Our current political climate may feel as polarizing and un-yogic than ever, but there is a way to hold love in your heart for those you disagree with the most. Here’s how.
Here’s something you might not know about me: before I was passionate about yoga, I was passionate about politics. I used to get into heated arguments with people about government policy. I was on the high school debate team (and even won awards for public speaking), and after high school, my plan was to major in political science and go to law school. I wanted to fight what I thought was the good fight in politics.
Yet the summer between high school and college, I woke up one morning and realized I was so much happier than I had been in a long time. After a few moments of introspective probing, I realized it was because I was not debating people all the time. It suddenly hit me that scheduling a debate is like scheduling time to argue, and it quickly became evident that I wouldn’t be happy if I devoted my life to arguing with people as my profession.
For years after my choice to turn away from the pre-law path, I was lost and searching for meaning and purpose. I turned away from politics and news in general and went on a media fast. It was in this period that I discovered yoga.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the yogi’s role in civic discourse and public service. Now, don’t stop reading: I’m not here to endorse a particular agenda. I do, of course, have my opinions on what I believe good government is, but I’m not writing this to try and convince you of my beliefs. Instead, I’m writing this to help you, as a fellow yogi, navigate the often-murky territory of post-election polarization. Two sides engage in rounds of debates, run onslaughts of advertisements, amplify their positions in echo chambers, and charge forward. One side emerges as the winner, the other side as the loser. Meanwhile, our shared sense of community fractures and we grow further apart. Or, at least, that is how the last few election cycles seemed to play out to me.
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Walking the Yogic Path, Post-Election
So, what does the yogic path have to offer civic discourse in our current state of affairs? As it turns out, a lot.
Let’s start off with the foundational yogic principle of ahimsa. Often translated as non-violence, I’ve always liked a positive definition of this principle. To me, ahimsa is more than just the absence of violence; it is the active state of love, forgiveness, and acceptance. There is nothing like a polarizing election cycle to bring out the hatred, judgement, and vitriol. This is the state of himsa—hatred, violence, or negativity—and goes against yogic values. In order to balance your mind, I recommend practicing ahimsa in this very real and challenging way: learn to love your enemies. This isn’t a new concept, yet in our present-day quagmire of political voices, we need this high teaching more than ever.
Think about how many times you have “unfollowed” someone on social media whom you once found inspiring, or stopped talking to someone because he or she proclaims different political beliefs than you do. I recently shared some of my personal opinions about the governor race in my home state of Florida on my Instagram stories and got both positive and negative response. There were people who called on me to “stick to yoga” and announced that they would now be forced to “unfollow” me. To others I was a hero. It’s almost like we categories people who don’t share our political beliefs as our “enemies” and those who do as “heroes.” In doing so, we also normalize harsh and sometimes cruel words and actions towards those people whom we deem as enemies.
I’ll be honest: I’ve had those same type of judgmental thoughts about others. We all have friends or family members whose political beliefs are different from our own. I’ve been shocked to see what someone I know on a personal level thinks about government policies or leaders; I’ve even been tempted to leave a comment when they share their thoughts on Facebook and Instagram. But as long as this person’s beliefs and actions are not causing me personal and direct harm, I believe it is my work as a yogi to learn to stay present with them and learn to love them anyway.
This is ahimsa in action.
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Why Ahimsa in Action Is Such Important Work
I’m here to tell you that ahimsa in action is so freeing. Hate and judgement can be heavy; love and forgiveness often feel light. I’m not saying that hate is bad or wrong or that you shouldn’t feel hate. In fact, if you feel hopeless, sometimes being angry is a positive step. What I am suggesting, however, is that you do your work to process your emotions about the election cycle until you find a place of love and positive action before you take action.
