Do actions speak louder than asanas?

Creative Commons License photo credit: AndYaDontStop

The “Occupy” movement has no doubt sparked several conversations and debates here at Yoga Modern.  This is no surprise, as politics has always been a controversial subject matter. But then throw in ideas about what yoga is, is not, should be, etc. and we’re left with a lot of ifs, ands, or buts.

My first reaction to hearing about yoga’s involvement with #OccupyWallStreet was less than enthusiastic. But then Yoga Modern contributing editor, Carol Horton, asked:

Should yogis stick to Seva, and stay away from politics?

I found this interesting because the defining lines between “activism,” “seva,” and “karma yoga” are often blurred, even indistinguishable at times. Although the term activism implies having a political or societal agenda, they all share a common etymological root — “action” — in their definition.

OccupyMN protest in Minneapolis: Day 1
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez, for example, all embodied characteristics of both a “karma yogi,” and a “political activist.”  They may not have practiced asana as a form of protest, but they did preach non-violence, help those in need, and shape the political landscape of their time.

Sure, yoga flash mobs raise a few eyebrows. But will public displays of yoga actually yield results?

Is it possible for our public demonstrations of asana to change the hearts of big businesses?  Will corporate executives make better choices just we’re talking about “unity” and “finding our voice” at Occupy protests? I don’t intend to sound cynical, I truly believe we have the power to change the world. But as Gandhi was once quoted saying:

“Action expresses priority.”

We can make clever picket signs, practice yoga on Wall Street, even expose the corruption that often goes unseen, but our day-to-day actions speak louder than our chants.  We hate the bank bailouts, and yet many of us continue to charge to our credit cards.  We are fed up with the corporate model, but we still we work for them, cash their checks, and purchase their products.

The supreme illusion.
Creative Commons License photo credit: digitalpimp.

Is there no other choice?  Well, yes there is.  Is it convenient?  Most likely no.  Look at the history of protests in the United States (particularly the Civil Rights Movement) and it was so much more than sit-ins, speeches, and demonstrations that got voices heard.  In fact it was not their words, but their actions that defined their voices.

Rosa Parks sat firmly in her seat at the cost of both her’s and her husband’s jobs leaving them to struggle financially for years.  Nearly the entire black community walked long distances to work for 381 days during the Montgomery Bus Boycott making it clear that they would no longer accept racial segregation on public transportation.

What if we used such tactics in addition to yoga demonstrations, sit-ins, and other passive forms of protest?  What would happen if all the individuals “protesting” withdrew their funds from banks, cut up credit cards, and said no more to the financial industry as it stands now?  What if everyone refused to drive, use public transport, or anything that consumed fuel until alternative options were available?

If we stopped spending our money to corrupt corporations, perhaps we could induce them to re-evaluate their operations and maybe even claim ourselves independent of their “system?”  I don’t claim to have the answers by any means, but I do think we’re going to have to make sacrifices to see the “changes” we all claim to want.

Day 3 Occupy Wall Street 2011 Shankbone 5
Creative Commons License photo credit: david_shankbone

Sometimes, it seems like the idea of protesting is more glamorous and romantic than the work it takes to create real change. Do you think asanas, meditations, and talks about unity are enough?

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- who has written 21 posts on Yoga Modern.

Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

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