Modern Yoga Wrestles with Election Year Politics

 

 

The ongoing discussion of modern yoga has turned from social action to politics.

Where politics is defined by;” the interrelationships between the people, groups, or organizations in a particular area of life especially insofar as they involve power and influence or conflict.”

 

Arianna Huffington the famous conservative turned liberal, voice of the liberal political internet, pitched her Oasis of peace complete with yoga on the harsh sands of the Republican Convention. Yoga was provided by yoga instructor social activist now political activist, Seane Corn.

Huffington explained on the television show Real Time, that she would offer the same services at the RNC as she did at the DNC last year. She was being inclusive. I had a childhood memory of flowing haired women in granny gowns offering daisies to cops about to lob tear gas bombs into a peaceful resistance of the sixties because the Republican Party has been co-opted by extremists. People who define their values as liberal for the sake of political affiliation are in direct conflict with the policies of Right Wing extremists.

Huffington’s station may have been just a vague good will gesture but it wasn’t clear what an activist yoga project was doing there. Corn is co-founder of a social action project called Off the Mat, short for Off the Mat and Into the World. She has recruited teachers to aid folks in need.  Her latest project, Yoga Votes, is to get people involved in the political process beginning with her immediate audience of yoga students.

Any Republican at the RNC was probably aware of the voting process. Reporters, stragglers, whoever else might wander by were probably also involved. Maybe the yoga provided as part of Huffington’s intention to provide a retreat was restorative or gentle stretching  but why invite Corn and not just hire a local yoga studio?

(In a recent interview with Elephant Journal she answers that question when discussing her presence at the DNC:)

We are thrilled to have Seane Corn overseeing the yoga programming. The commitment she’s making with Off the Mat is so much what HuffPost’s Living section is all about—taking care of ourselves and leading balanced, centered lives while at the same time making a difference in the world.

So maybe the RNC attendees were getting centered while they made a difference too; difference. It’s probably alot of nothing because I’m sure Huffington was not hoping to support the different policies that would take wing from the RNC. Maybe it was a support for support people who had jobs there and no affiliation. Or maybe it wasn’t that deeply thought out though that seems uncharacteristic but it brings up an interesting discussion so…..

What does yoga have to do with the clumsy multi-headed beast of American politics? What does yoga have to do with power, influence and conflict?

Yoga is about the relationship of all things and our understanding of what those things are and our choices in how to proceed with our lives.  Yoga is a system for managing power, influence and conflict.

Our psychology predicates our sociology which predicates political constructs. Who we are as a community, if we are yogis, is the result of the yoga. Yoga is a system to make our psychology healthy, to make our sociology functional; to make relationships, all of them, work.

 But yoga is not a Trojan horse for a political conflict. When conflict is here in the battle between the two major political affiliations of our country, yoga has either had an effect on the people involved or not. Again, it will not be an effective sword any more than the protest signs of bible thumpers.

I recently saw a video clip of Seane Corn and Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan sitting on a stage encircled by a group of high profile yoga instructors addressing what looked like a gymnasium of yoga students.  It was a rally to encourage yogis to become part of the political process.

Good idea. Even though the yoga community is largely white middle class educated people who are likely to vote, apathy still abounds and yogis excited to participate in the political process may choose to recruit people with other backgrounds as well.  The entire diverse community of the U.S. needs to participate if all voices are to be represented. Encouraging activism in a community has no down side.

But something did not make sense. After the discussion there was a relay race of teachers who then led the group in asana accompanied by live music, while continuously urging them to action. Maybe I’m projecting but it looked awkward. If I’d been in that group I would have felt jerked around. It seemed manipulative.

Forcing an intention for asana practice compels the practitioner to narrow focus and limit attention. It is antithetical to a practice.

What did this have to do with the conversation? The integrity of the intention to rally yogis to participate in the political system suddenly seemed adolescent. Asana was out of place there and I felt it was out of place at the RNC Oasis because Huffington’s politics run counter to the politics being sold there. It made the yoga seem sneaky.