While it can be useful and necessary to bring issues that are problematic to the surface, it can also be easy to get swept away in the passion of hate. I know because I’ve done it myself. While protesting actions that I deemed unjust, I let hate get the better of me. Before I knew it, I was no longer standing for something I believed in and instead, I was fighting against something I did not believe in. And truly, what you resist persists. What you hate grows stronger. On the flip side, every action rooted in love has the potential to heal.
What I know for sure is that underneath all the heated political arguments coming from “strangers on the internet” are real people whose pain and suffering is present. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you identify with, try to remember there is a real, live human being on the other end of every word written on the internet (just like I am really here, behind this blog post). The challenge of ahimsa in a bitter atmosphere is not just to do no harm. Ahimsa is bigger than that. Ahimsa means to make every act an act of love. Ahimsa in action makes the case for a broad notion of love as social justice, mutual respect, and positive action.
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4 Ways to Put Ahimsa Into Action This Week
1. Love your enemies.
Called Tonglen in Buddhism, the practice of sending love to your enemies can truly set you free. Start off by sending loving thoughts to yourself. See yourself happy and filled with love. Let the feeling of love wash over you. Next, send love to someone you truly admire. Simmer in the love. Finally, send love to your enemies. I recommend doing this practice before you go to a protest post-election. Be sure to send love to the other side—the ones you consider your enemies. It will be hard, but remember love is your greatest weapon. Notice any resistance and see if you can freely give love. Then, sit back and tune into your heart as all the love you send out returns to you tenfold.
2. Listen without judgement.
This is what I call “ahimsa listening,” and it’s all about learning to listen with love. The next time you find yourself about to judge someone or respond to something they say with harsh words, try this: Pause, breathe, and take a step back; do your own work to return to a center of calm within yourself by meditating for at least 5 minutes; then, return and ask a genuine question in an effort to listen without making any conclusions about the character of the person. This type of innocent perception can help release your judgements and humanize the opposing side. Plus, understanding where your adversary is coming from will better equip you for the path ahead.
3. Acknowledge your judgement and hate.
There is no sense in pretending that you are beyond judgement and hate just because you are a yogi. So, give yourself permission to allow your judgments to float up to the surface where you can see them. Then, instead of pushing them away or feeling shame about them, just observe them. When you notice yourself thinking judgmental, hateful thoughts, pause and just feel them in your body. Let them run their course—and in the meantime, don’t take any action. Usually, I find that sitting with a thought or feeling in the free space of mindfulness allows you the time to process your feelings without action. There have been times that I thought I wasn’t passing judgement—yet the only thing that happened is that my judgements came out as passive aggression. Be brutally honest with yourself, and see if you can turn judgmental thoughts around. Ask yourself if there is an opposite thought that is equally true. For example, if your judgement was, “My friend is so close-minded and hard to speak to,” see if it might be equally true to say, “I am so close-minded and hard to speak to.”
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4. Stand for a positive future.
Unless your action is rooted in love and you have a positive vision for the world you want to create, simply refrain from acting. If you feel compelled to share something political—whether on social media, or with colleagues, friends, or loved ones—check yourself regarding love and hate. If you notice that you want to share because you hate the candidate who won, consider not sharing. If you notice that you want to share something because you truly come from love for all beings, then share.
Centering your action around love for all beings does not need to be placid and calm. In fact, it could be fierce and powerful. You may find that you call a friend or family member out on a racist point of view because you love them and want to educate them. The key is what’s in your heart. If you share from a place of hate, there’s a good chance it will drag you down. If you are rooted in love, you will be more successful at maintaining your own peaceful heart.
About the Author
Kino MacGregor is a Miami native and the founder of Omstars, the world’s first yoga TV network. (For a free month, click here. With over 1 million followers on Instagram and over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube and Facebook, Kino’s message of spiritual strength reaches people all over the world. Sought after as an expert in yoga worldwide, Kino is an international yoga teacher, inspirational speaker, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, and co-founder of Miami Life Center. Learn more at www.kinoyoga.com.
