Many start practicing yoga to get fitter, to relax, to do something good for themselves. We go to the studio, take a seat on our mat, the class begins, we practice different postures, the yoga class is over, we go home again. Today we practiced yoga, one item on our to-do list is checked off. But yoga does not end in savāsana. Quite the opposite. The postures help us to go out and live yoga in our everyday life.
Yoga means union, or rather the goal of yoga is union and enlightenment. There are different yoga paths to reach this goal. One of them is rāja yoga, the royal yoga. This path is based on the 8 limbs of philosopher Patañjali. The third limb is āsana, the postures we practice in typical yoga classes. But the first limb is yama. Yamas are rules of conduct in dealing with other living beings and the environment. That means, first of all yoga is about how we actively behave towards others. So it is not primarily about ourselves. Yoga does not only take place on our own mat, but also outside, in everyday life, in real life.
The first point of the yamas, the first rule of conduct, is ahiṃsā. Ahiṃsā means non-violence. You are asked not to harm other living beings or the environment. Neither in thoughts, words, nor deeds. This also includes non-violent intervention when you observe violence in words and deeds by others.
In the yoga scene, many people are committed to the protection of animals and/or the environment. For example, we eat vegetarian or vegan food, transport our purchases in jute bags instead of plastic bags, and maybe we don't fly short distance anymore but prefer to take the train. It is different with racism and when it comes to discussing and actively tackling this issue. Many say "I don't see any skin color", "I don't make any difference", "For me, all people are equal", "We are all one", "I don't feel any need for action on my part, because I am not racist", "I prefer to concentrate on the positive, because that is how I attract what is good". Perhaps you are now wondering what the problem is here?
We live in a world where we are treated differently because of our skin color, gender, sexuality, religion, body shape and other features. When a white person and a black person walk side by side on the street, they experience different realities at the same moment because they are exposed to different prejudices. On the instagram account @wasihrnichtseht you can see the experiences that black people make. A white person does not have these experiences and this is only because of the color of their skin. So by saying that you don't see skin color, you are closing your eyes to the reality of life for many BIPoC. You ignore the problem and even encourage it because you do nothing about it.
By focusing exclusively on the positive, you avoid the negative, but you don't get rid of it. This behavior is called spiritual bypassing. The fatal thing is that the negative is given space and can spread because it is not stopped. It is therefore essential to recognize that unfortunately we are not all equal and that we must actively do something to be equal at some point. And that we must also actively do something to achieve the goal of yoga.
Yoga is therefore political. Because a neutral behavior would mean to be on the side of the oppressor. Ahiṃsā, non-violence, is not lived through neutrality, but through spiritual activism.
So how can yoga help us to be anti-racist? By practicing powerful āsanas, postures, we not only build muscle, but also empower our mind and support the mental strength we need to be active. Through a mindful āsana practice and a focused meditation, we not only create awareness on the mat, but take this awareness with us into our daily lives. In this way, we learn to be aware of our own thoughts. Beyond that we also perceive our environment more consciously, we recognize injustice faster, can then actively engage ourselves and show civil courage.
By practicing to open our hearts wide, we develop compassion for all living beings. Whether they are visually similar to us or not. A powerful mantra that can help us with this is lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu. The meaning of this mantra is: May all beings be happy and free. And may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. I would like to encourage you to not only practice this mantra during yoga classes (or now while reading), but to take it from the mat into your everyday life and to actually live it, so that at some point we can reach union, the goal of yoga.
Amuna is a Jivamukti Yoga teacher from Stuttgart, Germany. After taking a beginner's course, yoga quickly became her lifestyle - on and off the mat. For Amuna, yoga is about acceptance and compassion towards herself and all living beings. Activism regarding people, animals and the environment is very close to her heart. In her yoga classes, she places great emphasis on teaching ahiṃsā as one of the most important yoga practices. You can find out more about Amuna's work and get in touch with her via Instagram or her website.