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The Powerful Role Yoga Is Playing In Reversing Separatism

Burt Glenn
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We define ourselves by the people that surround us, our circle of friends, the groups that we join, and groups that, through luck of the draw, include us. When we’re born we don’t have much choice when it comes to the gender, race, family, physical body, religion, economic status, or country.
 

One way or and another, we all form groups.

 
We’re taught to think a certain way, we learn based on these perspectives, and we continue to identify ourselves with these beliefs and the people that share them. When we’re young, this is part of finding ourselves and feeling accepted and acknowledged in the world. This is a natural process.
 
Over time, we evolve to form an identity, branch out and choose our friends, politics, and affiliations. It becomes a conscious choice. Then comes the next step of this evolution.
 
Acceptance = Inclusion
 
When we choose to include others – people that may not be part of our group, and may be quite different from us – whether it’s in their political standpoint, their ethnicity, or anything else that’s different – we not only give them the gift of being accepted, we feel more accepted ourselves.
 
Inclusion comes from a place of compassion, and it leads to the ability to accept others just as they are. It brings people together. Through the warfare, the violence, and the dividedness we see every day, a sense of togetherness is more important than ever.
 
Bringing people together shines light on our small corner of the world. The larger and more widespread the group that we can identify with, the better we feel about ourselves and about others.

 

 
 

This Is Where Yoga Comes into Play

We can certainly apply this to yoga. When we come together to practice communally in a yoga studio, we form a group centered on one common focus – yoga. When we’re on our yoga mats, these outside labels don’t matter – whether we’re high-powered executives, nurses, or artists, and regardless of the color of our skin or religious orientation.
 
We all move and breathe and work through challenges on the mat. And as we accept our physical limitations and learn to breathe our way through each challenging pose, we practice compassion and acceptance for where we are in that moment.
 

Bringing people together shines light on our small corner of the world.

 
As we open up our bodies and hearts, we open up to a more inclusive world. As we accept and celebrate our bodies along with their limitations, we become more whole, more integrated, and at peace.
 
 

Let’s Apply This to Our World

By including parts of ourselves that have felt out of whack, separate, painful, or even disowned, we are building synchronicity with the world around us. When we integrate our bodies, we make our whole selves far stronger than the sum of our parts.
 
So too, when we teach our children the values and practice of inclusion, we can create not just tolerance, but meaningful acceptance and inclusion in our schools and communities. That girl by herself in the wheelchair in the lunchroom could use a friend at her table; the kid from Somalia that doesn’t speak much English would be grateful for some help learning.
 
Opportunities are all around us when we are ready to see them. Each act of inclusion that we practice makes us less egocentric, less absorbed in maintaining a world that looks and acts just like us, and more accepting of others.
 
 

Today’s Society Challenges This Inclusion

The same applies to nations that include all their people. The United States was founded on principles of religious and political tolerance, and ultimately gained greatness through its diversity. Especially in today’s political climate, it’s more important than ever to remember this immense accomplishment.
 
We’ve spent decades upon decades working towards more equality in this country – for all ethnicities, for women, for gay rights . . . But today, some would have us reverse those standards, turn inward as a nation, wall off our borders, and make certain categories of immigrants, of different cultures, countries, religions, and skin colors unwelcome.
 
 

The Challenge and the Takeaway

Instead of making room for newcomers, there are those who would label some less equal than others and close the door. As yogis, as conscious citizens, and as human beings sharing this planet, we cannot accept or allow this close-minded intolerance.
 
To offset fear and non-acceptance on any level, we must first bring acceptance and inclusion into our personal lives. By asking individuals who are somehow different to join us, we build connections and communities, and a life-energy open to expansion.
 
 
Like breathing into those body parts that are stuck and painful in our yoga practice, each time we practice inclusion, we welcome and create new ways of connecting with the world, more open ways of seeing things, and the light of universal spirit that includes us all.
 

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Burt Glenn

Burton Glenn is a former Biology and Chemistry Professor and world traveler. He studies and writes about the effects of aging on the body and mind, as well as his personal experiences transitioning into retirement.

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