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How Bernie Sanders Taught Me Yoga

in YD News

bernie-sanders-yoga-triangle by Rachel Meyer

I’m a yoga teacher. It’s a weird time to be a yoga teacher.

Ted Cruz is hollering at Donald Trump to “breathe, Donald; breathe.” Marco Rubio’s jabbing him about doing yoga onstage at debates. And both are selling yoga products on their campaign websites.

Since watching that Republican debate, I can’t tell my students to breathe without feeling uncomfortable, like Ted Cruz in leggings and a ponytail.

Some of my colleagues are ignoring the election completely. They think politics is crass, negative, not spiritually relevant. They’d rather be in the studio meditating or chanting loving prayers toward all the candidates. That’s super nice, too, and I’m totally on board with sending some peace and ease to all of those folks, even the ones who make my blood boil, because damn, this election season is a bitch.

But I’m hooked. Hardcore. Can’t get enough.

I rush home after teaching to catch the tail-end of the debates. I spend Saturday nights in front of the TV cringe-watching Donald Trump’s bizarro meandering victory speeches. I troll Twitter in the wee hours of the morning for the latest analysis on who’s projected to win Ohio and Florida.

I haven’t felt this politically invested in years.

I am a progressive Democrat. I am also a lifelong feminist and will support Hillary Clinton tooth-and-nail, should she end up as the Democratic nominee. At first I figured she’d be my candidate all the way. I mean, go first woman President! and all. And who’s more qualified, right?

But, very quickly, very easily, Bernie won me over. His authenticity, his passion, his commitment to economic justice? Well, geez: he’s a total yogi.

Here’s why:

  1. The yamas and niyamas, yoga’s ethical systems of personal observances and guidelines for being in the world, could stand in for Bernie’s platform. Bernie’s all about ahimsa (non-suffering, or non-violence). He voted against the Iraq War, he’s dedicated to ensuring universal health care, and he’s outspoken about supporting basic human rights. Not to mention his commitment to the planet. Bernie’s passionate stances on fracking and climate change are the ultimate in ahimsa, calling out destruction against the Earth, and recognizing the Buddhist and ecofeminist values of interrelation and interdependence.
  2. He’s authentic and at ease in his skin. One of my favorite definitions of yoga is something I read from Buddhist yoga teacher Michael Stone. He described yoga as the process of learning how to be real. In other words, dropping all masks and finding ease in your being. Sounds pretty great, right? Pundits said Middle Americans wouldn’t vote for a 74-year-old Jewish guy from Brooklyn. But his ease in his own skin makes Hillary seem rigid and controlled. Bernie is wholly his own, unpretentious, charmingly ruffled.
  3. Bernie’s all about unity and togetherness and looking out for the little guy. And if that isn’t yoga, what is? “Yoga,” is from the root “yuj,” meaning “to yoke,” as in becoming one, whether in body/mind/spirit, or in bringing the masses together in the name of shared values. (And, if I may, in that regard, he’s waaaay more Christian than the supposedly “Christian” Republican candidates who want to carpet bomb the Middle East and register Muslims and eliminate affordable healthcare.)
  4. He’s got the whole living-simply-in-Vermont thing down. Yoga philosophy says life’s not about getting lost in mindless, greedy acquisition (aparigraha, or non-possessiveness.) In that same regard, you could say Bernie models brahmacharya (or non-excess, moderation). What other Presidential candidate is beloved for flying coach?
  5. He’s honest and truthful, “the most widely trusted Presidential candidate of either party.” Yoga philosophy calls this essential quality satya (or truthfulness). No pretense. Not crafting his spiel to suit focus groups. Just staying on message.
  6. Bernie’s all about asteya (non-stealing), standing up for the rights of the working and middle classes as a self-proclaimed danger to Wall Street. He’s ethically clean (or what yoga philosophy calls saucha, or purity). Since his campaign is funded by so many small individual donors, and not by powerful Super PACs, he’s not bought or beholden. No pricey Goldman Sachs speeches or financial scandals to be found here.
  7. Bernie’s message is that we need a political revolution. At its heart, yoga is revolutionary, too: a countercultural practice all about transforming your life and easing suffering. Bernie’s campaign calls to challenge the powers that be, to come together to fight injustice, and provide for everyone, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, to flourish. This is so much yoga.
  8. Because he looks really damn good in that Utthita Trikonasana pose up above.
  9. Bernie keeps on trucking even when he loses a primary, or when the mainstream media has long written him off. Not lamenting it. Not whining over it. Just jumping back in and staying committed to the cause, all the way through to the Convention.
  10. Bernie’s campaign is uniting people in an unprecedented way. He’s stirring up populist fervor, and thanks to that, his campaign oozes with prana, life force, energy. I feel it even now.

