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In yoga, we learn this sacred practice is a practice toward the liberation of mind, body, and spirit. We learn that true liberation arises from the unification and embodiment of our true nature, the Self that exists beyond space and time, eternally connected to Divine Source Consciousness. And yet, as powerful as the practice of yoga may be, many of us can still feel restricted, unsafe, and many other things that do not quantify a sense of freedom.
In a time where our historical books teach our young America is the land of the free, where historical documentation reads “...for all men are created equal” and lawns are sprinkled with Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate signs, slogans, and bumper stickers, the question and conversations around liberation and freedom persist.
And yet we’re still plagued with questions around personal freedom and what it means to live and be free when our external world may not feel safe, thereby nullifying a sense of freedom. Sometimes this can leave us with more questions than answers and the result of this always lands in the body, the mind, and the heart.
And, this can lead us to thinking and asking are we truly free? What does it mean to be free? Have black and brown bodies truly been liberated both on and off the mat out in our world? Do we have a better understanding of why our liberation is tied to one another, for people of all races, gender identities and experiences, and a great many other things? It may seem like easy enough questions to ask and yet the responses you would receive would vary depending on who you ask, when you ask, and what may or may not be happening in their life.
As we entered into the month of June, I began thinking of this word liberation, its meaning and relevance to our lives today; both as a Black, Indigenous, Latin cis-identified woman, and as a spiritual being having a human experience. This month, myself and many black Americans, come together to celebrate and commemorate the date—June 19, 1865—when thousands of black enslaved men and women in Texas learned they had been freed. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War.
As a yoga student and yoga teacher, to hold the nuances and layers of my lived experience is to take my yoga off my mat and first sit with my questions, allowing breath to lead me deeper into the stillness where the answers and truth reveal itself to me and to the world. I have come to realize, for my lived experience, to live life autonomously, freely and liberated means to have an honest and compassionate understanding of the past, remain rooted and grounded in who I know myself to be beyond form in the present, and to hold love and truth for myself and others in my heart for our future.
This does not mean spiritual bypassing but a brave choice to look inward and own the parts of my being, those parts that are also connected to my ancestry that I may not be proud of or may even frighten me. It means I choose love for myself and my people while embracing and embodying what seems elusive, liberation. It means I chose me: to heal, to grow, to love, and to thrive in this life despite narratives and stories meant to frighten me or take me out of my body with fear. And, with that choice, comes the responsibility and accountability to find the comfort in the discomfort of my own growth, find the courage to take up space, and find the resiliency to take another step to claim my freedom with each breath I take and to continue breathing for those who can no longer do the same.
As I step on my mat at sunrise or sunset, and I find myself settling into Sun Salutations [asana/yoga poses] or Prana Dharana [meditation], I am reminded of the sacredness of my own vessel [the body] that is kept animated with Prana [life force energy] for its own purpose in this lifetime. And, as my mind becomes harmonious with my breath, I am able to gain clarity about life and my place in the world. After years of practice, I have learned my yoga mat is one place I can find serenity and peace from the chaos of the world. It is also my sacred space to connect with my ancestors and my own inner wisdom. And by doing so, I fortify my own capacity to move through this world with ease and grace.
Yoga teaches us and provides the tools necessary for our liberation from the constructs and lies that continue to keep us bound to historical and family trauma, old narratives, and stories that humanity has outgrown and provides us the opportunity to see clearly the truth of who we all are beyond form. yoga also gives us an invitation to become more than our history, more than our labels, and more than our fears. And, it also teaches us with practice, with honesty, and with humility, in accepting where we are in each given moment, we begin to heal what has been broken for far too long. We are given a chance, each time we step onto our mat, to be with the truth of who we are and find the courage to grow into who we have yet to be but were born to be in this lifetime.
As with all things, it is a process and Rome was not built overnight. And as it is with yoga, it takes commitment, dedication, and single-mindedness to come back to our mats over and over and over again, ready to sit with truth and take the necessary steps to grow right where we are with what we have in the present moment.
And so, as the days will roll by, and Juneteenth fast approaches, I find myself pondering how much of the freedom my ancestors laid claim to have I chosen for myself today and will choose for tomorrow? I find myself asking how much have we grown in our capacity to sit with the truth of who we have become; both individually and as a country? For I know one thing to be true, we can only give to others what we have cultivated and claimed for ourselves first; you cannot pour from an empty cup. If our capacity to sit with discomfort, face uncomfortable truths, dismantle illusions from within, and begin to love others as they truly are, divine beings, then our practice and our claim to yoga has become nothing more than a parody of movement leaving us no stake in the game to a transformed life.
When it is all said and done, you could simply say, liberation means taking yoga off the mat and into the world. In honor of those who were reminded of their freedom to life on June 19, 1865, may we always remember the truth of who we are and may we choose to live and love from a place of true freedom; allowing and celebrating everyone’s right to do so as they wish while harming none.
It's important we remember liberation is an outward manifestation of an inward truth. Though there is still so much work to be done as a collective, both inwardly and out in the world, it begins with a single and simple step. The path to liberation begins with each of us taking responsibility to emancipate ourselves from the labels, social constructs, belief systems, and trauma that serves only to separate us from the intimate knowing of our sovereign being and connection to Source.
This is the true path to freedom.