Several folks including me, made critical comments on a blog regarding OTM and Arianna’s Oasis at the Republican National Convention. Someone who defined herself as a Zen priest complained that our disapproving commentary was the stuff of the divisiveness that folks like her were attempting to eradicate by their presence there as peace extenders. But she got that wrong.

The stuff of divisiveness is telling others that opinions that go against the party are not helpful. The party has an agenda. Perhaps there is  an assumption that all yogis are in one party and we should respect the party planners.  So here are yogis in conflict or at least disagreement over power and influence.

Right to free speech does not mean squelching the opinions of others.  The Sanskrit word, ahimsa, which translates to non-harming, is the primary tenant of modern yoga. It is described as a restraint. This is the grenade widely thrown around when criticism is viewed as negativity. Yogis who do not practice ahimsa are not yogis and what a fearful condemnation that is. As a result, some restrain themselves from speaking their minds.

If yoga was a blanketed mass and there were no differing opinions, what would that say about the leader? The riddle is that if it is yoga there can be no leader. The riddle continues; there are no followers. It’s just a discussion till someone gets pushy.

That’s the yoga. That’s the text, the school, the process. Don’t bother throwing it around.  It doesn’t exist outside your experience.

I was worried that I initially had little reaction to the Oasis and that I had no fire to roll my eyes at the asana pep rally. It took a moment until annoyance woke up apathy. That’s what makes a political party. That’s the game: annoyance and rebuttal. Why do we call it a party, anyway?

For better or worse, we fall into groups. That is our most common superficiality.  The most powerful group, the group that makes us feel safest or most loved is probably the one we will stay with. What does that mean for political yogis?

Interesting reading: http://thebabarazzi.com/2012/08/29/bringing-foot-rubs-and-yoga-to-the-people-who-need-it-most-rich-white-republicans-figuring-out-the-best-way-to-legislate-your-uterus/

3 Comments

Filed under new age enlightenment, politcal action, social action, Uncategorized, yoga, yoga and politics

3 responses to “Modern Yoga Wrestles with Election Year Politics

  1. Krishna to Arjuna: “Arjuna, your cousins will steal your land. Go get it back but offer massages and yoga class to relax them before battle”.

  2. I understand our practice to rest heavily on intention. People can take the same action for different reasons. If I take action out of a loving concern for others, that’s one thing. If I take the same action out of a lust for power over others, that’s another. Outwardly, the action might look the same to an observer. But inwardly, the first action is that of a yogi, and the second is not. We kid themselves about why we do things. We come up with rationalizations so that we can live with ourselves and so that we don’t blow our cover publicly. Yogis (or anyone) need to be vigilant as to why they do things.

    In the sixties it occurred to me that while many in the streets were informed and sincere, there were also many who were just looking for a fight. And as you are pointing out, Hilary, we can assume that our groups are more homogeneous than they might actually be. That can lead to a group correctness claimed by the majority, or by an aggressive minority, which can make some feel like outsiders in a group they mostly agree with. There is some simplistic thinking around, and that’s one way that we get things like the ahimsa card being played, ironically, as coercion. Good post, my friend.

    • Thanks David,
      Sometimes a teacher sets an intention for a practice and sometimes students are asked to do that for themselves. I said that intentions are limiting because I am considering yoga as a practice that is limitless if you do not shut down possibilities. The practitioner does not know what all potential is or what resides unconsciously and one reason to practice is to let that surface. If you block that by setting an intention, you are limiting a practice. So one might set an intention to feel……..this but if it comes from outside it won’t feel athentic. If it comes from me it can be an obstacle. Either way it can be an obstacle and a struggle that interferes with the practice; the flow of immediate experience.

      If the teacher sets an intention, the teacher is manipulating the practice in some way, for better or worse.

      By intention I mean something specific, not ‘be kind to yourself as you practice or be aware of your breath’ etc.

      Love your comments. You are right also. And sometimes Buddhism merges with yoga but I usually speak only of yoga. I know little of Buddhism.

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