Yoga as Leadership

When I think back to why I fell in love with yoga, much of it was falling in love with the possibility of who I could be as a bigger human being and practicing it with a group of people who also saw that possibility for themselves and for me. Together, we could be greater than the sum of our parts and as cliché as it sounds: the world could be a better place for everyone. This is the eight limbed path of yoga practice: a system to move closer to the definition of yoga which is ‘to yoke or unite’.

An important note is the word ‘practice’. This ‘uniting’ doesn’t happen without hard work or by ‘default’ as we often say in class. In fact, a common theme in the yoga sutras is to act the opposite of our human nature. For example, our default nature would be to act possessively or hoard too much of what we think we need; attention, material goods, power. The yoga sutras invite us to give away to others instead.

I don’t want to gloss over the idea that ‘the world could be a better place for everyone’. The key word is ‘everyone’- all living beings. Not just the people we naturally identify with or look like. This includes asking who is not included in our conversations, who is not represented in the spaces we operate in and who is not part of the ‘default’ group. Actually, more of yoga occurs off the mat. Our asana practice is only one component and we are truly tested to apply the system of yoga out in the real world.

The more I practiced and learned, the more I experienced the power of vulnerability, integrity and accountability within a community as examples of authentic and powerful leadership. Yoga demonstrated an entirely different way of seeing people, relating and communicating with people than I had known. Not just looking at people as others, but truly seeing them and also seeing myself in them. Also, rather than being jealous or in competition with others, celebrating as they come into their own. Another example of cultivating the opposite of human nature.

Seeing these practices in action are what reveal the greater possibilities for humanity to me. What could be possible if we related to and for each other as the highest version of ourselves. What could be possible if we made the higher call at each step and continued to insert integrity when we discovered a situation that was not fair or sustainable. Leaders who exemplify this to me are Gandhi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Gandhi wanted to free India and his group was called ‘Satyagraha’ which actually means ‘Truth Force’. Satya means ‘truth’ and is one of the yamas in our yoga practice. We are asked to be powerfully rooted in truth always. RBG lead differently too. She was not brash, loud or of large physical stature, but she created ‘tapas’ (commitment, dedication and discipline) for change and enrolled others to join her through her masterful way of communicating and persuasive intellect.

Our teacher Baron Baptiste speaks to keeping your eye on your own North Star and being a ‘yes’ for that. For me, that North Star is social justice. Over the past few years and especially in the past months I’ve become aware of my blind spots and inaction as they relate to gender discrimination and racial justice. Now that those blind spots have been revealed, my yoga practice invites me to ‘disrupt the drift’ and ‘step out of my comfort zone’ into those areas through listening, learning and action. Using yoga as a model, I want to make a difference and a contribution to moving closer to the unity that yoga speaks of. I’m not doing this perfectly and it is uncomfortable along the way, but just like my yoga practice- I’m committed for the long term.

What is your North Star off the mat? Where is a place you can disrupt the drift in the world? How can your yoga practice support taking new action where it matters most to you? 

Here’s to growing in our yoga practice both on AND off the mat. 

Thank you for reading.

Jen Gress

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