With despair we are seeing so many cases of intolerance in the world. Intolerance for those different than us, intolerance for those that think different than us, intolerance for just about anything that doesn’t fit in our square minds. Terrorist attacks around the globe, vicious political speeches that intent to destroy the opponent. Last week, I was literally told to get off my yoga mat and wake up, just because I didn’t think the same way as this individual.
This comment got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that it is actually the opposite: if more people practiced yoga both on and off the mat, perhaps we would not see so much intolerance. So I went to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to find some comfort in this book, and I can see so many of the sutras that would help with gaining more tolerance in the world. The first word that came to my mind was Ahimsa, the first of the Yamas. Ahimsa represents the principle of non violence, non-harming. It is practiced daily during our Asana practice to avoid injuries in our own bodies, but it is also practiced off the mat in our daily interactions with others and that includes our thoughts.
In reading more in depth the Yoga Sutras, In Book One, Sutra 33, Patanjali tells us: “By Cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight for the virtuous and disregard towards the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness” (1). In reading this, we are motivated to respect others for what they are, have and think. And this for me, is Tolerance towards others.
In our Yoga Practice, we learn to stay on our mat, and not compare our own efforts with those around us. We are where we are at that moment, and it is perfect as it is, we don’t need to compare to others to fulfill our own practice. This is easier said than done, since many times we find ourselves struggling with an Asana and hoping nobody is watching us so we don’t look foolish. Other times we are so sure we are completely striking a pose, that we are hoping the whole room is watching how good we look! But these feelings start dissipating as soon as they appear once we start internalizing the real purpose of yoga: the steadiness of the mind.
Someone who is intolerant of others is definitely not moving in the direction of the steadiness of the mind, since for that we need to stop the judging. Just like Patanjali says, if we see someone who is happy, we should work towards sharing that happiness, if someone is good at something, let’s be their biggest fans. If someone is unhappy for any reason, let’s show compassion, we ultimately do not know what they are going through.
In summary, I am completely convinced that by practicing yoga on and off the mat, we do work towards a better world, where intolerance is less predominant. And maybe by staying on the mat, we all actually wake up and reach a world with more compassion and acceptance!
(1) “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Integral Yoga Publication. Fourth Printing, 2015.