Bernie Sanders is the kind of yogi role model I want my kid to witness growing up. The kind of man who’d get arrested protesting segregation in the 1960s. The kind of man who’d refuse to be bought by Super PACs. The kind of man who’d sit in the middle seat.

He’s been practicing yoga his whole adult life. Likely, he doesn’t even realize it, and maybe it doesn’t look like bendy gymnastics tricks, but oh my yes, it’s yoga: the standing up for social justice and equal rights and lovingkindness and non-violence, even when it hasn’t always been popular or politically safe.

I was watching the Flint debate the other night when a voter from Michigan asked Bernie toward the very end of the evening if God is still relevant. His answer melted me. It was so much yoga.

“I think – well, the answer is yes,” Sanders said. “And I think when we talk about God — whether it is Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism — what we are talking about is what all religions hold dear and that is to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you,” Sanders added.

“And what I believe, as the grandfather of seven beautiful grandchildren, I want you to worry about my grandchildren, and I promise you I will worry about your family. We are in this together.”

Thank you, Bernie, for teaching me yoga.

~

Rachel Meyer is a Portland-based writer and yoga teacher. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com,  on Facebook, and on Twitter @rachelmeyeryoga.

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35 comments… add one
  • #trump2016 #makeamericagreatagain
    I am an Ashtanga practitioner. My favourite book is Atlas Shrugged. And Trump is my candidate.
    The Mangala Mantra:
    Let prosperity be glorified
    Let rulers rule the world with law and justice
    Let divinity and erudition be protected
    Let people of the whole world be happy and prosperous.
    Om
    Peace peace peace
    Om

    THIS DOES NOT MEAN ENTITLEMENT OR HANDOUTS. This means hard work. Sweat. Tears. This means that Bernie Sanders can go back to Animal Farm with his fellow communist pigs.
    Namaste.

    • La Nausee

      I don’t think you seem to understand Bernie’s platform. There aren’t any “entitlements or handouts”. In fact all he wants to do is take back the money from Wall Street which they stole from middle class persons, so really it’s taking stuff which most folks already paid for and using it to finance things like single-payer health care and tuition-free higher education at PUBLIC universities, not private ones.
      Oh yeah, and “Atlas Shrugged” was written by an amphetemine-addicted racist, who had no problem sleeping with the husbands of other women.
      Trump is a Hitler and Mussolini fascist in the making.
      Namaste, you ignorant unsophisticate. Its exactly people like you who give yoga a bad, stereotyped name.

      • VQ2

        Well, I do not think we are ready for a woman in the White House, even though I am a woman, too. That particular woman is sneaky and in the palm of Wall Street, even if she tries to shove it under the rug. We never would accept Stalinism – ye who are not afraid of possible Fascism.

        Just like in the years before we’d put a man on the moon … democratic socialism IS uncharted territory. If you’ve transcended your fears and limitations with yoga previously, this is just one more fear.
        I GET it. Fear of the unknown is an insidious thing.

      • Spread Your Wings Not Your Legs

        “Oh yeah, and “Atlas Shrugged” was written by an amphetemine-addicted racist, who had no problem sleeping with the husbands of other women.”

        That sounds like quite a few yoga teachers I know? I mean, really. There’s a deep current current in American yoga that is completely amoral and also libertarian fascist to the core. Ever heard of Leslie Kaminoff? Ever heard of Lululemon? The yoga pants you’re wearing — the entire free market yoga industry in America — is a glowing tribute to what you’re condemning.

        You’re a hypocrite. It’s not this guy that gives yoga a bad name –it’s yoga. Heal thyself!

    • Maria

      Your handle on the other 7 limbs is breathtaking. And you seem to be the living embodiment of the 2nd sutra of the Samadhi Pada. It’s okay to vote for your “Favourite”. Maybe you can help Mr. Trump with the Shanti Shanti Shanti part of the Mangala Mantra. Enjoy your practice which will be there to support you no matter who we elect.

