Opinion: Now’s a good time to allign ourselves

I am typing these words on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. Also known as Imbolc, on the Pagan calendar, this day marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. By the time you are reading these words, we’ll be that much further along toward spring! The light looks different outside. The sun is a little higher in the sky. Birds are singing, perhaps fooled by a freakishly warm first day of February.
In yoga class, I mentioned that this exact midpoint between winter and spring is a lovely time to practice centering yourself on your yoga mat. We sometimes use the word “centering” to mean turning inward, quieting the mind, and calming down. But in Iyengar yoga, we literally center ourselves on our yoga mats. When we lie down on our mats to rest, at the end of class, we position ourselves in the middle of the mat, as if we were placing our spine right on the midline. Then we release our limbs evenly and equally away from that centerline. Why do we do that? Why not just lie down for a well needed rest?
By taking care to position ourselves as evenly as possible, we are creating the conditions for optimal relaxation and release. Physical stability generates mental stability, and physical release and spaciousness will help the mind experience its own vastness.
My wonderful teacher in California, Tony Briggs, would often tell his students, “This is a mental practice disguised as a physical practice.” While it is true that yoga can be extremely demanding physically, it is really our minds that we are training. Yes, over time the practice will help the body grow stronger and more capable. But the real gift is how our mind can become liberated.
These days I am noticing a stronger connection with my own heart. My mental and physical heath is connected with everyone else’s mental and physical health. Sometimes this is a wonderful feeling, as when I feel the deep peace of a roomful of yoga students resting at the end of class. Sometimes this is a painful feeling, as when I imagine the anguish of a mom in Flint, Mich., who knows her child has been drinking tainted water.
The filmmaker Michael Moore, whose hometown is Flint, has called for the arrest of Gov. Snyder. In his online petition (which as of this writing has been signed almost 600,000 times), he says “To poison all the children in an historic American city is no small feat. Even international terrorist organizations haven’t figured out yet how to do something on a magnitude like this.”
The more I learn about this crime against humanity that is happening in Flint, the more I look forward to seeing the governor of Michigan being handcuffed. How is it possible that right now there are thousands and thousands of people in jail for nonviolent offenses (like possessing a small amount of marijuana), while an elected official continues to hold office after poisoning an entire city for two years?
The first precept of yoga is Ahimsa, which means nonviolence. In yoga class, we practice this precept in several ways. Physically, by taking care not to injure ourselves as we hold each posture, and mentally and emotionally by refraining from judging ourselves or others. When we leave the yoga studio, how can we continue to put this essential teaching into practice?
It is quite obvious to most of us that we should refrain from harming others, hitting them, yelling at them, calling them racist names. Most human beings would never dream of poisoning a city’s water supply. But this is happening right now, in our country. The city of Flint is more than twice the size of Burlington. That’s a lot of families, a lot of children. The great majority of these families are low income and African American. I keep trying to put myself in the shoes of a mother there. How would I want the rest of the country to respond?
The writer Alice Walker said, “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” While we may not all be able to run for office like Bernie Sanders, make a documentary film like Michael Moore, or create great literature like Alice Walker, we can all do SOMETHING to help right a disastrous wrong. Let us be brave and strong and take some action that moves our world toward justice.
Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher who directs Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works district. She lives with her family in East Middlebury, and welcomes feedback at joanna@ottercreekyoga.com.

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