Monday, September 20, 2010

Yoga, Social Justice & Activism

Last week, during the lunch break at a workshop with John Friend (founder of Anusara™) in Cambridge, a few of us started talking about yoga, social justice, and activism. And I have been thinking about the conversation and topic since. Just like the balanced action of muscular and organic energy (physically hugging in and stabilizing our muscles and our bones and then expanding and reaching outward), so, too, do we need the balanced action of inner work and engagement in the world. Our practice on the mat nourishes us and prepares us for our life off of the mat. We turn inward, care for ourselves, connect to our core, and then keeping that connection, we can go out into the world and offer our hearts, and our energy to bring healing, expansion, and freedom to others.

In yoga classes, we learn to bring our bodies into alignment, and with this we bring ourselves into greater and greater integrity. With practice, we refine our awareness and become ever more conscious. For me, this consciousness makes me see the injustices and suffering in the world all the more clearly. And I see working for social justice (access to healthy food, equal access to education, life free from suffering and violence for all, environmental protection, and much more) as a natural extension of my yoga. As I develop my own internal strength and sense of self-worth, as I see my own interconnectedness and place in the web of things, I find an increasing desire to engage with my local community.

As yogis and yoginis, we cultivate inner and outer strength on our mats, develop our sense of self-worth, and nurture a sense of hope and optimism, all of which are necessary for engaging in social activism. And I believe, too, that personal growth and development becomes that much more meaningful, that much richer, when it is paired with a turning and offering outward. Sometimes this is a simple act, such as voting for a candidate who is committed to issues you care about or taking the time to tell a service worker how much you appreciate what he or she does, and sometimes it involves a commitment of much more time and energy. We are all manifestations of cit (consciousness) – individual in nature but so much more than just ourselves. Applying the principle of balanced action, we turn in and nourish ourselves, hug into our core, and then we turn out and offer our hearts to others. I invite you to contemplate what social activism means to you and to engage, in whatever way moves you, to make our community and world safer, healthier, and more just for all.

For further contemplation:

  • What does social activism mean to you? What is social justice?
  • What small, manageable things can you do on a daily basis that are acts of activism and social justice?
  • What do you see as the connections between yoga, social justice, and social activism?
  • What causes are you drawn to? (Environmental protection, gender equality, racial justice, gay rights, food justice, education, alternative energy, violence prevention, teen pregnancy, homelessness, etc.)
  • In what way can you get involved with an issue you care about?
Written by Kendra Hodgson


  1. Well written. I wish I had been part of that dialog in Boston. I just finished listening to the podcast you posted with Andrew Harvey and was struck by his suggestion that we create cells of activism in our communities. I think in Anusara we have a great opportunity to draw in from the periphery of our Anusara community into our local kulas as well as our individual selves and our ability to express outward is facilitated by the connections made (I am a newbie to facebook)online via utubes such as those of the Grand Gathering and podcasts like you sent out. I for one am filling more and more of my "free time" with these sources of inspiration which lead me to seek out my own personal potential for expression. Oh, sorry this is so long, but this summer on retreat at Rajanaka West with Douglas Brooks he said we act through kula which enables us to do grand things. He likened this to building a road. We cannot do it alone, but in community our potential is multiplied (or squared or something beyond my mathematical comprehension). And via the yoga community we extend into another larger kula and so on. Once again thank you for extending this topic into our consciousness.

  2. I think in large part a big part of yoga we can think about the meaning of "Om", In respecting the light in each human being and our global interconnectedness you are right, social justice is a natural extension of that. When we begin to understand and delve into what that connectedness may mean and appreciating the light from each human being it then becomes a natural reaction to become frustrated with the social injustice plaguing our globe. It is when we let the ego overtake us and bring us to greedy self-interested behavior that creates a public silence with the simultaneous occurrence of injustice and countless human rights violations in many cases directly connected to our selfish behaviors everyday. Down to our political silence to the cup of coffee we decide to drink, we are all interconnected. If we appreciate the light within each human being, ying and yang, we must also acknowledge there not only is there darkness in human beings but it is preventing the equal opportunity for all human beings alike to flourish. Amazing post something people should think about more.