    • Oh No

      How anyone who practices yoga can support Trump, a person standing for DIVISION and SEPARATION as his basic tenets of his candidacy, is so beyond me. He is literally preaching ayoga and himsa.

      Doesn’t surprise me one bit you’re one who thinks having read the Fountainhead makes you profound. Ashtanga is a beautiful practice but if it makes you hard, maybe reconsider your practice.

  • k4k

    How unfortunate that the person who commented above can only use epithets and call people nasty names rather than actually state a responsible point of view. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama can at least discuss their agreements and points of difference. So can John Kasich for that matter. What we need is more dialogue and less name calling.

  • Nancy N. Johnson

    I agree with you 100%. It is great to find another woman who sees the same thing in Bernie that I have observed and read. Thank you for being so articulate. 57rednana.

  • ssmall

    Not the place for politics. Anyone can turn a blind eye and say their candidate”teaches” them yoga. Reporting an event is one thing. Writing a biased, opinionated piece is another. Keep it fair, and to yourself.

  • VQ2

    You know how I get along with the Trump and the Cruz supporters real well on social media? Because I feel “it’s not yet our time”. Though I understand Trump’s standing (and the surreality of those rallies) so far is tailor made for Hill! Because they know I may stay home election day …

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations with us, Rachel:)

  • After reading some of these comments, I guess the polarization of presidential race is leaking over into the yoga community. I would hope that even though we have differing views politically, we could treat each other with dignity and respect. Not apparent here, but I hope it is in the real world.

    • VQ2

      Nothing at all political on my current blog. On my abandoned, former blog, though—all bets are off … But, like I said, coincidentally the Hill supporters may unfollow me one by one … their circus, their monkeys … I’d been ostracized from closed groups before because of who I get along with …
      Those millenials may have the right idea … electoral college sees to much of your vote being ineffective anyhow …

    • Thank you. Three cheers for dignity and respect.

  • Shakti333

    Beautiful! As a Bernie supporter and yogi, I never put this together, but you are so, so right 🙂

  • thedancingj

    Preach! I am right there with you. I am so hooked on this election cycle, and Bernie is my #1. I would also mention that he is the ONLY presidential candidate who has mentioned that yoga and holistic medicine can be important tools for health care – so he really is the yogi’s choice!

    Don’t let any nay-sayers get you down. You have every right to publish an op-ed piece about the candidate you support (just like half the newspapers in the country), and I think you state your case very well. 🙂

  • VQ2

    It is merely intuitive to assume that anybody’s staying home or writing in Bernie Sanders name on election day is “a vote for Trump”. It boggles the mind of anyone who knows about the Heisenberg principle (of physics – not politics) … and misapplies the “Butterfly Effect” … although this election, imho, is “radioactive” AND so divisive of families who can’t afford to be divided.
    Because, while I’m at it, I suspect my sister is a closet Trump supporter. She’d been a rabid, organizing, proselytizing and even a self-effacing, behind the scenes Democrat for many many years. But her behavior around people shows the real story.

    Yeah, that’s a vote for Trump right there.

  • Hi Rachel. I’ve just found out your blog and loved this post. Thanks for honest opinion.

  • Spread Your Wings Not Your Legs

    There is no inherent politics or set of political values to yoga. If there were, the industry would never have developed in the shamelessly exploitative way that it has. The yamas and the niyamas are figleafs at best — the kinds of things you invoke ex post facto to justify something you plan to do anyway. all the while retaining this faux-mystical “gloss” that allows you to think you’re trafficking in Eternal Truth.

    It’s a great great scam — and really, we have Chip Wilson to thank for so ably penetrating the feeble psyche of American middle class women and planting this pernicious demon seed. Without Chip, people would still be hiding out in dingy basement apartment ashrams in the urban demimonde, rather than forming the leading edge of 21st century capitalism.

    Namaste!

  • To have a yogi in office would be wonderful. I’ve never thought of those correlations that you presented. Thanks for the read!

  • What a wonderful article! Thank you for articulating what I’ve been thinking for a while now. Bernie is a great example of somebody who is living their yoga instead of giving it lip service. Even if he doesn’t step foot on the mat, his actions that represent unity, fairness and authenticity speak for themselves.

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