Need to Improve Digestion? Add This Ayurvedic Principle to Your Meal Prep
Set the stage for stronger digestive fire with this essential kitchen practice.
Craving change but feeling too stuck, sluggish, or restless to take aim? Join John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com, and Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurveda Yoga Specialist, for Ayurveda 201: Six Weeks to Transformation and Bliss Through Ayurvedic Psychology. In this new online course, you’ll experience: unique yoga practices; inspiring discussions backed by science; and recipes, herbs, and a short, gentle cleanse. The results? Clarity, brilliance, and balance so you can create lasting shifts in your life and well-being. Learn more and sign up today!
According to Ayurveda, there’s more to optimal digestion than eating for your dosha (constitution) and planning sattvic (pure, balanced) meals. In fact, it starts before you take your first bite. Here, Larissa Hall Carlson, who co-teaches our upcoming course, Ayurveda 201, with John Douillard, reveals the ideal way to prepare your meal.
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The Four Best Shopping Apps Every Yogi Should Use From Now On
Here’s how the yamas and niyamas play into how we shop, plus the best apps to help you buy the most conscious goods.
How do we navigate the modern world while striving to practice our yogic principles? The asana, or movement part, no sweat. Many of us have that down. The yamas (ethical observances) and the niyamas (lifestyle practices), on the other hand, can be a bit elusive, especially with so many choices for consumption. How can we practice more deeply these two essential limbs of yoga in our interconnected and entangled world?
It can become overwhelming to attempt to buy things that are in alignment with our core yogic principles, particularly when we start to consider how our purchases effect the environment, labor conditions, animal rights, the political sphere and more. I wish it was as simple as just buying that t-shirt, soap, chocolate, or pair of yoga pants. Unfortunately, it’s not. We are global citizens—whether we like it or not—and can choose with awareness or turn a blind eye.
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So, how do we become empowered consumers without being overwhelmed by all the effects our choices? Must we research everything we buy? This could take hours and we might not get anywhere. For many of us, buying things can be a bit of a process, and many times with great sacrifice.
How the Yamas and Niyamas Play Into Our Consumerism
Let’s take a look at how the yamas and niyamas are woven in and out of our consumer lives:
Ah, yes. Were any animals harmed in the making of this product? What about the environment impact? Were things made in a clean way? Is it made with toxic ingredients?
How do we engage more fully with our truth? How can we step deeper into the awareness of ourselves, our planet and our values? It can be easy to talk truth, but living it is hard because there is so much hidden behind the veil.
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In many ways this is an easy one. Don’t take what’s not mine without paying for it. Got it. Well, sometimes without even knowing it, our purchases can take from other people’s well-being, the Earth’s natural resources and the health of our bodies.
Another tough one considering there are so many cool things out there. I certainly feel the dopamine rush after a buy. Does it really make me feel better? Do I really need another…?
By considering deeply how my stuff affects me and others, I have become pickier and a bit more minimal. Fewer things that mean more make me feel great. Now, what can I donate?
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So many things that we put into or on our bodies can be loaded with toxins. Which ones do we buy? How do we know if this lotion is toxic, this detergent has chemicals or if these bed sheets are synthetic?
If we really want to pursue this heat generating niyama, we may need to buckle down and get serious; becoming informed takes diligence. Changing when things don’t match up can be even tougher, especially when it is a brand we love. We are disciples to our things and it can be challenging to live by our yogic principles.
By checking out our stuff we can learn about ourselves, what we stand for, and how we are practicing our beliefs. It can be as simple as opening the closet to get a closer look at what’s going on internally. Our external environment is a reflection of our inner landscape.
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Isvara Pranidhana: Connection to Spirit.
By slowing down and centering we can sink deeply into what is meaningful and how to manifest it. This means deciding what has value and then expressing it. What is our authentic expression of spirit? How do we act accordingly?
These principles are a lot to consider, especially since we have so many options. Lucky for us, we can arm ourselves with the power of technology to make fast choices by quickly scanning or searching.
