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Truth force leads us to many of the same values Gandhi emphasized: local community service, healthy diet, meditation, cleanliness of body, economic justice, and care for the community, children, the infirmed, family, and for the nation-state.
When doing yoga, we tune our mind, body, and spirit. This self-care prepares us so that when the time comes for us to serve, we can. It’s on the 220 square inches of our mat where much of the preparation for life and service take place. That space is sacred space, the container within the container.
If you do yoga, you’ve noticed how teachers remind you to stay on the mat. One of my teachers says, “Your place is here, now.” Another says, “On your mat is where the magic takes place.” Both of these statements at the beginning of class help shrink the unmanageable world – if only for a short time – to a 23 x 96 inch mat, but it's not always easy to stay there.
Recently in class I saw someone repeatedly stepping off the mat. They reminded me of a track athlete just before competition, stepping away from the starting line and circling around to calm their nerves or psych themselves up for a race, jump, shot or pole vault.
Yoga is different because we are not competing; rather, we are engaging in encounter. This important encounter takes place as we embody asana, mobilize prana through breath, surrender our cares, and slow the busy mind. Our first challenge in class is to stay in place and stay present on the mat to experience the full truth force of self-encounter.
On my second trip to India, I studied at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi and talked with Gandhian scholars from around the world. I read of Gandhi’s Jan Path, a way of living anchored in truth force (*satyagraha) for individual and communal wholeness.
The Jan Path is a wholesome and selfless program of local community service, healthy diet, meditation, cleanliness for body, economic justice, and care for community, children, the infirmed, family, and for the nation-state.
Yoga’s complete program affirms many of the same values and choices. We learn what they mean for us through our study of yoga, and the revelation of our deepest truths. This happens naturally if we stay on the mat, because within that container, we discover another level of identity and a deeper revelation of truth force.
Awakening identity and truth through yoga brings a slow but certain alignment of body and soul. And while practice on the mat looks to others like a task, it's much more.
Recently, I watched a video of two men attempting to release a wild animal from a trap. One leg was caught in iron jaws, but since the animal had sharp teeth and and one paw free, they were trying to pin the wildcat to the ground first so they could hold and release it. The big cat was aggressive and panicked, but eventually they held it down and removed its leg from the trap. After a moment, it ran away.
Sometimes on our mat, we may experience panic like the big cat, for there are moments when our bodies shake, and our minds race with thoughts. But when we are resolved to stay on the mat, yoga teaches us to find stillness in the middle of the stress and to refine our awareness.
Yogic awareness leads us to acceptance of our experience. But it’s a conscious acceptance, for we ask: who is here, how is my mind and body responding, am I enjoying or hating this, am I cursing or praying, am I submitting or resisting?
The answers are ours alone, and all of them teach us to still the clash between adrenaline and relaxation. But yoga trains us to use breath work to handle panicked moments, and through a breathcentric experience a freedom comes from complete surrender to the moment--just as it was with the wildcat caught in the trap.
On the mat, the confluence of yogi, guru meet and the ancient healing practice opens the door to truth force. Off the mat, truth force grows to become our creed.
Truth force is the natural and predictable outcome from the blueprint of yoga’s design, and we discover this satyagraha by staying on the mat and experiencing the full intention, translation, and application of yoga to our lives.
The Jan Path rises before us, and its invitation is like a glass of cold water to the thirsty. It doesn’t reach out to demand we drink, but rather offers the glass and we realize our thirst. If it is thirst that has brought you to yoga, stay on your mat, and there, your thirst will be quenched and you will find yourself fully refreshed.
When you do, pay attention to the cues from within and without; for yoga will pave the path of personal transformation and reveal a satyagraha that will permeate your being and open up the cold, steel traps that bind.
* Gandhi called his overall method of non-violent action Satyagraha.