A Yogini, Whether She Knows it or Not

Photograph of Leshia Evans by Jonathan Bachman for Reuter's. 

Photograph of Leshia Evans by Jonathan Bachman for Reuter's. 

I've been struck, like many of us, by this photo of an unarmed woman in Baton Rouge standing up to heavily armed, heavily armored men who intend to arrest her. But who is knocking over whom? Who has all the real power in the photo? Who stands steady and full of grace? Who, in her very vulnerability, displays infinite internal strength?

I'm not interested in debating here who is "right." What I'm really interested in is Leshia Evans' posture, this posture that I work so hard for by aligning my heels with my hips with my shoulders with the crown of my head in yoga class. 

I want the posture because I believe it's healthy and will prevent and cure back pain, but really what I want is the inner strength that the posture is an outer reflection of. 

What strikes me again and again is how the armor that the police wear, what is meant to protect them, is the very thing that is throwing them off. Leshia's wispy dress does nothing to protect her body. Yet nothing can touch her. Her heart is open. She is full of resolve. She knows she is fighting the good fight and, without raising a hand, she blows them all away.  

In yoga, we work from the outside in. We align our ankles and hips and shoulders and strengthen our legs and arms. But it's the softness of her pose that makes it so beautiful. It is her ability to stand simultaneously strong and wide open to the experience of the world that draws us to her. We understand viscerally, no matter how we feel about police and the black lives matter movement, that the person in the image with all of the real power is Leshia Evans.

The image perfectly encapsulates the message of the Bhagavad Gita, as I understand it. You cannot truly be harmed if you show up fully for your life with an open heart and complete willingness to do your unique job, to stand in your dharma, to not back away or cower.

It also brings to mind the one and only yoga sutra that addresses the asanas, our physical practice. The sutra is sthira sukham asanam. At the heart of the sutra is idea that for our posture to be a yoga asana, it has to have the qualities of both steadiness and ease simultaneously.

Steadiness without ease is rigidity. Like the officers in this image, if we are not supple, if we are overburdened with our literal or metaphoric armor, we will be knocked over easily by real power and grace. And ease without steadiness is collapse, is giving up and giving in. It's not showing up at all.

May we all show up today for our lives and our battles, large and small. May we stand as Leshia Evans does, strong and steady in our purpose, yet soft and open to life. May every pose be a yoga asana and, as my teacher says, may we live as the lotus flower, at home in the muddied waters.