Yoga & Sacred Activism:
3 ways to Look into the Darkness and Stay Light
The world these days is like a dirty house. It’s been sullied with injustice, cruelty, selfishness, and greed. But just like a dirty house, it has every capability of being righted. We, as its inhabitants, have the choice of sitting in its filth, or being the ones to help clean it.
There are three ways to address the darkness in the world around us.
- One, we can pretend we don’t see it so that it doesn’t bring us down.
- Two, we can let it break our hearts and lock us into a state of depressed inaction
- Three, we can be honest about its existence and understand it as a place asking for attention, action, and change.
The Path of Service
Stepping up to the wrongs of this world is not an easy task for anyone, but it is the task worth doing. Atira Tan, founder of Art to Healing (www.arttohealing.org) and Yoga for Freedom (www.yogaforfreedom.org.au), first heard her call to action in Cambodia in 2004.
After witnessing the on-goings of a child sex slavery ring in the street below her hotel room, she was faced with a choice. She could look away, board the plane to her next vacation destination, and move on with her life. Or she could stay, step into the discomfort of a painful situation, and try to help these 9-10 year-old girls being sold by their family so they could survive.
Atira stayed. She spent the next four years living in Cambodia and working for a non-profit to prevent and heal the trauma of child sex slavery. She took the time to speak with these girls, girls who had experienced an unimaginable devastation of spirit from the trauma they’d undergone, and she chose to believe that there was still life within their deadened eyes that could, and needed to be, revitalised.
Today, Atira continues to follow her path of service and seeks to encourage others to do the same. In 2005, she founded Art to Healing, a non-profit that incorporates art therapy and yoga to help both women and men affected by sex slavery to foster a healthier relationship with themselves and their bodies. Furthermore, she launched Yoga for Freedom yoking the yoga community with social change, a world-wide fundraising event that taps into the billion-dollar yoga industry to raise money for women and children who have experienced child sex slavery in Asia.
Yoga & Sacred Activism
“Yoga is such a powerful tool for source energy,” Atira explains. “It helps me to connect with what’s true, to move beyond the notion that we are separate from each other. We can take time to tap into our practice and fill up and open up to be a vessel of love and light and that affects our actions and what we do in the world.”
Atira Tan uses yoga in her own life to keep her firmly on the path of service and sacred activism. So, exactly how can we use yoga as a tool for social activism?
1. Don’t take time to worship, make your life worship.
Yoga does not end in the studio. Yoga is a practice of union that is cultivated just as much on your mat as in the waiting line at the DMV. Be present in each moment. Dedicate your life to something more, whatever more is, and remember that it flows through you in everything you do, in every breath you take.
When we attach ourselves to something bigger than us, our actions become more in line with what we are incited to do, rather than what we think we should do.
2. Let go of your egoic notions of success, and surrender to the infinite
We are incredibly attached to our egos and outcomes; it’s a part of our culture to want to be successful. The work is the only thing that matters and it is the only thing that exists. Activist burn-out does not come from the work itself; it comes from expectations.
The truth is that none of us know the outcome of anything. Let go, surrender. Act for the sake of action, act because you feel incited to do it. Let life take care of the rest. It’s going to do that whether you have a prediction or not.
3. Dedicate your life to being in Service
Dedicating one’s life to service is the quickest practice to kick us out of our egos. When we attach to something more and when we act for something more, we become something more.
When you dedicate your life to service, you must find something you feel purposeful about. You may care about the environment, but if that work doesn’t light you up, let it go. Find something that gives you meaning, that makes you feel alive when you connect to it. “When I work with women and children,” Atira says. “I know from the inside that I’m meant to be doing this work and I couldn’t be doing anything else. There’s an energy that is bigger than my mind. That is what sustains us in this work of activism.”
Sacred activism is not a “rescue” mission and it cannot be done through the mind. As activists, we cannot approach the work as the “rescuers” who have come to save the “victims.” This is not sustainable, and it is not true. Sacred activism is about coming together as one and learning from each other as human beings. It’s about discovering what we all have to offer one another.
The “call” to service is not always a pleasant one. It can be uncomfortable and frightening, even daunting. Our egos fear what will happen if we fail, or how we too may become hurt if we get involved. Yet, we all have the power to overcome our ego and attach ourselves to our life’s purpose.
After witnessing the horrors of the earthquake in Nepal, Atira Tan received an idea for a new endeavor during her meditation. It was an immense project to take on, and despite misgivings at the onset, she decided to set the idea into action.
Three years ago, Atira Tan held the first Yoga for Freedom movement in Australia, previously named International Yogathon for World Peace, alongside Off the Mat, into the World Australia and NZ. Her vision was to create a global yoga and social change movement that tapped into the 27 billion-dollar yoga industry and filtered that profit to the birthplace of yoga, a place that rarely saw the financial gains of the philosophy it shared with the world. The event invited yoga teachers to teach a Yogathon in 3 cities that donated its proceeds to the earthquake recovery effects through Art to Healing. The event was incredibly successful and raised over $16,000 in one day.
Now, Yoga for Freedom is a week long international yoga movement, will be held annually across 4 continents between 40 yoga ambassadors. All proceeds will go towards providing food, shelter, and safe accommodations to women and girls in need, as well as education and therapeutic programs to heal the trauma they’ve endured.
“The intention is to come back to the heart and dedicate our thoughts and practice in meditation back to the world,” Atira explains. “It’s to turn the focus from Instagram and Facebook and getting in perfect in shape – yoga is meant to be something that uplifts us all, that uplifts the planet. It’s a practice that can shine light within ourselves in the darkest place of shadow and we have to help others find it too. We have to use this practice to shine light on the darkest corners of humanity.”