THE BLOG
05/01/2013 05:37 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2013

Yoga and Human Rights: Exercising Our Power for Change

What's the biggest thing you worry about as you drive to work each morning?

We all go through our day with a multitude of things rushing through our minds. We stress about work, money, relationships. All real issues that affect our lives.

But how many of us worry about going to prison for doing our jobs?

It's no stretch of the imagination. It happens.

It happened to Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer and mother of two young children. Nasrin was arrested in September 2010 and unfairly tried and jailed for defending women and children facing human rights violations from their own government. This work was deemed critical of the Iranian government.

During her imprisonment, Nasrin has spent lengthy periods of time in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. In protest against the appalling conditions that she and other prisoners face, she has put herself through several hunger strikes. This has left her extremely weak, and recent reports indicate she dropped to an alarming 95 pounds after a hunger strike of 49 days.

Alone and isolated in prison, Nasrin has been denied even a photo of her family. She worries about the effect of her absence on her children. Yet Nasrin maintains her belief that the pain her family and others in Iran have had to endure is not in vain. She expressed this sentiment in a letter to her daughter: "Justice arrives exactly at a time when most have given up hope. It arrives when we least expect it. I am certain of it."

Nasrin's story exists against a backdrop of a series of human rights concerns in her country. Amnesty International, the world's largest membership-based human rights organisation, reports a number of alarming human rights issues in Iran, including severe restriction of freedom of expression, association and assembly; arbitrary arrests of political dissidents and human rights defenders; torture and other ill-treatment of political prisoners; discrimination against women, religious and ethnic minorities in law and in practice -- just to name a few.

Nasrin's ordeal is just one of many human rights violations against brave human rights defenders around the world, every day. It's just one example of why we need to do more to right these wrongs.

How does Nasrin's story make you feel? Me, I...I feel the need to do something that will create positive change for this woman and countless others like her.

But do we have the power to change the actions of powerful authorities halfway across the globe?

Some will say 'No.' But I say differently. I heard about Nasrin's story because Amnesty is campaigning worldwide for her release. Amnesty's worldwide membership -- people like you and me -- is speaking out with other international human rights activists for justice and freedom for Nasrin.

I also learned that human rights activists look for smart partnerships to reach people and motivate them to use their voices for change. They learned decades ago that they must go where the people are. Today, people are in yoga classes. Many, many millions of people.

As a long-time yoga teacher, here's where I see the connections. On the surface, the modern yoga and human rights movements evolved with vastly different goals in mind. But they can work powerfully, beautifully together. In Sanskrit yoga means "to join," "to unite." When we practice together, we breathe and move as one. The same wonderful thing happens when many individuals come together to speak with one voice for human rights. Both movements are about the healing, changing power of human energy. They both move humanity to remove our shackles and prejudices. They move us towards universal consciousness and teach us the value of serving others.

Recognizing the potential impact of linking these movements -- and in the spirit of global unity -- Amnesty International and I are hosting a "borderless" one-hour live online yoga class in honour of the very courageous Nasrin Sotoudeh.

I'm asking you to join me. Join me in stretching yourself for human rights -- and for Nasrin Sotoudeh.