International Yoga Day - Celebration or Agenda?

Posted by Laila Kirkpatrick on

For anyone that says yoga should be apolitical, yoga has been for a long-time VERY political. Modern postural yoga was a response from Indians to reclaim their culture – a means to create physical and spiritual strength for the anti-colonial freedom movement. In 2021, yoga is still being used to push a wider political agenda.

 India—a country that struggled for years with the oppressive rule of British imperialism. Robbed of natural resources and immense wealth, were not long ago treated as second class citizens at best in their own land - only now recovering and emerging from its traumatic past. This incredible country is mind-boggling in its diversity of human experiences with deep divisions of caste and religion. A land that has been oppressed, and within it’s own boundaries has been the oppressor. 

I am a yoga practitioner, I may have been to India, but I am not South Asian. If we are to truly look through a decolonial lens, we need to listen to all the voices of this region -particularly to the ones less heard. Please note all the references I list below with the exception of one, are by South Asian academics and journalists. 

I particularly wanted to share Anusha Lakshmi’s “Choreographing Tolerance: Narendra Modi, Hindu Nationalism, and International Yoga Day”, where she examines the contemporary role and significance of yoga within the discourse of (Hindu) tolerance propagated by the Indian government under the leadership of Narendra Modi. She situates Modi’s deployment of yoga for nationalist purposes as part of a longer history of yoga and somatic nationalism in India. Beginning with an analysis of the 2015 International Yoga Day spectacle led by Modi in the capital city of New Delhi, Lakshmi reflects on how the Indian Prime Minister capitalises on yoga’s physical and ideological flexibility (and its associations with unity, harmony, well-being, and one-ness) to showcase how he – and by extension his Hindu nationalist government – accommodates and tolerates other religions and faiths. Lakshmi argues that Modi’s posturing of yoga as a secular practice is hypocritical to say the least, as it works to obscure his growing Hindu supremacist regime, including his government’s enactment of genocidal and settler-colonial policies and actions that violently marginalise and oppress Muslims in India and Indian-occupied Kashmir. Instead, Modi’s use of yoga to performatively enact political unity is primarily purposed towards maintaining his power.

With the guise of International Yoga Day, Lakshmi shows us the dangerous consequences of yoga as an instrument of Hindutva, a political ideology that assumes the cultural hegemony of Hindu beliefs and practices in Indian society. When in fact India is rich and diverse in cultures, language, and belief systems.

Like many, this is a topic I’m continually learning about, doing my best to listen and to be discerning. And although I would love a day to celebrate yoga, I personally cannot actively and knowingly participate in a political agenda that causes discrimination, oppression, injustice, and harm to others. Nationalism creates separation. It creates a dominating force over a vulnerable group - the enemy of the true goal of yoga. So instead of one annual day, I will celebrate Yoga and all the South Asian cultures that have contributed to it, every day.

If you like me, would like to learn more. I have listed some articles below. 

With love, 

Laila 

References:

International Yoga Day Controversy: India’s Soft Power or Modi’s Hindu Agenda, by Juhi Ahuja  https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/srp/co15155-international-yoga-day-controversy-indias-soft-power-or-modis-hindu-agenda/#.YMbTjyXCYWM

Sculpting the Saffron Body. Yoga, Hindutva, and the International Marketplace Author(s): Jyoti Puri Publisher:Oxford University Press https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780190078171.001.0001/oso-9780190078171-chapter-018

Yoga as National Pride: PM Modi's Convenient Asana to Mask Misgovernance https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.outlookindia.com/website/amp/opinion-yoga-as-national-pride-pm-modis-convenient-asana-to-mask-misgovernance/354689

Spectacles of Compassion: Modi and the weaponisation of Yoga, by Sheena Sood  https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/41048

Root to Rise?: Hindutva and the Propaganda of Yoga’s Origins, by Morgan Baker https://www.yalehistoricalreview.org/root-to-rise/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Focus

Posted by Laila Kirkpatrick on

There are nine drishti, or gazes in the Ashtanga yoga method. Each one corresponds to a specific point of focus. 

Drishti is a Sanskrit word that means ‘gaze’ and is closely connected to Pratyhara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (Concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) the 5th, 6th and 7th limbs of The 8 Limbs of Yoga. The use of drishti integrates our asana practice, as it helps us focus and steady the mind and turn our awareness inward. 

