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Here’s something you might not know about me: before I was passionate about yoga, I was passionate about politics. I used to get into heated arguments with people about government policy. I was on the high school debate team (and even won awards for public speaking), and after high school, my plan was to major in political science and go to law school. I wanted to fight what I thought was the good fight in politics.
Yet the summer between high school and college, I woke up one morning and realized I was so much happier than I had been in a long time. After a few moments of introspective probing, I realized it was because I was not debating people all the time. It suddenly hit me that scheduling a debate is like scheduling time to argue, and it quickly became evident that I wouldn’t be happy if I devoted my life to arguing with people as my profession.
For years after my choice to turn away from the pre-law path, I was lost and searching for meaning and purpose. I turned away from politics and news in general and went on a media fast. It was in this period that I discovered yoga.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the yogi’s role in civic discourse and public service. Now, don’t stop reading: I’m not here to endorse a particular agenda. I do, of course, have my opinions on what I believe good government is, but I’m not writing this to try and convince you of my beliefs. Instead, I’m writing this to help you, as a fellow yogi, navigate the often-murky territory of post-election polarization. Two sides engage in rounds of debates, run onslaughts of advertisements, amplify their positions in echo chambers, and charge forward. One side emerges as the winner, the other side as the loser. Meanwhile, our shared sense of community fractures and we grow further apart. Or, at least, that is how the last few election cycles seemed to play out to me.
Walking the Yogic Path During Election Season
So, what does the yogic path have to offer civic discourse in our current state of affairs? As it turns out, a lot.
Let’s start off with the foundational yogic principle of ahimsa. Often translated as non-violence, I’ve always liked a positive definition of this principle. To me, ahimsa is more than just the absence of violence; it is the active state of love, forgiveness, and acceptance. There is nothing like a polarizing election cycle to bring out the hatred, judgement, and vitriol. This is the state of himsa—hatred, violence, or negativity—and goes against yogic values. In order to balance your mind, I recommend practicing ahimsa in this very real and challenging way: learn to love your enemies. This isn’t a new concept, yet in our present-day quagmire of political voices, we need this high teaching more than ever.
Think about how many times you have “unfollowed” someone on social media whom you once found inspiring, or stopped talking to someone because he or she proclaims different political beliefs than you do. I recently shared some of my personal opinions about the governor race in my home state of Florida on my Instagram stories and got both positive and negative response. There were people who called on me to “stick to yoga” and announced that they would now be forced to “unfollow” me. To others I was a hero. It’s almost like we categories people who don’t share our political beliefs as our “enemies” and those who do as “heroes.” In doing so, we also normalize harsh and sometimes cruel words and actions towards those people whom we deem as enemies.
I’ll be honest: I’ve had those same type of judgmental thoughts about others. We all have friends or family members whose political beliefs are different from our own. I’ve been shocked to see what someone I know on a personal level thinks about government policies or leaders; I’ve even been tempted to leave a comment when they share their thoughts on Facebook and Instagram. But as long as this person’s beliefs and actions are not causing me personal and direct harm, I believe it is my work as a yogi to learn to stay present with them and learn to love them anyway.
This is ahimsa in action.
Why Ahimsa in Action Is Such Important Work
I’m here to tell you that ahimsa in action is so freeing. Hate and judgement can be heavy; love and forgiveness often feel light. I’m not saying that hate is bad or wrong or that you shouldn’t feel hate. In fact, if you feel hopeless, sometimes being angry is a positive step. What I am suggesting, however, is that you do your work to process your emotions about the election cycle until you find a place of love and positive action before you take action.
While it can be useful and necessary to bring issues that are problematic to the surface, it can also be easy to get swept away in the passion of hate. I know because I’ve done it myself. While protesting actions that I deemed unjust, I let hate get the better of me. Before I knew it, I was no longer standing for something I believed in and instead, I was fighting against something I did not believe in. And truly, what you resist persists. What you hate grows stronger. On the flip side, every action rooted in love has the potential to heal.
What I know for sure is that underneath all the heated political arguments coming from “strangers on the internet” are real people whose pain and suffering is present. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you identify with, try to remember there is a real, live human being on the other end of every word written on the internet (just like I am really here, behind this blog post). The challenge of ahimsa in a bitter atmosphere is not just to do no harm. Ahimsa is bigger than that. Ahimsa means to make every act an act of love. Ahimsa in action makes the case for a broad notion of love as social justice, mutual respect, and positive action.
4 Ways to Put Ahimsa Into Action
1. Love your enemies.
Called Tonglen in Buddhism, the practice of sending love to your enemies can truly set you free. Start off by sending loving thoughts to yourself. See yourself happy and filled with love. Let the feeling of love wash over you. Next, send love to someone you truly admire. Simmer in the love. Finally, send love to your enemies. I recommend doing this practice before you go to a protest post-election. Be sure to send love to the other side—the ones you consider your enemies. It will be hard, but remember love is your greatest weapon. Notice any resistance and see if you can freely give love. Then, sit back and tune into your heart as all the love you send out returns to you tenfold.
2. Listen without judgement.
This is what I call “ahimsa listening,” and it’s all about learning to listen with love. The next time you find yourself about to judge someone or respond to something they say with harsh words, try this: Pause, breathe, and take a step back; do your own work to return to a center of calm within yourself by meditating for at least five minutes; then, return and ask a genuine question in an effort to listen without making any conclusions about the character of the person. This type of innocent perception can help release your judgements and humanize the opposing side. Plus, understanding where your adversary is coming from will better equip you for the path ahead.
3. Acknowledge your judgement and hate.
There is no sense in pretending that you are beyond judgement and hate just because you are a yogi. So, give yourself permission to allow your judgments to float up to the surface where you can see them. Then, instead of pushing them away or feeling shame about them, just observe them. When you notice yourself thinking judgmental, hateful thoughts, pause and just feel them in your body. Let them run their course—and in the meantime, don’t take any action. Usually, I find that sitting with a thought or feeling in the free space of mindfulness allows you the time to process your feelings without action. There have been times that I thought I wasn’t passing judgement—yet the only thing that happened is that my judgements came out as passive aggression. Be brutally honest with yourself, and see if you can turn judgmental thoughts around. Ask yourself if there is an opposite thought that is equally true. For example, if your judgement was, “My friend is so close-minded and hard to speak to,” see if it might be equally true to say, “I am so close-minded and hard to speak to.”
4. Stand for a positive future.
Unless your action is rooted in love and you have a positive vision for the world you want to create, simply refrain from acting. If you feel compelled to share something political—whether on social media, or with colleagues, friends, or loved ones—check yourself regarding love and hate. If you notice that you want to share because you hate the candidate who won, consider not sharing. If you notice that you want to share something because you truly come from love for all beings, then share.
Centering your action around love for all beings does not need to be placid and calm. In fact, it could be fierce and powerful. You may find that you call a friend or family member out on a racist point of view because you love them and want to educate them. The key is what’s in your heart. If you share from a place of hate, there’s a good chance it will drag you down. If you are rooted in love, you will be more successful at maintaining your own peaceful heart.
About the Author
Kino MacGregor is a Miami native and the founder of Omstars, the world’s first yoga TV network. (For a free month, click here. With over 1 million followers on Instagram and over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube and Facebook, Kino’s message of spiritual strength reaches people all over the world. Sought after as an expert in yoga worldwide, Kino is an international yoga teacher, inspirational speaker, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, and co-founder of Miami Life Center. Learn more at www.kinoyoga.com.