Mark Whitwell on placing love, sex, and intimate connection at the heart of our political movements
Recovering Yoga’s Radical Potential
It may seem strange, at this point in history, to suggest taking up a home Yoga practice; a bad joke in the context of the scale of global violence and grief. Yet beneath the commodification of Yoga and our resulting perceptions of it, lies a radical and ancient science of self-restoration and self-determination, a technology of love. And it is this tradition that we are seeking to recover and share. We are painfully aware of the Yoga industrial complex — the money-making, sweaty exercise, Instagram pornography, and lifestyle self-improvement. But we are committed to wresting the tradition back, for culture is always contested space.
Or perhaps not wresting, perhaps just continuing to go about our business without any sense of conflict with a corrupt situation, unafraid of being defined or associated with it, standing in our own ground and knowing what it is we hold. “Not being in conflict with society.” There is absolutely no need to waste out lives in surprise or tortured outrage about the Yoga industry merely duplicating the values of broader culture. We feel about Yoga the way Belgian radical Raoul Vaneigem did of Situationism when he wrote: “I have nothing in common with the spectacular recuperation of a project that, in my case, has remained revolutionary throughout”. 
We honour the tradition of Yoga as brought forth by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his wife Srimati Namagiriamma, their son T.K.V. Desikachar, refined by the sage U.G. Krishnamurti (whom Krishnamacharya described as the greatest living yogi he had ever met), and their friends around the world. We honour Desikachar’s emphasis on non-hierarchical friendship as the correct approach to teaching, and his clear placing of Yoga as a remedial tool that is there to serve our action in the world, not replace it: “The goal of yoga is to reduce the film of avidya [delusion] in order to act correctly” — T.K.V. Desikachar.
To wake up to the dysfunction pervading every corner of modern society and the violence it enacts is no insignificant matter. To practice and teach Yoga is not merely to adopt another consumer identity, or a set of gestures, or some bright lifestyle. Rather, it demands every aspect of ourselves. And it makes a huge demand on us emotionally to learn how to feel and love in a world seemingly structured on numbness and anti-love.
The great writer and social activist bell hooks writes,
In progressive political circles, to speak of love is to guarantee that one will be dismissed or considered naive. But outside those circles there are many people who openly acknowledge that they are consumed by feelings of self-hatred, who feel worthless, who want a way out. Often they are too trapped by paralyzing despair to be able to engage effectively in any movement for social change. However, if the leaders of such movements refuse to address the anguish and pain of their lives, they will never be motivated to consider personal and political recovery. Any political movement that can effectively address these needs of the spirit in the context of liberation struggle will succeed. […] Folks want to learn how to begin the practice of loving. 
The Sequence of Emotions
This is the contribution of Yoga, to enable us to meet the needs of our own breath/spirit, to inhale fully and receive the fullness of feeling that we are capable of as human beings, including love and grief. We keep moving through emotions, not getting stuck in any particular emotion. We process and release our grief for the hardness we perceive all around us. We allow the body’s natural state to restore itself — the body’s intrinsic movement towards harmony and health and sexual intimacy, the digestion of experience and emotion, the recovery of self-regulation, the releasing of what is no longer needed, and the receiving of what is. “We leave the body alone, and give the body’s natural relational intelligence a chance to function” — Mark Whitwell.
We are then able to address this need in others, breaking the eternal wall between those who have the capacity to feel and care and those who are too overwhelmed. It was probably a sensitivity to our own suffering and the suffering of so-called ‘others’ that moved us into taking action in the first place, and as we work to dismantle old systems and create new arrangements that do not destroy people and the planet, we must closely guard this capacity to feel, acknowledging it as our gift.
Love Dissolves Separation and Fear
Yoga is by no means a retreat into the private. We hold firm to the classic definition of Yoga from our teachers, who defined it as to go in our direction of choice with continuity, a positive step towards something rather than an act of asceticism or restraint. We have all been indoctrinated into a society of separation and hierarchy. Passivity, grief, and a sense of creative impotence threaten to blanket our minds at any given point. By empowering our intrinsic drive to contribute our life to life, we step out of the social dynamics of disempowerment and hierarchy, and can empower others. “It is a beautiful thing to be on fire for justice,” writes Dr Cornel West, “there is no greater joy than inspiring and empowering others — especially the least of these, the precious and priceless wretched of the earth!”
And finally, we acknowledge the insights of theologian Howard Thurman, key mentor to Dr Martin Luther King, stating that “Meaningful experiences of integration between people are more compelling than the fears, the inhibitions, the dogmas, or the prejudices that divide. If such unifying experiences can be multiplied over an extended time, they will be able to restructure the fabric of the social context.” We do our yoga so that we can shed the thick layers of social conditioning and participate in our own aliveness, in Thurman’s words, “as a part of continuing, breathing, living existence… alive in a living world.” We step into our full and deeply intuited capacity for love, compassion, courage and service and we do so as a collective.
May we get the job done together and put love into action. Let us speak with utter certainty of our embodied knowledge that all life is sacred, and that any system which does not recognise this truth must be dismantled.
This article is an edited excerpt from the new online course ‘Yoga for a Better World.’ A course which seeks to restore the harmony between radical spirituality and radical politics. You can find out more about the course here. This article was originally published at www.heartofyoga.com/blog
 bell hooks, “Love as the Practice of Freedom.” Outlaw Culture, New York: Routledge. https://uucsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/bell-hooks-Love-as-the-Practice-of-Freedom.pdf
 Jensen, Kipton and King, Preston, “Beloved Community: Martin Luther King, Howard Thurman, and Josiah Royce” (2017). Morehouse Faculty Publications. 23. http://digitalcommons.auctr.edu/mhpubs/23