“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.