For the ascetic in each of us, you might consider yoga to be one of the many viable outlets through which wholeness and contemplative unity with the self and universe are brought into peaceful union. After all, isn't tranquility the general aim for such transcendent practices? While inner balance may be one of the focuses yoga promotes, yogis around the world are causing public stir and occasional uproar with this ancient meditative practice. Yoga and civil disobedience would appear to polar opposites since they seem to maintain vastly different forms of expression. On one hand, you have angry police ridden sit-ins, oppositely matched with Frog or Pigeon pose, making for a distanced couple in my mind. However, students atCambridge, educators in Wisconsin and politically savvy yogis in India have struck a synergy between both forms of expression, resulting in a global trend of passive, yet flexible resistance.
Let's begin with the basics. Just what is yoga, and why do so many people seem to go ga-ga over stretches, bends, binds and mats ? According to the American Yoga Association (AYA), the practice of yoga encompasses physical exercise which incorporates elements of deep meditation and focus on the breath. This mind-body-spirit triple threat (in a non-violent yogi sort of way) has been attributed to relaxation, physiological improvement and enlightenment for approximately 5,000 years, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Yoga is linked to honing the conscious mind through often rigorous physical exercise in the form of different yogic poses like Up Dog, the Yogi Squat or Crescent pose. So, if yoga's about relaxation and opening the mind, then what's the deal with yoga and socially deviant protests?
As an effective means of creating unity (the word "yoga" derives from Sanskrti yuj, meaning "yoke or union") between the mind, body and surrounding, yoga's repercussions in the public circles have become evident, following a recent wave in anti-war and anti-corruption protests. As a form of active yet peaceful protestation, yoga practiced in large gatherings, such as the mass yogic gathering and hunger strike led by India's Swami Ramdev, seem to act as an outlet for emphasizing the role of peaceful unity and cooperation on a national and global scale. That being said, this holistic mindset espoused by, or at least supported through, the practice of yoga in the public/ political sphere is apropos. As protest yoga occurs in whatever public or political venue, participants make an active (whether intended or not) call to strike a compromise between the serenity yoga brings and the imbalance or corruption that melds itself to political bodies.
Whether or not the implication of these yoga protests result in civil unrest, as we have seen with London's nudist yogi, the intention of the protest acts as a conscious call to political unity, furthering yoga as mind-body-spirit AND political practice. By shedding light on public disapproval of policy, this form of complaint might strike the general public as uncannily bold, but does well to bring attention to issues of contention. Hopefully, the peace-love-dope stereotypes that often accompany yoga are being altered to reveal a more inclusive, even politically vocal, view of this ancient mental-spiritual-physical practice. If you yourself should feel the need to be flexibly inconvenient for the sake of saving whales or stopping war, then by all means, hop on a mat to discover the elastic activist within!