The following four smart phone applications can help you navigate the consumer landscape and live as an authentic, enthusiastic yogi. I’ve found they help bolster and support the contentment (santosha) in my life, too.
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4 Best Shopping Apps for Yogis
“Vote With Your Wallet” is their tagline. Our monetary choices support companies, which may or may not have our values in mind. Certain companies that we may love could have very different political or environmental practices. Giving them money supports their agenda, not necessarily ours. This app allows us to choose which campaigns we support (and which we don’t) and then see how our products match up. Animal testing, social justice, environmental sensitivity and political agendas are just a few of the app’s categories.
2. Good On You
I’ve been a bit “cranky pants” about yoga pants lately. I do like the way they feel, look, and perform—but I’m not so keen on some of the byproducts of the gear. This app has helped me align my values with not only yoga clothing, but clothing in general. I can see how my attire impacts the environment, labor conditions, and animal rights.
3. Healthy Living
This app is developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Their mission: “to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.” At one time this app was known as Skindeep and focused solely on cosmetics. Now, it is wider in scope, showing us how what we put on or in our bodies can impact our health. It evaluates the toxic load for each of the ingredients and is thorough and empowering.
4. Think Dirty
Think Dirty does the thinking for us by quickly showing the toxic load for everything from toothpaste to eyeliner, baby products to shampoo, cosmetics to laundry detergent. Purity for our bodies doesn’t always mean cleansing; it could simply mean not covering ourselves with toxic ingredients.
About our author
Julian DeVoe is a founding member of the Yoga Collective Nosara, a wellness educator, and author of Robust Vitality and Insights Out. Learn more at juliandevoe.com.
Ariana Grande's Former Violist is a Total Yogi Badass
From Coachella to standard summer vacays, this musician uses yoga to stay rooted, balanced, and calm on the road.
Late last July, a small group of yoga practitioners roamed the bustling hallways of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center looking for a vacant room adequate for a quick asana practice. It was Friday after lunch, and the indoor arena was swarming with crew members feverishly unpacking, assembling, and rigging lighting and sound equipment for the night’s show. In a few hours, nearly 20,000 more people would flood the venue. But for the moment, these musicians just needed to find some peace and quiet.
By 8 p.m., this group of women—Kiara Ana Perico, Desiree Hazley, and Leah Metzler, known to fans as the Wicked Strings—would swap their mats for musical instruments and take the stage as accompaniment for rock band Panic! at the Disco. For the past seven months, the three classically-trained musicians have been accompanying Panic!, led by frontman Brendon Urie, across the country (58 cities with a quick midway stint in the U.K. and Australia) on the Pray For The Wicked tour. But between all-night bus rides, triple-stacked bunk beds, constant time-zone shifts, endless soundchecks, and hectic behind-the-scenes races to hit their stage marks, Kiara Ana Perico, the group’s co-founder and resident violist, has taken it upon herself to guide her tour mates in mindful movement—even when that means taking up residence for an hour in the box of an empty 16-wheeler.
On this particular July day in Philadelphia, the trio had been looking for a room to practice yoga in when they passed by a loading dock populated by a bunch of empty trucks. Along with a crew member and a tour friend, Kala MacDonald (wife of Panic!’s road manager, Zack Hall), the Wicked Strings piled into the back of a big rig and rolled out their mats. Perico lit a candle and some Palo Santo and invited the others to join her on their backs. She moved the group through supine leg stretches, Cat-Cows, hip openers, forward folds, and balancing poses, culminating in a juicy semi-trailer Savasana—the final bit of uninterrupted tranquility before an explosive two-hour stage performance.
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Truck yoga—troga, as Perico’s dubbed it—has become somewhat of a tour staple. Having spent the past five years criss-crossing the globe as a violist for major acts including Adele, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, David Foster, and now Panic!, the RYT-200 teacher and longtime student is accustomed to keeping an adaptable practice. “It’s a daily adventure and exercise in flexibility—pun intended,” she says. On this tour alone, she’s practiced asana on stairway landings, in the lounge of the tour bus, in her dressing room, in hallways, and hotel rooms.
