Yes, Yoga Really Can Change the World (We Have Proof!)

In the midst of post-election protests and fear, yoga teacher Daniel Sernicola shares two heartening stories of how people—and the world—really can change and urges yogis to continue doing our part.

As yoga practitioners, we yearn for a more peaceful, unified world, filled with loving families, safe neighborhoods, and resilient communities. As we continue coming together hoping for radical and immediate results, it’s easy to be frustrated and disillusioned by the pace of progress. But we must remember that change takes time.

“The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitudes,” psychiatrist Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning. We must hold onto that and the belief that change is possible and hope exists. I’ve been surprised throughout my own life as I’ve witnessed people I thought could never change opening both their hearts and minds. I hope these stories inspire you, too, to renew your faith in this path and recommit to your practice.

See also How Yoga Fosters Real Community + Relationships in a Digital World

Proof that Things Can Change

I’m reminded of the football player who bullied me when I came out as a gay 17-year-old in a small Ohio town in 1996. I’d see his face in my high school hallway and my heart would sink, knowing I was about to be called names, pushed into the wall, and then left to pick up my scattered books and papers. A few years ago, he contacted me on social media and memories of his abuse surfaced. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but something within told me to listen. He told me a beautiful story of how his heart opened after he met a girl who’d been faced with homelessness until a gay couple invited her into their home, parenting her through her teenage years. He told me if it weren’t for their generosity, he probably wouldn’t be married to her today. He went on to apologize for how he had treated me in high school and shared that regret still haunted him. His heart had changed.

Last month, I wrote my own coming out story for YogaJournal.com in celebration of LGBT History Month. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever written, it required facing my past trauma and detailing both the positive and brutal aspects of my journey. I hoped my story may help and inspire others to be their authentic selves and know they aren’t alone.

I learned this past week that through mutual a friend on social media, my story had found its way into the hands of a parent of two—a 7-year-old transgender child and a daughter in high school. The older sister had been working on plans to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school to ensure that when her brother gets there, he is part of a caring and accepting community. Her school administrators, who were initially resistant to the idea, agreed to work with her on the project once they read the YogaJournal.com article. Their minds changed.

When I heard this story, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride. My friend added, “Keep doing the wonderful work because the two of you are doing (dare I say it?) God’s work and literally changing the world for the better.”

See also Yoga Girl’s 5 Tips for Cultivating a World-Changing Spirit Within

4 Ways Yogis Really Can Change the World 

Changing the world for the better—it’s what so many of us as yoga teachers and practitioners yearn to do and are accomplishing whether we realize it or not. During times of chaos and turbulence, we search for ways to make sense of the world and are often left with more questions than answers. In the book, Upside, Jim Rendon shows how the suffering caused by traumatic events can become a force for dramatic life change, moving people to find deeper meaning in their lives and driving them to help themselves and others. If you’re not sure where to start, here are 4 simple steps, we, as yogis, can take every day to change the world.

1. Approach everyone with the spirit of “Namaste.”

The day after the Orlando shootings at Pulse Nightclub, my partner and I were faced with teaching yoga at Kaleidoscope Youth Center and offering space for the youth to share what they were thinking and feeling. Some expressed fear and uncertainty, while a few offered hope for change. They reminded us how each of our classes together ends by saying, “Namaste, the light, love, and energy inside of me salutes, honors, and bows down to the light, love, and energy inside of you.” How we can take this off our mats and into the world? The kids simplified the statement by saying, “Just be kind and treat everyone how you want to be treated.” See the beauty in others, see their divine energy, see the life that’s alive in them and connect with it.

See also 10 Ways to Hold Space for Difficult Emotions in Your Yoga Classes

2. Be a peacemaker.

We can be united or divided. It’s a choice and humanity’s duty to use our intellect in combination with our heart to bring peace. While one gunman can change the lives of thousands of people with evil, one yogi can change the lives of thousands with compassion. This is a powerful truth often forgotten in times of turmoil. But through our actions and speech, we can hurt or heal, create suffering or joy, and close or open doors. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

3. Be generous with your gifts and talents.

Change is possible and it starts with you. Know that you maintain within you the power and gifts to start the radical change you want to see in the world. In the words of Buddha, “Teach this simple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” Gandhi invited us to “be the change that [we] wish to see in the world.” You may not see immediate results, but rest assured that everywhere you go, you are planting your own seeds of change by being your own vibrant and authentic self.

What is your gift and what are you willing to offer of yourself to a world that is hurting? Find what makes you come alive, and then do that. The world needs more people who have come alive and are willing to share their strengths.

See also Marianne Manilov: Creating Sustainable Social Change

4. Keep using yoga’s tools to stay on this path.

The breath practices, meditations, and postures of yoga offer benefits that both teachers and students carry with them out of the studio and into the world. The following breath practice, inspired by Jean Hall’s book Breathe: Simple Breathing Techniques for a Calmer, Happier Life, is a prime example. It is gentle and simple but deeply effective to balance the actions from the head and heart.

A Practice to Unify Breath, Heart, and Mind

Start by finding a comfortable seat. Softly lengthen up through your spine. Invite the chest to open and the shoulders to relax. Gently close your eyes and allow your facial muscles to soften.

Place your right hand on your lower belly and become aware of your breath as you feel your belly gently expanding into your palm on each inhale and receding as you exhale.

Now rest your left hand on your heart. Feel its beat in your palm and listen to its rhythm. Soften your breath and begin to breathe in time with the beat of your heart. Inhale for 5 beats, pause for one beat, exhale for 6 beats, and pause for one beat.

Remain here for 5–10 minutes, enjoying the synchronicity between your heart and your breath. As you release the practice, begin to think of ways you can change the world.

Portions of this piece are adapted from a post originally published on the Yoga on High blog.

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Daniel-Sernicola-by-Jared-PetersenAbout Our Writer
Daniel Sernicola teaches yoga in Columbus, Ohio, with his partner, Jake Hays. Both are committed to the empowerment of their students and specialize in creating compassionate, safe, and inclusive yoga environments. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @danjayoga.