By Hannah Maria
Disclaimer: I am not attempting to educate you on anti-racism, there are a million people more equipped for that, I am learning too. Instead, I am sharing the specific parts of Yoga philosophy which are helping me navigate these complex and oh-so-necessary waters.
Like many Yogis, the teachings of Yoga turned my political anxiety into mindful activism. It awakened my ignorance into conscious awareness, which turned into action. Until now this was mostly expressed through my food choices, but George Floyd’s death has changed that.
Moderate study of the ethical codes contained within Patanjali’s eight-limbed system can help us process and examine how to think and conduct ourselves when there is so much we now know we don’t know, and learning to do.
I will focus here on three ethical codes — two from the ‘yamas’, the principles of ethical behaviour one should follow in everyday life, and one from the ‘niyamas’, the personal observances we make towards ourselves — and try to place them in the context on anti-racism:
1. Ahiṁsā (yama)– nonviolence/non-hurting/not causing pain.Hiṁsā means “to cause pain”, thus ahiṁsā means to not cause pain.
Practising ahiṁsā begins with respecting one’s own body and extending this respect to all other beings in the world.
What I have learnt from George Floyd’s death is that violence, hurt, and pain doesn’t just happens as a result of what we do, but in what we choose not to do. In the context of anti-racism, that means practicing ahimsa has to include taking proactive action to fight systemic racism — rather than just perceiving the fact that you are not personally racist as an expression of ahimsa.
As many other white people are now realising, it took far too many years to realise the pain caused from our inaction. Black and brown people have been protesting for centuries, it’s white people who are responsible for what happens next.
2. Satya (yama)– truthfulness; to one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient (2/36).
By the establishment of truthfulness, a time will come when all you say will be true; first follow truth and then truth will follow you.
Truthfulness is a practice. This is a time to practice it intensely, to be true to ourselves, about ourselves. The truth can be confronting, but this should not stop us from asking ourselves the hard questions that we might have been avoiding until now.
3. Svādhyāya (niyama) – self- or spiritual- study; intentional self-awareness in all that we do.
Satya extends nicely into svādhyāya here. Yogis are always self-studying. It is time to assess ourselves and ask — how can we hold ourself accountable in terms of our actions, thoughts, and deeds?
This is a deeply personal exercise that must be practiced regularly, with commitment and intention.