How Yoga Empowers Us to Stand for Democracy and Truth
Yesterday I cancelled the Saturday morning Zoom class to join my Ukrainian friend at Downing Street, to protest against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We stood together in bright sunshine, under the clear sky surrounded by the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flags billowing in the breeze.
The defiance, bravery and sheer determination were absolutely palpable… Ukrainians have been preparing for this moment for some time, it felt to be a real honour to be there standing with them.
As many of you know I am against war. I don’t see the justification for creating, purchasing and using arms that kill indiscriminately. However, Ukrainians are stopping tanks with their bare hands, women (some of whom are my friend’s relatives) are taking up machine guns and digging trenches to defend their towns. Ordinary people are making Molotov cocktails to throw at Russian troops as they come through the towns and villages on their way to encircle the major cities. Ukrainians know this is their fight. They know that if other nations get involved in sending troops rather than weapons and money, the escalation becomes extremely dangerous, not only for Ukraine but for the whole world.
One of the most important texts in yoga philosophy is an epic story of a warrior, Arjuna, facing the opposing force across a battlefield. Arjuna (who represents the ego) sees the faces of his family, friends, teachers across the lines and is doubting the wisdom of going to war with his mentors and relatives. Yet Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna (representing the discriminating and enlightened mind) reminds him that it is a just war. That if he doesn’t fight, the consequences would be dire, that Arjuna’s whole life and purpose has been geared towards being of service as a warrior, to defend the principles of justice and freedom.
The bravery, and love of the Ukrainian leader Zelensky, a former actor and comedian, really reminded me of this moment. The US offered him the option to escape the country but declared, “the fight is here, I’m not going anywhere.” Zelensky then attempted to address the Russian people (through the barely penetrable barrier of the Russian media censorship and blackout, enabled by Facebook and Google) with a moving address:
“We know for sure that we don’t need the war,” he said. “Not a Cold War, not a hot war. Not a hybrid one. But if we’ll be attacked by the (enemy) troops, if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves. And when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces.”
“Our main goal is peace in Ukraine and the safety of our people, Ukrainians. For that we are ready to have talks with anybody, including you, in any format, on any platform. The war will deprive (security) guarantees from everybody – nobody will have guarantees of security anymore. Who will suffer the most from it? The people. Who doesn’t want it the most? The people! Who can stop it? The people. But are there those people among you? I am sure.”
As we move into a new phase of this strange experience we are going through on this planet, at this time, I feel it is important to remember our personal power. Both our power as individual people, and our combined power as a collective. We have a responsibility as humans, to engage fully with events and use our discriminating minds. There are myriad distractions and temptations that our ego can fall prey to, which create a dull (tamas) state of delusion, greed and apathy. Yet it feels if we do not rise up, at this point in time, and engage ourselves, we put ourselves and future generations in mortal danger.
We are all capable of standing up for justice, truth and freedom for nation-states and individuals to decide their own peaceful future. Over the last couple of years so much has been revealed, we know leaders (of many nations, including the UK) to be corrupt, insatiable and ruthless in their pursuit of wealth and power. The transfer of wealth from the people to the elites of this world has been exponential in the last two years. It is time to look to ourselves, and not our leaders, to defend our rights, our freedoms and those of generations to come.
Shutting off the senses
From what is outward
Fixing the gaze
At the root of the eyebrows
Checking the breath-stream
In and outgoing
Within the nostrils,
Holding the senses,
Holding the intellect,
Holding the mind fast
They who seek freedom,
Thrust fear aside,
Thrust aside anger
And put off desire:
Truly that human
Is made free forever.
Chapter 4, Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God
Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
The practice of yoga calms our minds and emotions so that we are able to find balance, calm and clarity. In this way, we are enabled to see clearly and act with awareness for the benefit of all beings and for the living planet Earth.
As humans we have a right to peace and security; to freedom, justice and equity; to an unpolluted environment; to a fair distribution of resources. We have a right to know the truth, rather than having Google and Facebook make the decision about what we can know or not know.
We must be vigilant against those who want to shape narratives and hijack our minds, those who want to polarise us and pit us against each other. Yoga offers us a way to achieve a mastery of self, to access our discriminating minds, to rise in love and solidarity for freedom from tyranny. The people of Ukraine are showing bravely us the way, let us stand united with them.
Dear Yoga Student,
On Saturday 5th I’m running my first in-person Saturday class since the start of the pandemic in April 2020. It would be so good to see some of you there! For those of you further afield, why not join a Zoom class?
I’ve had a few people asking if there are places left on the One Day Retreat in Highgate, North London, on the 3rd April. The answer is yes! Join me on this special retreat, designed to revitalise your body, calm your mind and empower your spirit.
There are two double or twin rooms left at Tilton House. Please email me if you’d like to book this retreat.
Booking will open next Sunday, for the Holistic Yoga Back Care Course, it is running from Wednesday the 20th of April for 12 weeks. In-person and Zoom classes will run from 6:30 – 8pm on Wednesdays and you’ll have access to recorded video and audio classes, tips and talks throughout the course. This course offers a comprehensive toolkit for understanding, relieving and managing all types of back pain and is suitable for complete beginners and anyone with chronic lower back pain who is able to get down to and up from the floor. New students will complete a pre-course questionnaire and have a telephone call to check suitability for the course.
With love and good wishes, Julia