By Reggie Hubbard
This election year is more contentious than most. According to Governing Council member Reggie Hubbard, it’s a yogic act to vote.
It’s long been a debate in the yoga community as to whether politics belongs in the practice, or if yoga should conversely serve as a refuge from political upheaval of the external world. Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas, outlined in the Yoga Sutras, explain how yogic teachings apply in both internal and external ways. For yoga teacher and social activist Reggie Hubbard, the prescriptions of the yamas (restraints in how we treat others) are what inform his observance of the niyamas (directions for personal disciplines).
“Civic engagement is part of my spiritual practice because I believe my life writ large, and especially as someone on the yogic path as a practitioner and a teacher, this requires me to be of service to my community,” says Hubbard.
Hubbard is no stranger to community service and activism. As MoveOn.org’s manager of Democratic operatives in Washington DC, he has had a front-row seat to some of the most contentious debates in American politics. His yoga practice informs the issues for which he advocates. “My practice requires me to stand up for and articulate my values from a heart-centered space, in service to the common good rather than my own self-interest,” he says. These values include truth, compassion, justice, service, health, and community.
That’s not to say that to view civic engagement through a yogic lens requires adherence to one political ideology. Hubbard notes several ways in which a person can get involved in their community by bringing the tenets of their yoga practice outward. To Hubbard, these include “voting, advocacy, donating time in service to students and younger people. It also means sharing freely from my lived experience to inspire others to chase their dreams and reimagine our future.”
As we approach the eve of the 2020 election in the United States Hubbard emphasizes that the act of voting itself is yogic. “First,” he says, “we are responsible for the wellbeing of one another. When we all vote, it allows for greater representation of diverse opinions. This serves the greater good,” he says. Hubbard’s assertion presupposes the yogic principle of interconnectivity—the idea that our experiences and our beliefs, different as they may be, are of equal importance so long as they are offered in a spirit of compassion and mutual understanding.
“Secondly,” says Hubbard, voting is a yogic act because “a key tenet of the yamas/niyamas is ahimsa—harm reduction (acting in a way that does not contribute to the suffering and oppression of others). In our current political discourse where things have been so coarsened and distorted, it is practicing both satya [truthfulness] and ahimsa to become more aware and engaged.” To say—it takes a dedication to the yogic practices of truth and harm reduction to be politically active today. And it’s these tenets that our civil discourse most desperately needs in order to evolve into a more productive space to meet the societal demands we will face in the future.
According to Hubbard, not only is it a yogic act to be politically involved, but political decisions need to be more informed by the tenets of yoga. By getting involved, yogins have an opportunity to truly make positive change in the national discourse and their communities.
“Lastly,” says Hubbard, “from a tantric perspective, being radically present with what is happening, and then informing your actions from this place of awareness, is in contrast to some prevailing notions of spiritual bypass.” In other words, we must accept that democracy is a work in progress and requires our active engagement.
“We can’t wish love and light to situations only and expect them to change,” he says. “We must see the truth in all things by active listening and observation, rather than acting on impulse or untested opinion. To Hubbard, yogins “are called to take care of one another, reduce harm and support truth, and be present to what is happening in service to our collective wellbeing.”
But let’s be clear about one thing: it’s not merely selfless to apply yogic principles and directives to political activism. “This shift from an ego-centric orientation toward one more rooted in our common humanity has been the biggest blessing of my life,” says Hubbard. He notes the net positive effects of the pursuit of raising collective consciousness and working toward a deeper sense of community.
“Not only do I believe that voting is a yogic act,” says Hubbard, “but I believe that broader civic engagement is necessary for communities of spiritual practice so that our collective values can be represented within the policy-making apparatus. “We would all be better off with a bit more compassion, honesty and a community oriented approach than our current polarized environment, don’t you think?”
Reggie Hubbard is a Yoga Unify Qualified Professional and sits on the Governing Council for Community Investment. If you have ideas on how the yoga community could better serve you, we want to hear them! Join the Founding Circle today to share your ideas and let your voice be heard.