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“It’s inspiring to see how disciplined Kiara is while we’re on the road,” says tourmate, Wicked Strings cellist Leah Metzler. “She’s definitely been a positive influence in my life here: Touring can be exhausting, and it would be much easier to mentally check out and watch Netflix, but she knows how much better we’ll feel after doing yoga.” Desiree Hazley, the Wicked Strings’ violinist, also credits yoga flows with improving mental and physical health through the hectic tour commitments: “When we practice, you can feel an uplifting shift toward calm and focus before our shows.”
Research suggests that for touring musicians, yoga is more than just a welcome moment of tranquility. Performers like Perico are at risk for a number of psychological and physical problems such as anxiety and performance-related musculoskeletal issues. String players specifically have been shown to develop work-related orthopedic disorders such as overuse syndrome and compressive neuropathy (think carpal tunnel syndrome) due to the necessary imbalance in posture.
To that effect, Kristen Queen, Interim Director of the School of Music at Texas Christian University and RYT-200 instructor looks to resources like Mia Olson’s Musician’s Yoga: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Inspiration to guide her Yoga for Musicians college course, a twice-weekly class that integrates breath and alignment to reduce stress on muscles and joints and help students bring awareness to form and function. “Practicing yoga bolsters balance within the body, supports full range of motion in the joints, strengthens the core to support the lower back, and generally helps us be mindful of our bodies when approaching our instruments,” she says.
“Many musicians play asymmetrical instruments, and their bodies adapt to that load in positive and negative ways,” says Seattle-based movement educator and professional classical musician, Kayleigh Miller. “Asana can reveal problems with asymmetry and provide tools to strengthen and mobilize imbalanced areas while enhancing awareness and understanding of the body. Most classical musicians deal with rigorous rehearsal, audition, and performance schedules, and down-regulating the nervous system through breath and mindful movements is essential for maintaining focus and clarity under pressure.”
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I met Perico at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center arena one uncharacteristically bright and crisp February day, where the Panic! troupe had just rolled in after an all-night drive from an Austin show. It was the second leg of Panic!’s U.S. tour, and temperatures had dipped significantly since the tour kicked off, to say the least. In fact, New Orleans was one of the first cities Perico had seen in the past six weeks that hadn’t been rocked by a frigid “snowpocalypse.” But as a world-traveled performer, Perico is resilient—even in extreme conditions—and unwaveringly committed to her yoga practice.
With post-show bedtimes well after midnight, Perico typically salutes the sun around noon. She does a few morning stretches in her top bunk on the third level of the tour bus, hops down, and if her nine bus mates have already left for the venue, she sets up her mat in “the living room”—a deceptively spacious-sounding term for the compact front of the bus that can be extended by a few feet when parked. Since sleeping in the bunk can be especially crampy for her sides and lower back, side extensions, hip flexor stretches, and lower back massages are a must, she says.
The day we meet in New Orleans, Perico tells me she only had time for a 30-minute flow before greeting me at the venue. We stop for a snack on the bus and then head backstage. “Welcome to the venue!” she says, gesturing toward the mounting commotion as nearly a hundred crew members scurry about, incepting an arena-sized spectacle out of thin air. We head straight to her dressing room, and as Perico repacks her suitcase, I wonder how bandmates Hazley and Metzler will possibly fit into the tiny room with us when they return from souvenir shopping.
Once the women return, we’re off to a quick soundcheck with Panic!’s other band members before an early dinner where we split vegan beignets (doughy and warm and way more delicious than they may sound) and then dash back to the venue. Because barricades and metal detectors are already set up and Panic! fans are swarming the arena, our driver drops us off at the front entrance. We navigate around giddy groups donning t-shirts of frontman Urie’s face, and race to the backstage entrance. No one notices us—in fact, none of the soon-to-be-shrieking fans even seem to realize they’ll be cheering and singing along to my companions in just under two hours.