Where the gaze goes, the attention goes and the life force (prana) follows. Energy which is directed towards the gaze point is said to stimulates the energy channels (nadis), the energy centres (chakras), Prana flows and we awaken energy that would otherwise lie dormant. 

Do you ever notice a deeper connection to Mula Bandha when you gaze towards Nasagre drishti (tip of your nose)? This practice is so much more than making shapes 😉

 

Laila x 

 

📸 of Krounchasana with Padayoragre drisht (toes).  In this case the corresponding drishti is encouraging me too lengthen fully from the hips all the way out through the crown of the head. This aids my alignment so that I’m not rounding my lower back or my shoulders, and I’m more focused on strength than flexibility.

 

 

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Whan Satya and Ahimsa Collide

Posted by Laila Kirkpatrick on

Satya (truthfulness) is the second of the five yamas (restraints) described in the The Yoga Sutras. It guides us to think, speak, and act with integrity ❤️

However, should we always tell our friends what we think about their behaviour, their life choices or their baked goods? This is where the principle of satya gets more complex. Satya follows ahimsa (non-violence), which is the highest-ranking yama. This means that we need to honor the principle of non-harming first and should tell the truth in a way that causes no (or the least) harm possible. We need to acknowledge that what we perceive as “truth” might not be another’s truth, as we all perceive things differently. For this reason it’s essential for us to put ahimsa first, and be mindful that our words are beneficial and compassionate. Before we offer an unsolicited opinion or criticism, can pause and consider: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it useful? Is it kind? 

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Exhale, Samasthiti

Posted by Laila Kirkpatrick on

What is the difference between Tadasana (mountain pose) and Samasthiti (Equal Standing)? Physically, nothing. It’s all about intention. Tadasana (practiced in Iyengar and now vinyasa) is a pose, while Samasthiti (practiced in Ashtanga) is a command of attention. A call to stand in balanced stillness. A practice of standing with equal, steady, and still attention. 

What is Samasthiti for you? Is it your time to adjust your mat or wipe your sweat? Do you skip it altogether, like that poor, tiny overlooked town that gets passed through on a road trip to a seemingly more exciting place? Samasthiti  serves an incredible purpose, but often times it gets overlooked, and pushed aside for the more dynamic components of our asana practice.

So, why do we even do it? Our physical practice is an opportunity for our bodies to strengthen, heal and soften. It’s a vehicle to live a life with less suffering, so that we may know our true nature, so that we may embody peace. All of the asanas we practice offer unique benefits to our overall experience, allowing the tension and patterns of our life an opportunity to unravel. The patterns we’re struggling with in our life, eventually rises to the surface in our yoga practice and give us a new realm to witness and experiment with alternative responses. Then, new patterns of balance and sustainability may rise to the surface. These postures are building a foundation for a process of evolvement, allowing us to have awareness of our conditioned patterns and start to transform ourselves into more peaceful beings.

In a world where we are called to transition rapidly from one task to the next, one role to the next, one experience to the next, we rarely allow ourselves time to process and digest the phase of transition. We miss the opportunity to pause, the opportunity to allow ourselves a moment to feel the space between, to know the space between.

Samasthiti is an opportunity to pause, and feel the spaces between our postures, between our movements. We are given the chance to reconnect to steadiness in our breath, body and mind and then, continue from that point of steadiness.

Samasthiti is more than a time to sneakily checkout what’s going on around you 😉. In our Ashtanga practice, we return to this position over and over again as a reminder to pause, a reminder to honor the spaces between.

 

Lots of love, 

Laila 

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The Sweet Spot

Posted by Laila Kirkpatrick on

स्थिरसुखमासनम्
sthira-sukham-asanam

Practicing yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner gives rise to harmony with the physical body (asana).

 

Patanjali describes asana only once in the yoga sutras. He doesn't talk about alignment, loose hamstrings, or deep backbends. Sutra 2.46 simply says, "Sthira Sukham Asanam."

To put it simply: yoga asana is a balance between effort and ease. The postures should teach us how to make wise choices, that will help us to move toward homeostasis. We will often find that balance requires us to move toward the opposite of our usual habits and comfort zones. For many of us, this means learning how to YIELD.

So the question for many of us becomes: how can we incorporate more ease (sukham) into our practice? Both on and off the mat, we're often used to pushing toward “success”, multitasking, or perfecting. Instead, how about moving toward refining, and quieting from the inside out? Finding sukham takes LESS effort... but requires more awareness.

 

Laila x 

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