Pamela Seelig

Author of Radiant Yoga

Yoga In The World

The pandemic has affected us all in different ways, but for most, it has slowed things down and starkly revealed humanity’s interconnectedness. Despite modern medicine, we are reminded of our vulnerability as the death toll rises.

Against this shaky backdrop, we witnessed the slow, torturous murder of George Floyd. That act, preceded by an unrelenting procession of black Americans killed or brutalized by the police (and thank you to all of the good police out there!), broke something in mainstream America. A pillar that holds up the image of our equal and just society buckled and exposed those who are clearly not supported by these ideals.

Yogis are taught to first find the peace within, and then the outer world will be transformed as a result. This is true. If we don’t deal with our own inner chaos, we just add to the mess and negativity around us. But yoga is not just a passive inner process. We have physical bodies for a reason, and our action in the world is also yoga.

The ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali summarize yoga in the following two sutras:

  • Yoga is the quieting of the mind.
  • And then the seer abides in her true nature.

Book 1, sutras 2 and 3

The sutras go on to instruct, in detail, how to experience your true nature and attain your ultimate human potential. These instructions include ethical tenets, or yamas in Sanskrit. The first and highest-ranking yama is ahimsa, and translates as non-violence. Non-violence is not just a state of being or a virtue, it is an active practice to be developed and refined. Mahatma Gandhi dedicated his life to ahimsa.

The sutras teach that our true nature aligns with the yamas. At our core we are good. When we live in accordance with the yamas, we are happy and fulfilled. Choosing otherwise sets us back on our spiritual path and leads to suffering.

Violence is not in accord with who we are. Imagine witnessing someone kicking a puppy (sorry for that image!). We are moved to get involved, it’s our natural reaction. Allowing violence or participating in violence indicates the presence of ignorance, damage, or disease.

Technology is now displaying for us the unmistakable proof of the enduring violence inherent in our culture. We can choose to look away, but we can’t unsee our neighbors’ suffering. Protests have erupted signaling hope for the future. We have an opportunity to take action and move toward alignment, toward non-violence.

But why would we and how could we look away? Yoga also teaches that our minds resist change, even for the good. The narrator in our head is threatened by change and will justify and cling to the safest course, the status quo. The surface mind does not seek growth, as it foresees and fears the potential end of its existence. Only our deeper self, below the whirling surface currents, knows the truth.

When we are quiet, we remember that we are all one. With that awareness, when we hurt others, we see and feel that we hurt ourselves. To live in alignment with our true nature, and to fulfill our purpose as humans, we must make our way toward non-violence.

We all have unique abilities, talents, and personalities and are inspired to take action in different ways. Contemplate and explore how you are moved by the current cultural upheaval. Trust that your own inner compass will direct you to help in the way most authentic, fulfilling and vital for all. Now is the time to get quiet, dig deep, and take action. Practice ahimsa - that’s yoga.