Free At Last: Yoga Principles for Social Revolution

We just celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Did you know that MLK was a student of Gandhi? Well, maybe not personally but he studied Gandhi’s use of the yogic principles of Ahimsa or non-violence and Tapas, the heat necessary for transformation, as templates for leading the American social revolution of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Yoga Sutras state that in order to become one’s highest self, one must embrace the seminal principle of Ahimsa, or non-violence which is truly the gateway of unconditional love. MLK suggests as much when he said:

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

In fact, Dr. King was so inspired by Gandhi that in 1959 he visited Gandhi’s birthplace in Gujarat, India. This visit left a profound impression of the concept of non-violent civil disobedience and further strengthened Dr. King’s commitment toward America’s struggle for human rights. And just like in India, it was a non-violent revolution that drove lasting change in America’s social attitudes.


Another yogic reference one can derive from MLK’s speech is that of transformational heat or Tapas. In the Yoga Sutras, Tapas is defined as the heat necessary for transformation, like pottery fired in a kiln.

Yoga means union. In yoga, we practice implementing this transformational heat to bind body, mind, and heart in our own person to work toward our highest self. Yoga principles teach that with this proverbial heat, we then direct and bind the larger body of our family, our community, our nation, and our world in the spirit of its highest self.

Growing pains are evidence of the transformative quality of Tapas. Certainly there were and are growing pains in the Human Rights Movement. This heat was Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. It was The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. It was The March on Washington in 1963. It was Bloody Sunday in 1965. The heat that causes change can be necessarily uncomfortable and sometimes outright painful. Dr. King was on the burning tip of the spear of social transformation, a searing heat that would eventually take his life.

The March on Washington and the I Have a Dream speech were two events that helped signal America’s transformation of becoming a greater nation. That speech marked and catalyzed significant growth in this country. We are still growing.

Global transformation starts with one person. Gandhi said:


“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…. We need not wait to see what others do.”

 

How are you willing to step into that heat of personal transformation?

Are you willing to personally grow to ensure a strong body, bright mind, and open heart and grow into your highest potential? Are you willing to stand up for injustice? And how do we all make that change both as an individual and as a nation that allows all parts to grow stronger rather than being cut or compromised? Surely this is a difficult task. To ensure mutual growth, we change while practicing non-violence, Ahimsa.

Like Gandhi and Dr. King discovered, Ahimsa is both the personal and global non-violent revolution that makes lasting change. Whether it’s internal change like greater mindfulness or a more healthy body or external political or social change like gun control, same-sex marriage, political partisanship, undocumented immigrants, or anything else, the question is how can we instigate a change that invites all parts to grow in the process?

We’ve grown as a nation since 1963 but we still have much more to do to honor all the beings who live here. It is because of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. that we have a strong foothold on freedom, a firm platform where we can step into America’s future and truly become the nation that our forefathers like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy and leaders like Dr. King believed we could be, one where people dare to dream. We can’t go back and we can never unlearn what we’ve learned.

We can move forward. We can grow individually and as a nation by referencing the past. We can reference both the failures of social inequality, and the inspiration of the I Have a Dream speech, as mile markers that will direct us toward protecting the freedoms that make us all grow closer to actualizing our highest potential, individually and as a nation.

And we can use the principles of non-violence (Ahimsa) through understanding the principle of heat necessary for transformation (Tapas) to help us in this practice. We can practice moving toward a future where, like Dr. King says, children of all races (and I believe given current social and political issues he would include people of all sexual orientation, documented and undocumented immigrants, gun lovers and gun haters, Republican and Democrats etc.) could all hold hands and with exuberance shout the refrain, “Free at last! free at last! thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

This week, I invite you to continue Dr. King’s legacy by practicing transformation through non-violence and personal growth as the first step to continuing our growth as a nation.

Yogi Scott Moore, scottmooreyoga.com

Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his Guided Meditations for Sleep™ and yoga retreats to places like Hawaii and Amalfi Coast and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program

 

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