Social change comes from two main sources. The first source is random and we have no control over it; this may include things such as: climate, geography or the different cultures. The second source arrives from and is managed by society. For example, we have conscious choices, we create rules and regulations and, as a result, we reinforce things like different organizations that represent those masses.
Having control over your personal choices is a powerful gift, but one that many ignore or abuse. As a result, we not only fail ourselves, but society as a whole. The creators of yoga, in 500 B.C., developed the practice to help people become more aware of their physical, mental and spiritual state and to be more aware of their surroundings. A discipline that was meant to serve not only internal, but also external transformation.
Accepting, living and breathing this philosophy, Molly Lannon Kenny, owner of the Samarya Center in Seattle, believes that we are responsible to serve society and to be effective, we first have to a do a thorough “self-inquiry, svadhyaya – really deeply looking at ourselves,” she said.
For Lannon, the desire to make social change through “compassion, inclusion and equality” led her to create her “Yoga and Social Change,” workshop, but this wasn’t an overnight decision.
Her passion for yoga, health, life and social justice led Lannon to pursue many opportunities in her life. Over the years, Lannon has worked with a variety of communities, some of which were under-served: from people with mental health challenges and homeless youth to people who were faced with life-threatening illnesses.
Instead of having a self-reflective monologue based on these experiences, Lannon chose to approach these questions by creating an engaging conversation, both in and out of the yoga community.
If you meet her, she may ask you: “What is it about you and your yoga practice that is actually contributing to social change?”
Passion brings many truths to the surface. Things like yogis wearing t-shirts saying “world-peace,” or having a bumper sticker on their car that says “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” were all signs that triggered Lannon to ask: Do we represent all of the signs and symbols that we have in our lives and what is our relation among those signals, and beyond?
“I often look at what is my contribution, and it could be difficult,” to answer many of those questions, she said.
Lannon believes that most of us try to adhere to the philosophies we believe in, but her work and personal experiences have taught her that there are certain truths that we suppress. She believes that people often want to be accepted within a “community,” but in the process, they sometimes ignore their inner voices, points of view and true feelings.
Those deep-rooted unrecognized or ignored feelings, prevent people from truly living in the “spirit of compassion, inclusion and equity.” And so, if we are not able to transform, we incapable of creating a real, lasting, positive impact in the world.
Lannon’s vision is highlighted in the Samarya’s Center motto: “Fostering individual transformation as a means to radical social change.”
The Samarya Center has evolved to be the training institute for Integrated Movement Therapy – a therapeutic model that fosters inclusion of all people through diversity and acceptance and encourages personal transformation that leads to social change.
The idea of revolution from the inside, prompted Lannon to think about those bumper stickers. “Why not take our practice a step further?” she asked.
“You are already a yogi, this is what actually yoga means: [transformation],” she said. “So if you were to change yourself, that will be the thing that will create social change.” In Lannon’s point of view, social change is achievable, but we have to ask ourselves some tough questions, such as: “Do we have under-the-raider biases?”
Even if we do, she said, we shouldn’t instantly judge or criticize ourselves, but rather acknowledge it, bring it to the surface and learn how to work with it. This is the time of transformation.
Challenging your own perspective can make you angry, defensive or sad. But if you have your yoga you can be honest with the feelings you have, she said. Lannon believes your “internal bias” is like an accent that you have: depending on your surroundings you can diminish the accent, or bring it up, but it is always there, you don’t get rid of it.” It is self-control that allows you to be in charge of it. For Lannon, identifying her biases is not a downfall that she wishes to turn into a denial, but rather a moment of recognition that she likes to “own” and work with.
When the bias shows up, she says: “I am just in control of it, because I have no vested interest in denying its existence.” The self-inquiry of honesty in yoga is something that Lannon teaches about, but also uses when approaching her own perspectives. She uses this technique to help elevate people in their yoga practice.
“Each individual is really being empowered to think about how they are contributing to maintaining biases weather it’s ablest, gender spectrum, body image, race, ethnicity, age,” she said. While also questioning the ways we “continue to perpetuate myths and harms because of our unexamined selves?”
As yogis, we have these opportunities to start to really dig in to those biases and to recognize them within ourselves, which is the only time you can actually work with them.
“Sometimes it is so painful to be aware of those biases,” she said. That this is why people may never become aware of them, which Lennon refers to as “deny, defend or judge.”
People often defend their rationale or they judge it, and they may even tell themselves: “Oh my god, my yoga is not working,” Lannon said.
To be an impactful contributor, Lannon’s believes in a few solutions: The first one is, “turn off” to gain clarity. As a culture we a have a collective problem of being “shut down because of the amount of information that we receive,” she continued. But if we go back to the yoga paradigm, Lannon believes that the use of the third eye can help you see the reality of what is actually in front of you, while simultaneously learning how to close it so you can have protection against suffering.
“We need to take that to the world,” she said. “How do we open up, but also filter so we do not become overwhelmed?”
She believes that we can serve society by acknowledging its identity crises. Her belief is that people should “step fully into whatever it is that [they] are, and own it.”
Lannon suggest that we should always “assume integrity first in people,” then work on inspiring a sense of a higher consciousness.
So … dig deep down, find your truths, and demonstrate what you stand for.
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