What It Means to Practice Yoga in Our Current Times: Perspectives from Kripalu's CEO

April 14, 2021

What does it mean to practice yoga at this moment in history?

This question has led Kripalu to expand our purpose to ignite personal and collective transformation, to help realize a world united in service to well-being, justice, and peace. The expansion of our work is both speaking to the times we are living in and to a deeper understanding of yoga’s teachings. What we know is that the work of personal transformation has never been separate from the work of collective transformation. Just as the outer work has never been separate from the inner work. Yes, we can try to compartmentalize it and see it as different, but yoga teaches us that there is no separation.

As I have said before, yoga is an invitation. It is an invitation to a reality that we are together, on this one planet, and as Thich Nhat Hanh says, an invitation to understand that we share an inter-being with all of life. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...this is the inter-related structure of reality."

What does that mean in these times we are living in? Could it mean that our yoga practice is about speaking, seeing, sensing, and acting from an understanding of inter-being? Taking this perspective opens me up to so much more than focusing on my own growth, my postures, my health, my relationships, my life. It is still all of those things, while also inviting me to practice off the mat and in the world. The great yogis have always done this, they have lived yoga in their own lives and then shared the wisdom teachings to apply them to the weather of the day—as teachers, activists, writers, artists, etc.

So, this invitation is about being radically honest with what is happening all around us. Will we be known as the silent onlookers that turned our heads as action called us forward, casting our eyes downward to avoid the gripping stare of duty? Will we be the collective generations that turned inward as the world strained around us?

Will we be the people who future generations describe as “the ones who could have done something?” Will we go silently into the night because it seemed so late to turn the tide? Will we be the ones that missed the mark when it came time to serve? How are we to live in these crucial times? We are always on the edge of greatness, but it will not come to us. We must move to it, to hold both hands out as we take the torch forward.

The practice of yoga can help us to ground our bodies, still our minds, open our hearts, and turn towards what is within us and in front of us. Yoga can help us to find an inner stillness that helps us to hear the labored breathing of our forests or feel the searing pain of the burnt Earth, or know the daily destruction of this living being, or catch a faint whimper of the children who go hungry or the deafening roar of “I can’t breathe” and all the systemic injustices that both caused the story of separation and further reinforce it. This practice is for all of us whose hearts are broken open, it is not just for the “special ones”, for within all beings is the capacity to feel a great compassion for our world. That compassion is calling us all forward to care for all beings, to remember our collective goodness, and to live in the world view of inter-being, not of division and separation.

Some will be called to change the course of history, their names recorded in books and plaques. Most of us will never be known, but the trees will know. They will whisper "thank you" as we walk among them. The rivers will wash away our tiredness in gratitude and the Earth will nourish us with her bounty. The young will say "they were not silent," they will build upon our work and create a world united in service to well-being, justice, and peace.

It might be too late like some say, but I believe that crucial times bring forward the possibility of great wonders and mystery. How a collection of small, perhaps seemingly insignificant acts of service could build into a wave of love that would send forth ripples to every human heart. It doesn't matter what our role is in life—a poet, a politician, a gardener, a teacher, an entrepreneur. Just like this opportunity to “wake up” is happening through the collective, not just the individual, the great "showing up” that we are being called to will not come down to a king or a Gandhi or a Joan of Arc. It will be all of us, the demonstration of our inter-being that will turn the tide towards love and justice.

At the end of it all, we will be able to rest our heads on each other’s shoulders, sharing poems and songs around the sacred fire and doze into rest knowing that we did not stand silently by, we raised our voices, our pens, our hearts and we moved from the depth of stillness to share our love. We held none of our love back. We surrendered ourselves fully to the moment and we practiced yoga.

Our freedom, well-being, and destiny are bound up together. Kripalu is dedicated to personal and collective transformation, and we are embracing what this means for the times we live in. Please join us in this invitation to practice yoga, on the mat, off the mat, and in the world.

Robert Mulhall is the CEO of Kripalu. He is passionate about service and deeply curious about how people can facilitate sustainable transformation to enable more peace, justice, and freedom in our world.

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