The yoga revolution shows no sign of slowing, but as the Western world wakes up to the powers of this ancient Eastern practice, what’s getting lost in translation?
We talk to Yoga for Freedom founder Atira Tan about walking a path of Spiritual Activism.
What is Spiritual Activism?
It’s a path that dissolves the ego, because when we are in the space of complete and utter service, we are co-creating with an energy that is bigger than us. It has a bigger plan. It is a path to awakening.
Ok, but what’s the difference between Spiritual Activism and ‘normal’ activism?
There is a big difference between this and when we start to attach the ego to being of service. What happens then? Everything collapses, we start to suffer from compassion burnout and fatigue. The alternative is to devote our work to something bigger than ourselves. Work we do for social justice needs to come from a place of pure love and presence where there is no moment where the ego can sneak in. It’s just a flow and we are the vessels for this energy to flow into these darker places of humanity. To be in this space is one of the most incredible privileges.
This sounds like the way forward, but what how?
Yoga is one of the biggest tools because it helps us cultivate practices to discover our true nature. We realise that we are one with everything and everyone and that we can only realise our true nature when we are present. Present not just in ourselves but for others.
Is there a specific practice for this?
I’ve learnt a lot from my guru Amma, who taught me everything about love in action and this energy of complete devotion to humanity. I’ve been a yogi for more than 21 years on a path of Bhakti and Karma Yoga, where all the actions that we do are for something higher than ourselves. Like with so many practices, the meditation is to be present.
How does this fit with our contemporary yoga culture?
Modern-day yogis get lost in the ‘I’ and the image. That is ok, because the nature of life is that we do have an ego and it’s natural for us to care about ourselves. However, it’s my hope to move out of this. When we dedicate ourselves to our practice for a solid amount of time, so many things come; aside from finding peace of mind, flexibility and strength, we start to wake up to who we are.
What comes next?
When we wake up to this, not just the idea of it, but we feel the reality, we start to want to give back. To the causes in the world that hurt us. That give us pain. For me, what breaks my heart is child sex slavery. This is what I’ve chosen to dedicate and devote my life to. My whole body tingles and I can’t stop talking about it. So for yogis who are stuck about how to give back… tune into your body and sit into what on the planet causes you heartbreak? Follow that energy.
How can yoga studios get involved?
Yoga studios and yoga brands are urban ashrams but I don’t see many of them giving back to marginalised communities. Within this industry, there is enough space and abundance to give back in meaningful and conscious way to social justice and change issues that could really make a big difference. I’ve lived a long time in ashram. Such as Amma’s ashram. All are non-for-profit, she sleeps in a very small room, simple and humble and choses to help the people who need it in India and abroad with the donations that come in, and she does it out of spirit of love and compassion and expects nothing. This is what ashrams are about. Really helping people to awaken to who they are AND then give back to the community so EVERYONE can awaken. I’m very committed to this path of re-inspiring the yoga industry as we know it to broaden out of its current trajectory of commercialism and give back to communities that are marginalised. Especially communities that yoga originated from, like India and Nepal. Yoga is a 70 billion dollar industry now, but yoga has always been practiced in the simplest of places, in ashrams.
Ok, i feel called to be a part of this, but… i’m so busy! What next?
People feel their passion, but then slide into self doubt, procrastinate, or don’t follow the call. If you have a great idea, an aliveness in your body, follow that until the end, This is the beginning of a journey for you, for everyone, for your awakening. It’s such an amazing path, of beauty, love, courage and resilience. I do a lot of coaching with social activists to support this step.
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