Yoga as Activism?

yoga activism 

’ve got my issues with the label “activist,” even as I’ve had my doubts about Yoga as a hip way to look and feel better.  Yet in their ideal form, Yoga and Activism are inextricably linked by the spiritual truth of ALL ONE and the scientific theory of quantum entanglement: to SEE love in the world I must BE love.  By using Yoga as a tool to access and live out my unique cellular truth (my Dharma) to my best and fullest, I am doing my part to bring harmony to my collective.  

I have come to define activism as an action taken by a small collective on behalf of a larger community. With this definition in mind and the understanding that we are all intrinsically and infinitely linked (entanglement, ALL ONE), it’s easy to see a class of sincere yogis as activists, even if their journey toward self-discovery and expression never takes them off the mat.  This is the essence of “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  But what is a “sincere” yogi? And how does this small collective obtain the support and permission of the larger community to work on their behalf?
Long before I found Yoga I was deeply inspired to work toward social justice.  I was a 21 year old senior about to graduate from Harvard and I had a lot to learn about how to live out my own Dharma.  I had decided to stay on campus for spring break instead of going into even deeper debt to celebrate in Cancun. One of those morning in the first crisp rays of sun after a long New England winter, I had my first experience with plant medicine.   Psychedelic mushrooms and a journey along the Charles river helped me understand how my urge to help could sometimes do more harm than good. 

outdoors zach blog post

We meandered down the river toward Boston, strolling from adventure to adventure. We knew it was time to move on when a roll ran out in my Canon AE-1.  Along those banks I awoke a heightened connection to the nature that nestled beyond the reach of asphalt jogging paths and skyscrapers.  These crevices have always been my respite from urban life, but after that day I felt a part of them in a way I never had before.  By understanding myself better that day I also became more aware of my place in the world.
Of all the things I learned on that journey down the river, the most poignant lesson came from a goose - or geese rather.  Meandering along the bank into one particularly isolated wooded nook we saw two big geese beating on and biting a third smaller goose.  Filled with empathic fury by this horrible injustice, I grabbed a long stick and began to beat away the attackers. 
Imagine my consternation when all three geese suddenly turned on us.  As Ed and I backed away we were unnerved to realize that the only way out was back along the narrow path we had come in on.  We hadn’t noticed all the nesting geese before, but now all 50 of them began honking menacingly. With threatening wingbeats and beak jabs the flock came together as one, forcing us to beat a hasty retreat.

yoga activism blog post

From that day on in working and playing with all kinds of communities, I’ve been able to recognize and transform my own urges to step in and make things right.  I’ve learned to observe and ask permission, building relationships of respect.  As I’ve simultaneously deepened my exploration of Yoga over the past 15 years, I’ve come to realize that much of my altruistic drive stemmed from a tendency to not care for myself.  I was working to help others without taking care of my own needs, particularly financial.  Thanks to lots of help and love I am learning how to love myself and have come to understand my Dharma as a prosperous leader of social innovation.  

The effects of this personal shift are palpable, as I build deeper relationships and inspire respect, even as my sphere of influence expands.  This outer growth would not be possible without inner growth, just as my inner growth has been fueled and guided by my experiences with communities and relationships with dedicated leaders.
I understand that my path is but one of many: it is quite common to see links between Yoga and Activism.  As it was for me in the beginning, the yoga practice can sometimes be superficial and lead to a heightened ego leading to quite painful lessons.  Likewise there are many instances of Activism generating more dissonance than it resolves.  Yet any action can eventually lead to greater harmony and consciousness, even if it requires conflict to get there.

There are many beautiful examples in the world today of Yoga as Activism creating simultaneous inner and collective harmony.  In fact, I have the immense honor to be moderating a panel of five Yoginis who embody this concept at the upcoming Envision festival in Costa Rica.  Take a look at what they’re working on:

 What do you think about Yoga as Activism?  Please share your thoughts and we’ll see they get incorporated into our discussion.  If you make it to Envision, make sure you join us at the Village Stage on Saturday February 27th from 2:45-4:15pm.

Looking for more?
Here's more on my work on creative visioning and strategic planning with diverse stakeholder groups: Caracol Consulting.
And here's a beautiful reflection on the relationship between Yoga and Activism.



He led the development of the Holistic Action Planning for Innovation (HAPI) methodology and has implemented it in many diverse contexts ranging from economic to cultural development, resulting in stakeholder-owned solutions to shared challenges.

He believes that interpersonal relationships and creativity are the keys to sustainable innovation, and brings a unique skill set to his work with individuals and groups in settings ranging from corporate board rooms to dirt-floored rural schools.  His multi-cultural and multi-lingual fluency are valuable assets as groups develop and maintain creative environments of respect and trust.