I have always considered myself an activist, and tend to fall on the left of most social issues. Being an activist has always been an important part of my identity. I fight for the things I believe in and feel passionately that we can create a more peaceful existence with the world around us; if we make intentional choices about the way we live our lives. For me, this has meant fighting on behalf of those that are less visible in the mainstream, people who are imprisoned, families living in poverty, vulnerable youth, LGBTQ rights, and animals that are neglected and subject to cruelty. I often use the term ‘urban warrior activist’ to describe the ways I have applied yoga into my life as an activist. But, I have struggled with a great deal of internal conflict around what it means to be both an activist that fights for social justice, while spending a great deal of my personal time committing to my yoga practice. Practicing yoga is a luxury and a privilege not many can have, and I can’t help but often feel selfish about the time I spend on my mat.
Let’s face it, yoga can be a very selfish practice. Yoga (in the way it is practiced in the western world) is a practice that is geared and intended for the self. For most of us this means taking a chunk out of your day to commute to and from, and take a class. Your yoga practice is a gift you give to yourself that is comprised of just you, your mat, and your time. For those with families, full-time work, extra-curricular activities and obligations, devoting yourself to a regular yoga practice can be a challenge. A challenge that we occasionally submit to by not going to class because we feel so guilty taking the time to practice. So why should we continue to fight for our practice?
When practiced with the right intentions, yoga offers us a chance to restore our energy and therefore be more able to give ourselves to our efforts and people outside of the studio. If you walk out of your practice feeling better than when you walked in, your yoga practice has fulfilled it’s mission. Incorporating the proper amount of movement, breath and meditation is good for your health, your soul, your well being and your actions with others. You cannot serve others if you are depleted or running on low and stagnant energy. This is the same reason why we are told to put our own oxygen masks on before putting one on anyone else. Filling yourself with prana (life force) allows you to be more fully present, energetic and able to give yourself to the work you do, and the people you share your time with.
Your yoga practice should allow you to live your life better as a result of your committed time on the mat. Create a consistent practice that compliments what you do outside of the yoga studio. If you have a stressful, high energy, run-around life, maintain a yoga sequence that is grounding, restorative and helps you to regain a sense of calm. If you sit hunched over a desk every day with not enough exercise in your daily routine, commit to a practice that is more energetic, vigorous and gets the whole body moving. Every practice should include some breath work as well as meditation because it completes a yoga practice. Our physical postures are not much other than a work out routine, if we have not incorporated some time for breathing and clearing the mind. Having a practice that compliments your life can make things whole for you in a way that other activities cannot.
You wouldn’t want to take a huge test on a day in which you went out partying the night before and didn’t sleep. You wouldn’t go take a nap an hour after you woke up from a solid night’s sleep. But you might live a better more vibrant day after a solid yoga practice each morning. You might rest better at night if you take some time to slow things down and prepare the body to sleep well. These things give us the fuel and the energy we need to sustain and maintain. Maintaining a regular yoga practice has the same ability to fill us with the energy we need to live a better quality of life outside of the studio. I couldn’t be an activist if I did not have the consistent yoga practice that I do. Nothing helps me fight for the causes I believe in more than my yoga practice. By igniting the warrior within, I am reminded of the focus and strength needed to continue to push through on causes I feel passionately about.