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Growing up, mindfulness was a constant in the Perico household. Her father meditated for four hours each morning, prompting Perico to establish a regular yoga practice while studying viola performance at Boston University. Tendonitis from misaligned posturing throughout high school and the inevitable imbalance of playing an instrument exclusively on one side meant the young artist had to take extra precautions in college, she says. Knowing long-term injury had the potential to derail her burgeoning career, Perico took to serious self-care. Acupuncture, massages, physical therapy, and yoga “helped me focus my mind, move my body, and return to safe alignment,” she says. Between four-hour viola sessions, Perico stretched and inverted her way toward better circulation in her upper body and strength in her wrists and shoulders.
“Playing music at an elite level requires sophisticated functioning of the physical and psychological systems of the body,” says Bronwen Ackermann, PhD, a musicians’ physiotherapist, musculoskeletal anatomist, and health researcher at Sydney Medical School. Ackermann has worked on numerous studies that demonstrate the injury prevention benefits of physical activities such as yoga for musicians. One such study, a 2012 article published in the BMJ journal, Injury Prevention, found that strengthening and stabilizing areas of the body such as the neck, shoulders, spine, abdominals, and hips may reduces occupational injuries in professional orchestral musicians.
As yoga gradually helped Perico relearn healthier posturing to protect from future damage, the practice also unleashed undeniable psychological and spiritual repercussions. She says her practice is what has supported and sustained her through the past decade’s extreme highs (playing sold-out arenas) and devastating lows (unexpectedly losing her father last year). “I really had to work on finding a sense of home within myself,” she says. “I think once I figured that out, I was more prone to being at peace in my everyday life.”
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Perico moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to try and make it big in an infamously unforgiving industry. Almost immediately, the hustle and constantly in-the-car culture began to take its toll. “I felt terrible,” she says. Once again, yoga helped her find her way. “I started practicing every morning at Runyon Canyon park in the middle of LA,” she says. “That really pulled me into grounding, and I immediately started meeting really beautiful, like-minded, soulful people.”
Once she laid down roots, her career soared, starting with an overseas opportunity that led to one international tour after another. “Producers who told me it takes a few years to get settled in LA were totally right,” she says. In 2012, she met Hazley, Metzler, and violinist Molly Rogers when they accompanied Japanese rock star, Yoshiki, on an international tour. The foursome went on to form the orchestral-pop troupe Orchid Quartet, performing alongside recording artists like Morgxn (Rogers has been working on other projects while the others perform as The Wicked Strings, but they reunite as their schedules allow). In 2015, Perico accompanied Ariana Grande on the Honeymoon Tour, and in 2016, Adele came calling. Through all of it, Perico kept a strong yoga practice, building on it and thinking about yoga teacher training. In October 2017, just before the Panic! tour kicked off in July, 2018 Perico completed her 200-hour certification at YogaWorks in Santa Monica, CA. Today, when she’s not touring with some of the industry’s biggest acts, she teaches studio and private classes in Southern California.
After Panic! wraps its European tour, Perico will head to Bali to complete her RYT-500 training and hopes to one day offer workshops to fellow musicians—she knows firsthand how much havoc the postures of professional playing can wreak. Right now, it’s hard to imagine when she’ll find time to add “workshop leader” to her list of credentials, but for now, she’ll continue prioritizing her practice — even if it’s a little hard to predict where her journey will take her or how much time she’ll have to herself along the way. “Meditation, yoga, and the cultivation of inner peace are absolutely the reasons I’m not spinning out all the time from the chaos around me,” she says. “Of course I get homesick, feel lost, lose my sense of grounding but the ability to reign it all back into reality and my inner sense of home has made all the difference.”
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