Last week Chelsea Roff suggested that yoga belongs as much in the crystal palaces on Wall Street as in the protests that occupy the streets. I think she is on to something.
There are as many perspectives that create the OWS protests as there are signs and people. This is why on the one hand it has been criticized as disorganized, and why on the other hand it is so authentically representative of the 99% of Americans it claims to embody. Some folks are marching for anti-establishment and a complete collapse of government. Some are marching for repentance. Others are marching for different degrees of reform and regulation.
To whatever extent our capitalistic government and society evolves and prevails, there will for a long time yet be capital to manage and it will be done by human beings with shadows and flaws. What if, just as many yoga teachers have taken their practice to the streets in support of the protest, yoga teachers take their practice and occupy the very offices that created this mess?
As a yoga teacher who has dabbled in the corporate sphere, I am really curious about the ways that yoga can work not only to heal the damage of capitalism gone wrong, but that can work to prevent corruption and harm in the first place.
We have movie stars who are the face of philanthropic and humanitarian causes. Can we have CEO’s who are the face of responsibility and empathy? With brazen hope I propose that yes, we can.
And I believe that the systems that are responsible for the dismantling of the middle class and the disenfranchised poor can actually become leaders of social responsibility and contemplative activism.
Here are a few things I believe that the practice of yoga can manifest on Wall Street and in corporate America:
The practice of asana is for the purpose of creating supple structures (ie: our bodies). By lengthening and softening muscles, bodies are able to respond to and absorb stress with less violence and injury. Bodies become more elastic in their reach and functions so that the routines of movement are expanded to fuller ability and more ease of movement.
To infuse corporate and financial structures with agility is to create organizations less caught up in the traditional routines of profit. They would be more likely to respond to difficult decisions with supple confidence that characterizes empathy instead of rigid fear that characterizes domination.
When we practice yoga we align our bodies according to a set of safe and healthy structural guidelines. We also align our attention and our intention with the truth that resonates deepest within us. Just like body alignment requires adjustments that come both from our knowledge of poses and instruction of teachers, our internal alignment comes from deep study of our values, which are often not what they first appear to be.
As any committed yoga practitioner knows, the alignment of intention to truth takes constant practice and deep observation. My practice of alignment takes me deep in my fears and insecurities and far below the surface of desire and need. True alignment is a journey to the interconnectedness of spirit that binds whole communities and manifests truth in a sustainable and healing way.
If the individuals who guide entire systems could practice this alignment, there would be greater opportunity for interconnected intention instead of an intention of isolation.
Chogyam Trungpa says, “A great deal of chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves. Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards themselves, they cannot experience harmony of peace within themselves, and therefore, what they project to others is also inharmonious and confused.” I practice rituals in order to remember.
Whether it is steeping my tea first thing in the morning to remember calm and warmth, sitting in meditation to remember centeredness, or gathering with friends to remember community, I order my life around rituals that remind me of the things I value and the things that are true. So much of the pain I cause myself or others is because I forget my own basic goodness, or the basic goodness of the world. To reorganize corporate ritual would be to remember the values and truths that are connected to the basic goodness of the world instead of misplacing value on money.
I am not sure how to go about manifesting these practices on Wall Street. As I imagine the ways to infiltrate the system, I continue to stand in alliance with everyone sitting and marching and gathering in protest of the injustice. And in light of Muammar Gaddafi’s recent death, I am grateful to live in a place where there are peaceful marches instead of civil war breaking out in response to oppression. I am hopeful that the foundation of democracy still exists in the truth that when citizens speak their voices are heard.
And the voice I offer up is one of re-imagination.