Feel like you’re spinning in circles lately or worrying without recourse? Seek out ways you can serve others. In these times of especially inciting politics, our country needs yogis.
Yoga practitioners are uniquely prepared for activism. (And non-yogi activists could benefit from the practice, too!) The simple integration of breath and movement for mental, physical, and spiritual health establishes an optimal foundation for moving through political turbulence with hope, peace, and strength. And activism is a natural extension of yoga. Often defined as “union,” yoga is the uniting of body and breath, mind and spirit in asana practice. When we are mindful off the mat, we unite our consciousness with our actions. We call it Karma Yoga.
As a social justice attorney, I rely on my yoga practice and teaching to stay openhearted and grounded as I participate in the resistance. This is more true now than ever, when regressive policies and political actions are already negatively impacting so many different groups in our country. I won’t get into legal details of the Temporary Restraining Orders issued by federal judges at the end of January and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s initial noncompliance. But, I became very concerned about what could have been a breakdown of our system of government (wherein one branch, in this case the federal court system, checks another, the executive). I knew I needed to be able to continue working as a lawyer while acknowledging my fear.
The yogi in me remembered that amid all the work I felt called to do on these issues, I needed to step into my own self-care to free my energy up to serve others. In overwhelming times, self-care practices can help us refocus on our spiritual lives, improve our mental and physical health, and integrate purpose into each day. For short-term calm and long-term sustenance, try any of these self-care practices. Breathe and fight on.
1. Set and share intentions.
Try setting an intention for yourself each week—and sharing it with someone. It could be that you’ll take 5 minutes each day to breathe or to call your members of congress. Make a deal with a friend to hold each other accountable by checking in each Sunday, say. Or join an online group of likeminded people like The Grit Lab, which helps to support its members with goal-setting and accountability.
Because to be able to resist and serve, we have to breathe—ideally long, sustaining inhalations and exhalations. When we are anxious, breaths are truncated and it is harder to hold on to a sense of calm. So just breathe—no special technique required. Notice your breath as it flows in and out. When we notice our breath we can deactivate our stress response.
3. Get quiet.
You can get here through breathing or meditation or informal means. It can look like this: stay in your car for a few minutes by yourself before racing into another meeting or picking up your kids from school.
4. Understand your purpose.
I’m not talking your broader life purpose. Start small. Ask yourself: what is my purpose today? In times of crisis, getting through the day can be a struggle. Consciously determining your purpose for the day helps.
A main source of purpose is service. Seek out ways you can serve others. This can range from volunteering with a local nonprofit to acting with more intentional kindness to people you interact with throughout your day.
6. Be aware of boundaries.
Both your own and others’. For example, watching and reading the news triggers my anxiety. Since I am enough in the loop through my legal work, I’ve decided to create a boundary and only read the parts of the paper that relax me, like the travel and book review sections. It’s also essential to become aware of other people’s boundaries. For example, while it can be therapeutic for some to talk politics, it can be toxic to others. Before launching into your perspective, ask people if they’re open to the discussion and respect if they are not.
7. Teach what you need, share what you have.
In my recent yoga classes, I have focused on teaching what I’ve needed in my own practice (releasing the neck muscles and opening the heart). Find what it is you can share that will help you and be helpful to people in your community.
8. Find peace in the dark.
I am borrowing from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark(recommended reading for yogi-activists) premise, which is that the future is dark. We can never see what it holds. Our choice is between despairing in the darkness or having hope. I suggest that in addition having hope can also help us find peace.
About Our Writer
Laura Riley is a social justice lawyer, writer, and yogini. She teaches law at USC Gould School of Law and yoga in Los Angeles.