True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr.


This is one of my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. The yoga perspective on social justice is essentially that we are not actually separate from each. We are connected. Yet, we appear to be separate. On the surface, what we may see is differences, distinctions. For example, I am well acquainted with my culture. I’m not as sure about yours. I know what I’m comfortable with. We are not all comfortable with the same things. I am more comfortable with what’s familiar to me. That which I’m not familiar with, I might find unappealing or even repulsive, or be consciously or unconsciously afraid of it. Differences tend to be prominent and these differences can easily eclipse where we are united.

A yogic perspective would say that this is the function of seeing life through the lens of mind. We take life in through the senses and the mind tries to make sense of it and attribute meaning to it. The great wisdom traditions teach us that everything is impermanent, meaning that the only certainty is that things will change. However, the mind’s instinct is to create certainty even when it doesn’t exist. This is called black and white thinking. Can you remember a moment when something that you formerly believed would always be true turned out to be different or even false? The adjustments required when we are disillusioned all of a sudden can be traumatic, which may be why we sometimes opt to live in illusion and push away evidence of uncomfortable truths.

Through the practice of yoga we become less reactive to discomfort, able to tolerate more sensation. We learn to be present to our own inner experience which creates a connection to self. Through the practice of yoga we come to sense connection where once we experienced difference and division.

The initial practices of yoga are also known as yamas and niyamas. If we take them in sequence, (which is not necessary, but fascinating) we begin with non-violence, truthfulness, and non-stealing. These are known as the first three yamas. The yamas are considered restraints. Restraint from our “animal instincts.” And yoga invites us to take these practices through a spectrum from gross to subtle, from non-violence to others to non-violence to myself. From deed to word to thought.

These practices guide us in the same way as the maxim found in most religions and cultures, the golden rule – treat others as I would like to be treated, with respect, kindness and fairness.
Ultimately these practices are an inside job. How I treat others in thought, word and deed is a reflection of how I treat myself in thought, word and deed.

I also hear the words of the other great non-violent social activist of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” For me, it takes regular practice to remember to be kind, fair and respectful to myself. Regular practice is especially necessary to appreciate the effect of my thoughts, words and deeds on the subtle levels of my being. Making change on the subtle levels is the nursery of the biggest changes in how I think, how I speak and how I act.

And, so, what about justice? Justice is related to fairness, isn’t it? To act in fairness, I need to practice those yamas. Do no harm. Don’t bully others with the voice or privilege I have been given. Be honest with myself. Have the courage to be truthful to others. Be generous. Don’t take what is not offered freely. With courage, compassion and humility, may I be the change that I seek in this world.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Barack Obama
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7 Responses

  1. Thank you for this reading today. I appreciate the reminder that change will not come by waiting. We can make the change in our thoughts, words and deeds right now if we want to. This is very fitting on this day as we remember the legacy of this remarkable man who was willing to teach people that we can let go of ignorance and hate and see each other as equals in so many ways that they can eclipse our differences. We can start by meeting together in our yoga practice.
    Thanks and have a peaceful Martin Luther King day.

    1. And February is Black History month so now we have even more opportunities to contemplate issues of justice and reconciliation. It’s a daily practice to keep the peace with myself so I imagine that not accessing peace inside drives a lot of violent behavior. So much healing is needed in this world. See you for Breath Practice!

  2. In 2018, in response to the ugliness in the world around me, I started an arts nonprofit, First Response: Art ( My purpose was to bring art supplies to community events, especially in underserved communities, and offer people a place to make art. I took what I call the art mobile (my car) to a farmers market in a poor neighborhood of Denver, set up my table, and invited people to paint or draw. Kids particularly responded, some adults too. My goal is to eventually have a vehicle I can take to disaster sites and offer art-making opportunities to people in shelters.
    I was determined not to complain about the state of the world, but to do something I could do, without needing permission, or much money.

  3. So it occurred to me I could say more about the context for my action and it’s relationship to yoga, for me, and to social justice. Yoga helps me find inner peace, which helps act in the world in a more balanced way. I asked myself what I could do as an artist, specifically, though I am also a political scientist, to increase social justice in the world. What can I do that I can just go and do, regardless of who is in office, or running for office, or what laws are in effect, or being advocated for? What can I actually go do without needing anyone else’s permission, whether legal or monetary? First Response: Art was what came to me. I can take my paints to the community center by the housing project and offer people an immediate opportunity to make art. The conversations I hear, and the paintings created, reveal the need to make something beautiful as much as they reveal the traumas people struggle with. Modern life is singularly absent of spaces in which we witness each others’ stories, and the table around which I gather people is one at which stories can be witnessed. This foundational act of community is one of roots of social justice I believe. Making art in community shows individuals their stories are valued and deserving of voice, that they are worthy of beautiful representation.

  4. Social Justice means different things to different people. I was always afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Yoga has taught me that I probably will do the wrong thing, that’s part of being a human being with one life experience. Yoga has taught me that being perfectly imperfect is my truth. If my intentions come from my heart, and miss the mark somehow, I can learn from them, I can open a dialogue, I can learn and grow from it, and possibly others will grow along with me.
    The daily practice of Yoga strengthens me.
    Asana offers my body strength, release, challenge, a chance to survive a failure and thrive, a chance to achieve something and store away that positive experience.
    Pranayama offers my body and mind a mini vacation from stress, as I focus on my breath, I have a chance to appreciate the amazing physical body that I take for granted the other 23 hours a day. There’s something so beautiful about watching my breath as is, inviting it to change, grow, slow or pulse.
    Meditation offers me the opportunity to pause, heal, and be. Meditation in community offers me the opportunity to connect in this time of physical distancing. Connection to others is essential if Social Justice is ever to be a reality.
    Thank you Rudy and Joyce for creating space to practice all of these in community. ☮️???♥️

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