediately became a spiritually enlivening experience for me, and one that simultaneously kept me in great shape. Honestly, in this new practice, I had no desire to bring political battles into a class. I was seeking peace and balance.

Yet as students show up for their practice, we are taught it is about the journey, not the destination. We become less goal-oriented and more focused on experience. Initially, we awaken to the first stage of loving kindness: caring for ourselves. Then, in time, this naturally translates into the next stage: caring for those around us. And this awareness changes everything.

All great saints and sages who have had enduring stories are remembered because they took a stand on something vital. They awakened to some form of inhumanity and stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves, often at the cost of their own lives.

Jesus practiced loving kindness when he stood up for the poor, the sick, and the impoverished, those who were excluded from society. His simple actions became inherently political, as his stance ignited one of the more intriguing political battles in history.

Gandhi’s loving kindness included taking a stand for the entire Indian population, a group that had been subjugated by British rule. He practiced satya, the Sanskrit word for living truthfully. Upon looking truthfully out into the world, he saw that his fellow Indians were being forced to live as second-class citizens in their own country. His spirituality became inherently political, too.

For so many of us, yoga is used as a sort of balm, a divine, almost selfish reprieve from the overwhelming demands of living life. This sense of retreat is likely a major reason why so many people return to the practice day after day, year after year. Yet paradoxically, these much-needed reprieves have a much more enlivening impact on the practitioner.

As we learn that yoga is not about the form, we then learn to experience our true Selves through the form. We learn that it is not about perfecting an impeccable back bend if our mind is in angst. We learn that if we are grasping to get the posture “right,” and neglecting our inner peacefulness and equanimity, then we have lost our practice entirely even if we do reach what might appear to be the perfect back bend. This logic goes counter to what we are taught in a Western, capitalist culture.

It is our awakening to our humanity, or loving kindness, that creates meaningful, healthy change in us. Once we have changed our inner dynamic, from either neglect or even self-abuse to compassion, then how we see the world shifts. It is in this space where we finally, inevitably, find our true power.

Finding our true power is the ultimate act of defiance against a world hell-bent on war and rancor. This power is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Without it, there can be scant hope for peace to prevail on Earth. 

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

Will Donnelly's picture

Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher. He has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV, part of the Discovery family of channels. Will currently lives and works at Kalani, a yoga and wellness retreat center on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he teaches weekly yoga classes and offers several Practical Yoga adventure and wellness retreats throughout the year. He has produced two workout DVDs: “Practical Yoga for Everyday People” and "Relax & Release at Night."

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