Yoga as Refuge and Resistance

A few weeks ago, Leena and I went to a climate change support group. The event alternated between conversations in pairs and as a whole group. We talked about our love and appreciation of nature and our pain and worry at seeing the climate crisis evolve. We ended by envisioning new actions we could take, as individuals and as communities. 

I thought I would leave the group feeling sad and overwhelmed, but instead I left energized and upbeat. I felt relieved to be sitting in a room of people talking about the crisis, rather than avoiding it. 

And it brought Leena and I back to wondering what the practice of yoga can be at this time. If there can be a place for yoga to be a part of the change we want to see, rather than carrying on like it’s business as usual. 

Yoga is a business, and Queen Street Yoga exists within capitalism. Yoga can be viewed as a tool of capitalism, a way to keep the cogs in the machine going. Yoga can help reduce stress in the workforce so everyone can keep consuming and the machine of big business can continue, unchecked. 

Yoga can also be seen as part of a resistance to capitalist culture. A practice that provides an alternative to fast-paced, achievement-driven, high-stress environments. Yoga is a call to slow down, to return to the wisdom of our bodies, to nurture a sense of connection. It is a refuge, an opportunity to get away from the world. It can be a passive resistance, a retreat from what we don’t agree with. 

The question I am sitting with now is: how can we turn the passive resistance of yoga into more active resistance? How do we come out of retreat and engage with the world in a different way? How do we take the learning and growth of yoga and participate in a culture of sustainability and care rather than a culture of destruction and waste?

In my yoga classes one of the main themes I come back to again and again is the practice of noticing and responding. The focus in yoga class is on our bodies and minds – how we notice and respond to sensation, impulse, thoughts and feelings in our experience. Now I am wondering, can we shift the focus from our individual bodies to the body of the world, to take that learning outside of the yoga class and act? How do we notice and respond to the world that is calling us? To the climate crisis that feels unfathomable? 

If we only retreat and take ourselves out of the world, the world is less beautiful, less diverse, less intelligent and less responsive. The world goes on without our participation and it is poorer for it. 

If we only act we might burn out, get overwhelmed, feel hopeless and helpless. 

Can yoga be the ground we stand on as we determine new actions and steps to take? Can yoga be a place to make clear and important decisions about how we engage with the world? 

We are taking steps at the studio to offer opportunities and reminders to re-engage after you retreat. To take big or small steps to care for our world after caring for yourself. We hope that it will feel enlivening rather than overwhelming. 

Want to take a step today? Commit to doing one of the things in this article, to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Want to talk to others about this? Come to the Climate Change Support Group, taking place tomorrow night at The Causerie. 

Thank you for reading, and for being a part of our community of refuge and resistance.

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