The Science of Yoga and Social Change; Is Yoga linked to Social Change: the science says yes!
Can we use the teachings of yoga to improve our culture, our society, the way we interact with each other and our planet?
If we embody the essence of our practice does this embodiment support social change? ie. can practicing yoga support the climate change movement? Science suggests that it can, and provides us with an explanation about how the world could be a better place if we all just took the time to engage in yoga practices.
Social change is that way that human interactions and relationships transform cultural and social institutions over time. Neuroscience tells us that mirror neurons are important in imitation and learning and understanding intentions behind human interaction.
Mirror neurons are neurons in our human brains that fire/activate not only when we are engaging in an action but also when we are watching another engage in an action. For me this happens when I watch movement, in particular dance, my body reacts and engages to what I am observing. Subtly, I almost feel like I need to move alongside the dancers, sometimes I even notice my leg or foot twitch and inch or so.Similarly, mirror neurons play a role in emotional processing. For example, when I am sitting with someone that is sad and down I also experience this emotion.
Why? Because when I see someone that looks sad, neural pathways in my brain are activated to provide me with me information about this observation. I too then feel this emotion and understand that the other person is sad. This is where empathy comes from.
This process can provide us with understanding about how yoga practices can support us to encourage social change.
When using yoga practices to unite, breath, mind and body we are essentially connecting with self and others. This results in increased awareness and the development of higher consciousness which sits in a place of empathy, compassion, love, and the deep-felt truth that we are all interconnected. This, in turn, may be experienced by others through the process of mirror neurons.
If we embody our practice in all areas of our life surely this flows on to help others, causing a ripple effect.
Like a ripple in a pond throwing in one small stone grows and grows. If we impact one other person and they improve their ability to connect, be with self, be with others in a place of compassion then this ripple can continue further.
All it takes is for us to slow down, use the bodily senses that we were given to anchor this experience, which allows us to bridge the divide between each other.
Science tells us that this process provides a neurochemical change in our brains which in turn is mirrored by the persons’ brain that we are with. This powerful exchange of energies has been known about by yogis for years and now western science is simply catching up.
Therefore regular yoga practice helps us to mindfully engage with the world, experience a higher awareness and consciousness that can be passed on to others through our senses. Our sensory experiences of touch, sight, sound, smell, are an anchor to embody and enact conscious, mindful connected presence.
How to Embody Social Change:
When using our ears we can encourage ourselves to stop and engage in ‘deep listening’, slowing down our automatic thoughts that go along with taking in information and purely allow ourselves to hear and feel what the other is saying.
We can we use our eyes to look at situations with kindness. Using a gaze that sees the best in every situation and beauty in all forms and sizes.
We can use our touch to connect and sit with others. Slowing down and physically ensuring that we are present when with people in our lives. Connecting our hands to each other and holding each other for (and if only) a moment. The connection this provides lasts for much longer as we can return to this memory when we need some comfort.
Using our eyes we can look at each other and truly witness each other’s experiences. When we do this the message that we send the other person is that they are ‘seen’ and that essentially they are whole ‘just as they are’.
Ultimately the power of these simple practices may improve the quality of the broader communities we live in, enhance social connectedness and quite possibly create social change.
Therefore next time you are on your yoga mat remember that you are there not only to improve your connection with self, improve your health, but to engage and connect with your larger community and perhaps with all humankind.