Yoga in the Age of Trump

The news flows in everyday. Every morning it's some new crisis. Some new unbelievable situation.

It's exhausting.

And it's supposed to be. With all of the political turmoil of the last six months it's hard to know which way is up and what is actually happening to our democracy. Overwhelm is inevitable, and it's exactly what the people in power want. If I'm too overwhelmed to even think about politics, I won't be able to take right action and if I don't take right action, things will only continue to get worse.

Luckily, we don't have to be overwhelmed. We can fight back. We can do better than simply resisting those in power, we can reclaim the power that is rightfully ours. How do we do this? You guessed it! Yoga. But how?

I want to be as specific as possible here. Yoga means a lot of things to a lot of different people, so I want to define what I mean, and then explain how it enables us to engage in politics in a powerful, change-making way. First off, yoga is more than exercise. It is the practice of being present with your body, mind, and emotions. The tools of yoga (physical postures, breathwork, and meditation) open the door for practitioners to experience and practice self-acceptance.  This self-acceptance (briefly talked about in my last blog) leads to monumental change in a person's being. Yoga allows us to say yes to what is. This yes allows us to work with reality, instead of against it; and as you could imagine, working with something is much more effective than working against something.

Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, let me break that down.  I'm NOT saying we shouldn't dismantle and abolish white supremacy and the systematic racism that allowed Trump to be elected in favor of working "with the system." We must absolutely and completely dismantle this terrible system.  What I am saying is the only way we can do that is to acknowledge systematic racism and the part we all play in perpetuating it. If we look at this administration and the rise of white supremacists (re: Nazis) and say, "Oh no, this can't be happening. Not in my America." We're living in denial. We're living out of touch with reality. And it is impossible to make any real changes if we aren't living in reality.

The first way Yoga helps me or any practitioner make real and lasting change is it helps us deal with the pain of acceptance. Accepting the fact that because of the color of my skin, I benefit from a system that oppresses people of color is not fun. It is painful. The practices of Yoga have taught me how to deal with pain, which allows me to move through it and make positive change. We (re: white people) can only dismantle this system if we are willing to accept the part we play in it, and the realize the ways we have benefitted off of the backs of people of color.

Once we get real with ourselves and the system we're inherently a part of, then we have to get real about what we need to do to change it. We all have a specific purpose for being on this planet, some would call this our Dharma. Without getting too woo-woo about it, basically we all have specific strengths and weaknesses which means we can all play a part in making the positive change we're all longing for. This, too, presents us with a challenge. We must know who we are and have the courage to live as ourselves in the face of a society that demands we dumb ourselves down to fit in. Yoga, especially the meditation aspects of yoga, gives us the space to explore who we really are. For me, and for many yogis I've spoken to, yoga was the first time I could truly see myself without projecting judgements, expectations, and the endless list of "shoulds" onto my reflection.

Seeing who I really am, the system I've been born into, and how I would like things to be different makes taking action clear.  It keeps us from being overwhelmed, because we can see what is ours to do, and what is not. Yoga supports us in this final step as well. Many times, taking right action (or the action that is ours to take) is challenging. It is scary. It can also be painful. One of the oldest texts about yoga, The Bhagavad Gita, tells a story of Arjuna, a warrior by birth, caught between two sides of an epic battle. The God-Figure Krishna tells Arjuna, "Plunge yourself into battle, and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord."  Basically, do what you were born to do, and let the rest take care of itself.

We're fighting more than an administration, we're working to bring to light all the systems that have been operating in the shadows of our collective unconscious that brought this administration to power.  We may not see the fruit of this battle we're engaged in, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. In yoga, this is called practice and nonattachment.  We simply show up, and do what we know is ours to do, without being attached to the outcome, immediate or otherwise.  And we keep showing up, no matter what. We continue to practice even when things look bleak, or hopeless. We press on because we know it is ours to do, and no one else can do it.

Yoga in the west has a bad wrap for being extremely white and extremely out of touch (like a lot of things in the west). But when practiced honestly, it brings us down into our bodies and into our everyday lives where we truly live. Yogis don't get to claim spirituality and opt out of politics.  Politics effects us, and any true yogi strives to be in right relationship with all things affecting this earthly life. Yoga is about embodied spirituality, which means being "spiritual" in the here and now, seeing the divine grounded in the material, and all things material being grounded in the divine.

This take on yoga isn't easy to stomach. This blog has been a challenge for me to write because I'm having to accept the places where I've been in denial even as I write.  It's said that yoga is a personal journey that cannot be done alone.  We all have work to do that only we can do, but we cannot do it in isolation. We must build community around these tender areas.

So, where are you in this process?  How is your yoga practice affecting your politics? How would you like to be more engaged?  Where do you need support? I’m writing this blog to challenge and inspire, but also to start building a community of politically aware and active yogis who seek to bring about change in themselves, their communities, and the world. Comment and let me know where you’re at and how we can do our own work together.