The International Yoga Day which we co-organized through Global Soul on 21 June gathered over 1000 global Yogis! Inspired by the #blacklivesmatter we raised over $1400 for the Loveland Foundation in support of Black women and girls access to healing practices. We are super excited to share this blog by Sarah Hessey, one of the participants, who enjoyed a number of classes offered on that day and shared with us how these teachings impacted her. You can still access the unique collection of Yoga classes, learn from the world's best teachers and stand in solidarity with BIPOC communities.
As the sun reached peak intensity in the Northern Hemisphere on 21 June, 2020, we celebrated the power of Yoga to unite and inspire positive change with a day dedicated to the practice and teachings. We gathered from all corners of the world in virtual space to honor this ancient wisdom and connect through the teachings.
The day was filled with powerful meditations, uplifting Vinyasa, strong Ashtanga, poetic Yoga with soul hugging live music, beautiful chanting, Yin with the healing sound of cello, grounding pranayama, eye opening philosophy and a simply delicious Yoga Nidra.
Each class touched on the message of equality, justice, anti-racism, and the need for positive change in the world. The day was full of insight, wisdom and powerful moments.
How do we create lasting change?
I believe that for lasting change to happen it has to be chosen over and over again, it has to be practiced. The beauty of Yoga is that it is exactly that: a practice.
All it asks of us is to show up, exactly as we are, even if it’s messy or uncomfortable. It’s a practice that cultivates compassion, that cultivates moment to moment awareness. We learn, we unlearn, we grow and through increased awareness of our thoughts and choices and the impact that they will have, we make more informed decisions. It’s a conscious practice to remember to choose actions that serve the lasting change that we wish to see. In many ways this is what the yogic teachings and practices allow us to do.
Selena Isles and Ava Taylor asked some important, hard questions about privilege and discomfort, relating especially to the tragic death of George Floyd, inviting the participants to hold space for both rage and love.
What does it mean to freely take a breath without hesitation? Without any type of inner thought as to: I’m entitled to take the next breath.
The next breath is coming but what if it doesn’t?
What would that feel like to you in your body?
What if you knew that in 8 minutes and 46 seconds you would take your last breath. What would that feel like?”
Selena Isles then lead us through a meditation, lying face down on the floor for 8 minutes 46 seconds. In the 8 minutes and 46 seconds she asked us to be present with discomfort, to try to imagine what it will be like to know that your next few breaths will be your last few breaths.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds she guided us through thinking of our loved ones and counting down to the last breath.
8 minutes and 46 seconds.
After the 8 minutes and 46 seconds we came out of the meditation as she said the words:
“This was your death.”
It’s hard to put into words what this opened up in me. It was heavy. It was intense. It was powerful. The message came through loud and clear: I I cannot ignore this suffering.
The meditation weaved what had previously only been an observation of an unjust situation, an observation of suffering and injustice into more of an experiential embodiment.. “What if you knew that in 8 minutes and 46 seconds you would take your last breath. What would that feel like to you in your body?” This tiny taste of what it felt like in the body somehow made it all more tangible and real, which lead to an undeniable incredibly loud calling to not ignore this suffering. To sit with the discomfort and hold all that experienced and unexperienced suffering. To sit with the rage and pain. To sit with the love and joy. There is space for both, we can hold both at the same time, we can learn from both and using both we can actively work to end suffering and build more joy, love and compassion. Both love and rage are a part of conscious change.
In Selena’s words: “If you can sit with and navigate: I am really uncomfortable with this, I know this is fundamentally wrong. I am going to do something or be something to change it. This is where the anti-racism works starts.”
Mathieu Boldron’s class guided us through a lovely flow, opening up the heart-space, the side-body and all the spaces and muscles that allow us to breathe. This class re-emphasized the importance of connecting the heart with the mind, so that we can start to see with and live from our hearts. If I can see with my heart, what I see isn’t filtered through the unconscious biases of my mind.
If I can live from my heart, If I can move from love there will be less interference from fear.
Ty Landrum shared a brilliant lecture, explaining some of the psychology of racism through yogic mythology and philosophy, highlighting how we use the idea duality or separateness to identify ourselves.
As Ty Landrum explains so well in his talk:
“It is because of (a) basic existential anguish and feeling of impoverishment and isolation and a need to fill that void, that we generate our personalities... Which means that we construct ourselves out of these various cyclical currents identifying with some and then also identifying ourselves against others… Racism, sexism, classism, nationalism. All the various interrelated forms of discrimination that have to do with identifying other groups of beings as being other and then trying to subjugate them in some way...That same dynamic of identifying other sentient beings as being other, for the expansion and glorification of one’s own identity is something that every single one of us is doing all of the time.”
"The way that racism works, it seems to me, is that racism is a form of self-hatred projected outward on the other, who then becomes very instrumental to one’s own sense of identity. If I haven’t awakened compassion in my heart I need there to be another, I need the other to be impoverished I need to see the other as poor and I need keep them there and continue to see myself as being better than that, because that gives me my contrast. If we internalize the hatred that others project on to us, by seeing us as radically other, and we hate them back, or we turn and we hate someone else or we hate ourselves, we perpetuate the cycle. It’s a cycle of hate. There is one way to break the cycle, and that’s with compassion.”
When we deepen our Yoga practice it’s almost like we begin a practice of unlearning. As we go deeper we meet parts of ourselves, old trauma’s and coping mechanisms, conditionings and constructs that we have pushed down or hidden away, that start to reveal themselves and it takes courage to bring these back up to the surface, to acknowledge them and hold space for these rising uncomfortable parts of ourselves. Often these are things we weren’t ready to face yet, we were unready to learn from and integrate into our psyche. Through Yoga and moments of meditative stillness we find ways to create a safe environment within ourselves for these things to be seen, heard, felt and held with compassion.
The Global Soul International Yoga Day gathering planted a seed. A seed inspiring us to be the change.
The beauty of an event like this is that you get to witness the diversity of teachings from a range teachers from all over the world.
Every teacher and teaching is unique, showing that there are many pathways that lead to unity. The practice of Yoga allows us to realise and make reality of these teachings. The musical Yin, the poetic Yoga, the meditations and other practices together form the soil which nurtures this seed, the soil from which we grow.
The chanting, singing and the power of mantras are the nutrition that feeds and infuses that very soil with powerful positive intention.
The invocation of inquiry, the conversations, the philosophy lectures are the necessary rain that allows that seed to grow and undergo the process and cycles of radical change, from seed to plant, from flower to fruit. The stronger asana practices and the pranayama are the sunshine, the energy sources to sustain our growth and help create resilience and strength within.
You can’t force a seed to grow, you can’t force change to happen. You can, however, cultivate an open, compassionate space that is conducive to the change you wish to see. You can make small and large choices and take actions in your life every day that move us all towards a just, equal world for all beings.
The weaving in all of the forms and pathways of Yoga together shape a space for us to create necessary change. So we can do the work so that all beings actually get to have the lived experience that we are one, going beyond the understanding that we are one.
This is why Yoga is a wonderful tool and resource for conscious social change. It is why gatherings like this one, where we get to share Yoga are so important. So we can learn and grow together, so we can unite and build a world where everyone gets to have the lived experience that we are one
As Lara Zilibowitz so beautiful worded it: “To create responses that protect, honour, nurture and promote sustainable living for all. To be, to live, to give, to do our very best.”
Thank you to all the teachers for sharing your gifts and thank you to all the souls that gathered together in this online space and thank you for taking the time to read this.
Sarah Hessey @sarahsperspective