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January 2013 – Yoga and Nonviolence
Dear Yoga Friends,
One month has passed since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Though the waves of media attention ebb and flow and will eventually die out, we know that this catastrophe has left an indelible mark on the lives of many. I occasionally glance at the photos of the children who were killed and can hardly stand the reality of that level of loss. Yet this kind of loss, this kind of suffering, exists worldwide. It is so hard to let in, so hard to comprehend the scope of suffering in the world.
Some suffering originates with natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, fires, or disease. But most of the human suffering in the world we inflict on ourselves. Why do we continue to do this? At both the level of the individual and the level of nations, the root of this pattern is fear. We are afraid of and feel threatened by people who hold beliefs that differ from ours. We are afraid of losing our land. We are afraid of losing resources or possessions. We are afraid of losing power or control. Fear leads to anger which leads to violence.
When we practice yoga, we go inward, but ironically we are not seeking separation. The word yoga comes from an ancient word that means union or joining. True yoga practice cultivates an experience of connection. You begin to feel this in a yoga pose as your mind focuses on the actions and sensations of the body and your breath settles into a natural rhythm. This focus leaves no room for fear or loneliness.
One of the great pillars of yoga is ahimsa, or nonviolence. Hopefully we practice asana with a sensitivity and knowledge that allows us to avoid injury, and ideally, to heal injuries. When we practice in a less skillful way we are more likely to injure ourselves through incorrect action or alignment. This cultivation of nonviolence extends from the self outward. An effective yoga practice will influence one's day to day life, and ultimately the lives of others we come in contact with.
I did not know Adam Lanza, but I am sure that he felt great loneliness and separation from the world around him. Whether or not we call it mental illness, Adam carried that deep sense of loneliness and separation for so long that something finally snapped. A surrounding culture of violence, where guns and destruction are glorified in games, television shows, and movies, and the media provides instant fame in proportion to the level of violence of a particular act, definitely does not help the situation.
Strange coincidence that the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting took place on B.K.S. Iyengar's birthday. The juxtaposition of union and separation in the world is so stark. The task at hand is to find a way past our fears to a sense of connectedness that leaves less room for anger and violence. Perhaps yoga practice can be part of that effort...