Contemplating the Value of Yoga
While there remains a large majority of people who practice yoga, in part, to ‘get away from all that stuff,’ the idea that politics has a place in yoga (or vice-versa) is slowly gaining traction as we approach the 2012 elections. What is often not realized is that modern yoga has politics to thank in the first place.
Sarala Debi Ghosal, niece of famed philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore, was instrumental in bringing yoga to Indian consciousness at the turn of the twentieth century. Using Indian mythology as a catalyst for social change, she wanted to create a ‘nationalist warrior hero’ and even campaigned for a militant physical culture. Given that modern yoga postures in large part owe their existence to British wrestling and weightlifting, Ghosal was part of a movement which recognized that Indians were weak in the face of British nationalism, as both a metaphor and a physical characteristic.
Thus, modern yoga emerged as a technique to develop vitality and strength, not as a spiritual conduit for esoteric lessons worthy of A Course in Miracles and The Secret. Ramping up your culture to reclaim your land is first and foremost a political endeavor, one which requires focus, determination and single-pointed concentration, qualities inherent in the discipline.
In America today we have different battles, but we can recognize the analogy. While an armed insurrection is not what I’m advocating (or anywhere near what is necessary), understanding our partisan political climate is crucial in helping form a nation that will prosper and thrive in the coming decades. For those of us who practice yoga and mindfulness, it begins with this question: What is our practice really good for?
While I’m glad to see organizations like Yoga Votes emerge, I still stumble into the apathetic ‘spirituality has nothing to do with politics’ excuse. I’m not talking about in-class asana lessons, but ground zero for yoga: the ethical and moral choices we make. If the oft-chanted term lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu is to mean anything to anyone, it must play itself out in the ballot box. First step: making sure you get there.
Another odd usage of yoga in the political realm involves the Oneness Factor—the notion that we are all one, so we should treat political candidates on an even plane. The problem is, they’re not playing on that field. The lack of viveka (discernment) in such statements is frustrating. Voting while uninformed reminds me of junior high Scantron tests. Maybe you remember this: ‘If you don’t know the answer, just guess C!’ Someone somewhere supposedly figured out that C was a good default choice in attaining the highest percentage; the meme spread like bad reality television. That it had no actual basis in reality didn’t matter for the mind seeking an easy out.
Thinking about C on the following topics, however, will result in much more disastrous results than the difference between an A and a B on a midterm. Take into consideration even these few brief political happenings around our nation:
- Since taking over the House of Representatives in 2010, the number one goal of Republicans has been restricting if not overturning abortion. This coming from the same camp that states its main agenda, besides creating jobs, is getting government out of our personal lives. In fact, a stated goal on GOP.com is: ‘The Republican Party, like our nation’s founders, believes that government must be limited so that it never becomes powerful enough to infringe on the rights of individuals.’ Because, obviously, your vagina is actually government property.
- California’s Prop 29, which would have added a $1 tax to cigarettes (for funding cancer research), was defeated after Big Tobacco and lobbyists dumped $47 million into fighting it. This is key in understanding how what we label ‘corporate interests’ works today: vilify what you are against by calling the initiatives ‘anti-freedom’ and ‘unnecessary taxation,’ tilting the public eye away from what the actual goal is—in this case, helping combat cancer by taxing one of the disease’s main culprits. A similar fight is happening in New York City, where mayor Michael Bloomberg is attempting to downsize oversugared soft drinks. Notice how Coca Cola president Katie Bayne shifts the issue with pseudo-science that fits her agenda and that all-to-common default of the beverage industry, ‘hydration.’
- Remember those little things called ‘debates,’ which used to happen between candidates? You know, those face-to-face interactions that, before the advent of cinema and television, decided the outcome of who you picked for a political seat? Well, Massachusetts senator Scott Brown agreed to partake in some with his opponent, Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren—on his conditions. The biggest proved to be the biggest farce: former senator Ted Kennedy’s wife, Vicky, was not allowed to make an endorsement in the election. Of course she refused; Brown turned down certain debates in key swing areas as a result. If he’s that frightened to take part in one of democracy’s most powerful deciders, what is he really hiding?
- With some GOP backers planning on spending between $300 and $400 million—each—on this year’s races, bringing the projected Republican tally to over a billion dollars, what kind of agendas do you think could be hoped for? Obviously if you’re dropping that kind of dime into the bucket you’re expecting results. Given the host of legislators denying climate change, even though time and again it is presented as fact and not theory, we have to wonder why those we are voting in refuse to listen to what the majority of respected professionals are saying. Whose interests are they really serving?
Recognizing the differences between Tim Ryan and Paul Ryan is a critical step in knowing what you’re going to do when you step up to the poll. Believing in Mayan prophecies, Raptures and self-created reality might be low-calorie fodder for the imagination, but they do nothing to help create better and more sustainable realities for the majority of people on this planet. That whole ‘everyone is happy and free’ thing seems a lot less valuable when only your interests are being attended to.
You can wish another political and social system exists; being engaged in this one requires the greatest yogic discipline: duty. Chanting your head off in a desert and working hard on your yoga butt can be components if you choose. If the end result doesn’t involve being an informed, active participant in your society, what is all the practice really for?
Featured image: Elephant & Donkey Dance