Musings From My Yoga Mat: How Meditation Supports Anti-oppression Work
As a person who spends a lot of time practicing yoga and meditation, I often question how working on myself as an individual has any bearing on my community or the larger society. I think teaching and practicing yoga is important. Important enough to spend my free time teaching yoga in schools. But is sitting still in meditation really how I should spend my time? If yoga and meditation are all about the individual, then how does this practice support me to break down systems or fight against oppression or to imagine a world that could be?
Schwalbe (2008) and Johnson (2014) helped me to wrestle with this idea of the individual and the community and how both are connected. Schwalbe (2008) explains that a good life occurs “in a society that is peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian, and minimally regimented” and that everyone has a right to a good life (p. 4). At first, this may sound very individualistic, but our lives are all intertwined and our actions affect other people (Schwalbe, 2008). The negative thoughts we have about others perpetuate conflict within the world, and so this work we do for ourselves through yoga and meditation can affect larger systems that are in place if we take our practice and apply it to daily life. If we examine who we are as individuals and our part within the larger systems.
Johnson (2014) describes individualism and systems when he says,
People tend to think only in terms of individuals as if a society or a university were nothing more than a collection of people living in a particular time and place. Many writers have pointed out how individualism affects social life by isolating us from one another, promoting divisive competition, and making it harder to sustain a sense of community, that we’re all in this together” (p. 9).
We have to look past our individual selves and examine the privileged aspects of our lives. This examination of our lives can be uncomfortable. Schwalbe (2008) explains that it is hard for us to stop and practice sociological mindfulness because we are constantly running this race towards more money or more stuff and if we pause to think about how we are part of larger systems, we may fall behind in the race. In order to practice sociological mindfulness, we must first stop running the race. And since running this race each day is so ingrained in us from a sociological perspective, just the stopping can seem scary and uncomfortable.
I have been challenged the last few semesters to use my imagination. To imagine a better world without oppression and where our differences are celebrated instead of being divisive. To imagine a world where there is no longer a race to run. Imagining, like meditation, can seem very passive, but it is through imagining what has not ever been imagined that we can begin to change the world. Johnson (2014) describes the game Monopoly and how he is always competitive during the game because those are the rules and expectations. Johnson (2014) takes “the path of least resistance” (p. 15) because he never took the time to imagine a different way to play the game. Johnson (2014) explains, “In a sense, every cultural idea rests on a belief of some kind, because to think about something we first have to see it as something that exists, even if only in our imaginations” (p. 39). In order for a better world to exist, we must first imagine it. Imagining is important work. Schwalbe (2008) explains that imagining what this world could be like allows us to “begin to recognize problems” within society that we did not notice in the beginning (p. 28). Simply through imagining, we can become more sociologically mindful and aware of the systems we are part of.
For me, the work I do on my yoga mat is vital to my anti-oppression work. Through meditation, I am able to better examine who I am as an individual and see my part in the larger systems within our society. I am able to be still and take time to imagine what a better society would look like and then take small steps in my daily life refusing to take the path of least resistance. It is easy in this work to feel powerless to change these large systems and institutions, but Schawlbe (2008) explains
Often our acts of resistance seem to go unnoticed. But it is through small acts that the world is remade (p. 27).
So, I am left asking myself what will my “small acts” be today? What will I do when I leave my mat in the morning to foster ideas that promote a good life for all people? How will I contribute to the remaking of the world?
Johnson, A. G. (2014). The forest and the trees: Sociology as life, practice, and promise.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Schwalbe, M. (2008). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation.
Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.