Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Connection Between Spiritual Practice and Yoga

Michelle C Johnson

by Michelle C. Johnson

Michelle C. Johnson will be presenting at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online, October 9-11, 2020.

Yoga means to “yoke.” It means bringing together things that seem to be in opposition like our mind and body or our heart and spirit. There are so many opposing forces and dynamic tensions present during the times in which we live. There is justice and injustice; wholeness and fragmentation; healing and trauma; wellness and disease coupled with who deserves to be well and who deserves to suffer; and resistance and acceptance. The practice of yoga teaches us to act skillfully and radically as we respond to harm, opposition, and injustice.

Yoga encourages a space for deep exploration, curiosity, and reflection. The practice asks one to look inside and view their experience as a witness. A practice of witnessing allows one to understand that most places where yoga is practiced are a microcosm of the larger culture. Whatever is happening outside of the yoga space is happening inside of the space.

The business of yoga isn’t void of power and privilege, and the manifestation of how power moves in dominant culture is reflected by a lack of building community when teaching a class, the sequence that is taught, the decor of the studio, and the demographic of people practicing. The practice of merging the internal and external reality would allow people to live their yoga. Discernment follows witnessing, which can create a space for one to reflect on their impact on the collective good. Or, their perpetuation of power and privilege to harm the collective good.

Yoga is a practice that is for everyone and one of its inherent purposes is to bring us into alignment, wholeness, and a healed state. Justice is the act of acknowledging and repairing the harm that comes from living in a toxic culture that values some over others. Toxicity that causes dis-ease and trauma to us individually and collectively.

The teachings of the 8-limbed path of yoga focus on principles that can be responsive to the injustices that are happening in the world. They call practitioners into action by suggesting that the only way to be on the path to enlightenment, and the only way to practice yoga, is to be compassionate and not cause harm to others. The only way not to cause harm is to understand one’s power and privilege and to understand that suffering is perpetuated by a lack of recognizing the imbalance of power in our culture.

The yamas and niyamas, along with every other limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga, lay out a blueprint for how we can create a just world. Non-violence, uplifting non-dominant narratives, being aware of how many resources we use, understanding our relationship to scarcity and abundance, and managing our energy are all practices that could support us in creating conditions for liberation, making space to breathe for everyone. Devotion and remembering we are interconnected with every sentient being allows us to create conditions for wholeness for all.

Humanity, dignity, and freedom are the heart of justice work. Interconnectedness, mindfulness, and the space to breathe freely are the heart of yoga. Justice and yoga feel one and the same to me.

Michelle C. Johnson
is an author, yoga teacher, social justice activist, licensed clinical social worker, intuitive healer, and Dismantling Racism trainer. She approaches her life and work from a place of empowerment, embodiment, and integration. With a deep understanding of trauma and the impact that it has on the mind, body, spirit, and heart, much of her work focuses on helping people better understand how power and privilege operate in their life. She explores how privilege, power, and oppression affect the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and energy body.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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