Why do we practice yoga?
For many, yoga is a rigorous form of exercise, a challenge in stamina and flexibility. For others, it's a way of decompressing after a long day. But at its core, yoga is a spiritual discipline. From Sanskrit, the word literally means "to yoke" or "to unite." Thus we can imagine the practice of yoga as the joining of breath and motion, of mind and body, of intent and action.
But have you ever considered yoga as a form of activism? It seems counter-intuitive for a practice bounded within the perimeter of a 72-by-24-inch mat (at least for most Western practitioners). But conceptualized more broadly, yoga can be a vehicle for transformation. For Seane Corn, an internationally acclaimed yoga instructor, activism is at the heart of the practice. She discusses this and more with Deepak Chopra on The Chopra Well's "Who Are You?"
It starts on the mat. A new yogini explores her flexibility and breath. She learns to quiet her mind and lean into discomfort. As she develops her practice, she watches her body stretch and bend in new ways. She feels her lungs expand to accommodate deep, thick breath. Somewhere down the road she finds herself listening more thoroughly at work, eating with a mind attuned to the body's needs, and calming herself and others in stressful moments. And eventually she may find herself asking, "Now what?"
Seane describes her own trajectory in this way. At the beginning, the practice of yoga was about "my body, my life, my health." Over time, the focus shifted to: How can I, through the practice of yoga, begin to impact or change the world? That's why, in 2007, Seane co-founded the grassroots organization, Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM). From their website:
"OTM uses the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change. We do this by facilitating personal empowerment through leadership trainings, fostering community collaboration, and initiating local and global service projects."
In addition to workshops and teacher trainings, OTM has taken their work around the world to address critical global issues. In 2012 they have focused on grassroots efforts against sex trafficking in India. As Seane explains to Deepak, OTM's efforts are successful because they offer yogis practical tools to take their health, their "light," and share it with the world. Being healthy and feeling good might be enough for some. But, as Seane describes, many who practice yoga strive to make a broader impact. Off the Mat harnesses this passion and yokes intent with action in the purest sense of the word "yoga."
Like a true activist, Seane doesn't stop there. In preparation for the upcoming presidential election in the United States, Seane has thrown her energy into YogaVotes -- a national, non-partisan organization that encourages yogis to take their values to the political arena and VOTE! At 20 million strong in the U.S., the yoga community is a constituency, Seane says, that should have a voice in democracy.
Clearly, yoga is much more than a form of exercise. It's more than a tool for personal growth. Seane emphasizes that yoga is a path of conscious living that extends from the body to the soul, and from the mat to the world. Consider this next time you unroll your mat for a 90-minute class. Awareness and quietude don't have to end when the class is over. It's the spirit of transformation and unity that you carry with you. On the mat, off the mat, everywhere you go.
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Stayed tuned for an in-depth interview with Seane Corn and Kerri Kelly about the YogaVotes coming soon
Don't miss Part 2 of Seane's interview on "Who Are You?" coming up next week
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