Yoga & anti-racism SERIES, PART 3 OF 8
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
This sanskrit prayer we so often invoke at the end of yoga asana practice speaks to the purpose of yoga. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” Here we state our desire for the wellbeing of everyone, and our intention that our own practice contribute to this greater good. Yoga invites us to walk the path to freedom and happiness, for ourselves and for all--the path to inner peace and peace on earth.
The Yamas & Niyamas
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, beginning with the Yamas and Niyamas, which illuminate yoga’s inherent design. In Sanskrit Yamas connotes reins, the restraints employed by a charioteer. The Yamas steer our interactions with others, teaching us how to navigate our interpersonal world with ethical behaviors to respect all others and create harmonious coexistence. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free...” Niyamas shares the same root, with the added prefix Ni, in this instance indicating inward or within. The Niyamas guide our internal practice and right relationship within ourselves. “...and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
The Yamas and Niyamas direct and focus our actions to achieve freedom and happiness for all, to reach ultimate union, or enlightenment. They are often described as guideposts, numbered in order reflecting Pantanjali's elucidation in the Yoga Sutras. However, we might consider the Yamas and Niyamas more as trail-marking cairns comprised of stacked stones. We might imagine that the stones have tumbled, and that we may rearrange them more stably in such a way to better illuminate our path and lend to more coherence. Let's consider a cairn with Satya & Santosha at its base, and place Brahmacharya & Svadhyaya second. We stack Aparigraha & Tapas third at the midpoint, followed by Asteya & Saucha. We cap the cairn with Ahimsa & Ishwara Pranidhana at the pinnacle. Arranged in this way, we're clearly directed toward social activism and anti-racism; it's the only way forward with applied practice.
As a white American woman late to the anti-racism discussion, my first step in this journey is to educate myself, to listen to those who live the realities of racist oppression, and to pursue the full truth of our history and current state of affairs. I invoke the Yama Satya, propagation of comprehensive truth, and the Niyama Santosha, multiple truth reconciliation.
Satya is often translated as non-lying, or truthfulness, with the implication that as long as we are honest and impeccable with our word, we are practicing this virtue. Satya entails so much more than this limited interpretation. Satya means non-falsehood, non-distortion, non-ignorance. We must allow for multiple truths; we cannot ignore or deny the truth of others.
In Sanskrit, Sat indicates the ultimate eternal truth, with the suffix ya indicating doing or accomplishing. Satya requires active investigation in seeking the whole and complete truth. We must be willing to question the dominant cultural narrative; we must be willing to hear and digest multiple perspectives and to exercise our own discernment. We must analyze the validity of our usual information sources and evaluate entrained biases, inaccurate assumptions, hidden interests, and covert agendas. We must identify which voices have been silenced, unduly discredited, or eclipsed. We must consider alternate views and sort facts from opinion. We must amplify the voices that long have been oppressed, and bolster the stories of those vulnerable to violence in speaking their truth. We must encourage courageous free-thought and nourish fresh perspectives; we cannot feed the fear of dissent. We must piece together a more complete picture. Satya means to dedicate practice to cultivating our understanding. Satya means to propagate a more consummate, collaborative, and comprehensive truth.
Santosha, derived from Sanskrit Sam, complete, altogether, entire, and Tosha, acceptance, or being comfortable, means to make peace with, or to reconcile multiple truths. Santosha asks us to develop our capacity to hold comfortably the varied elements that comprise the complete truth, and to accept dichotomous or paradoxical realities. This is a practice of mental flexibility, that we may stretch ourselves beyond one limited view and exercise ‘both/and’ competency, allowing for seeming opposites both to be simultaneously true. We must build our faculty for uncertainty and contradiction.
Santosha invites us to be present with all that is, to face what we’d rather not see. We must sift, sort, and structure the multiple aspects of truth to create space in our minds and foster a sense of clarity and ease so that we are not overwhelmed or burdened by the enormity of true reality. Santosha is often translated as contentment, and this is an important element. We must not be frustrated or deterred when the multiple components do not readily align or make sense within our active framework. We must be content to keep with the practice, to build space to accommodate our own blind spots and allow for gaps in our understanding. Practice with Santosha requires calm receptivity, persistence in reflection, and a willingness to rearrange concepts, rule out false paradigm schemes, imagine ideas inverted, follow corollary patterns, and redefine our sense of truth, reality, and identity.
Practicing Satya & Santosha with Anti-Racism
As I continue with this first step of listening, educating myself, and investigating the full truth of our history and current reality, I’d like to share a few resources that I’m finding helpful as a white American woman new to the anti-racism movement:
Thank you for engaging with the anti-racism discussion and exploring with me how yoga calls us to activism for social justice. In my next post I continue with this practice and explore Karma Yoga & The Paradox of All-One, invoking the Yama Brahmacharya and the Niyama Svadhyaya.
Namaste ~ Teagan
This Yoga & Anti-Racism Series streams forth in personal practice in response to Michelle Johnson's call to radicalize yoga to create a just world, as I've detailed in Part 1. Many words around Satya and Santosha reverberate themes from Sarah Varcas' framework interpreting the astrological signature we are experiencing in these times. Thank you Michelle Johnson and Sarah Varcas for your guidance and your invitation to come into better alignment.