Can Yoga Really Change the World?
In traditional Ashtanga yoga, we close practice with a mantra for world peace:
When I first started practicing Ashtanga yoga, the connection between the practice and this closing prayer of peace was not immediately obvious to me. As a newbie, I only had a faint understanding of the inner peace yoga could bring. Now, as I am more able to find quiet moments of internal focus during practice, I am beginning to understand the connection between yoga practice and peace on a grander scale.
As I mentioned in my post The Gifts of Yoga, Part 2, the meditative aspects of yoga, brought about by the Tristana Method of drishti (point of focus), breath, and asana, will inevitably cause the practitioner to come in contact with his or her true nature, one of calm and peace (also known as sukha in Sanskrit).
The more you practice yoga, the more you will live in the truth of your peaceful nature--the natural by-products of which are patience and empathy. One day, you will discover you are less quick to lose your temper. Imagine if the majority of the people you knew were living life this way. How many fewer altercations would occur? How many marriages, friendships, relationships, and family dynamics would become more positive? How many bosses would learn compassion for their employees, and how many neighbors would grow more mindful toward one another? So it is no exaggeration to say that when you practice yoga, you help make the world a peaceful place.
And what about prisoners? Can the power of yoga be transformative to the members of our society who may need it the most?
I recently came across an organization that believes the answer is a definitive YES: The Prison Yoga Project. In PYP’s mission statement, Founder and Director James Fox explains that many prisoners are living with “chronic interpersonal trauma experienced early in life such as abandonment, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, bullying, discrimination, drug and alcohol abuse, and witnessing crime--including murder." This trauma affects every aspect of their existence, causing them to approach life from a reactive, defense space. But yoga, when practiced mindfully, is “very effective in releasing deeply held, unresolved trauma, allowing us to address the resultant behavioral issues.”
Additionally, Fox explains that
Yoga…is our tool for reengaging prisoners with their bodies to restore the connection between mind, heart and body. We use a yoga practice to develop the whole person, increase sensitivity toward oneself and empathy for others. By putting the men and women back in touch with their bodies, they begin to care more about themselves and understand the harm they have caused… And empathy, when encouraged, leads to compassion. Gradually, the cycle of violence is interrupted.
Talk about making the world a better place with yoga! I am very moved by the work that this organization is doing, especially after reading some inmate testimonies. This is something I believe in fully—the transformational power of yoga. I will definitely be contributing to their cause in the very near future.
For your part, just going to yoga class is of great value to the world. Going consistently to the point that you inspire others in your life to join you is even more impactful! So remember each time you go to class, you’re doing a lot more than just exercise—this is a vitally meaningful practice for you, your family, your community, and the greater world around you.