Hatha-Yoga as a tool for Peace (Re)search

I have had an ambiguous relationship with the practice of Hatha Yoga, a practice that has accompanied me for many years. Beyond the cultural and postmodern critique of a certain interpretation and performance of Hatha Yoga, I have stayed a faithful practitioner and a passionate sharer of the practice.

Yet, I have not always been able to connect the embodied practice of Yoga and Peace scholarship in a manner that I thought would be deemed professional, even though both were deeply connected in my heart. Only recently, I have begun to cherish Hatha Yoga as a particular tool both of the study and research of peace as well as the fostering of a form of inner peace on a regular basis.

From his experience with peacemakers in Palestine, Marc Gopin derives that a “central source of endless conflict and misery between enemies – but also a central source of misery in families and communities – is the emotional, cognitive and ethical failure to be self-examined” (Gopin 2012, 113). In the same line, Adam Curle stresses the importance of awareness, noting that low levels of awareness are “associated with the belonging-identity, which is the sourse of competitive materialism and all the bitterness and violence that flow therefrom” (Woodhouse and Lederach 2017, 79).

Taking Curle’s reflections on the practice of peacemaking as conceptual basis, the practice of Hatha Yoga can, under certain conditions, provide tools for such self-examination in the context of applied conflict work. Fostering introspection and the silencing of the mind both through breathing and physical practice, Hatha Yoga practices can create a calm and conscious atmosphere for conflict parties to encounter each other. Located around practices in the context of what Adam Curle calls conciliation, the facilitation of Hatha Yoga can be seen as “applied psychology tactic aimed at correcting perceptions, reducing unreasonable fears, and improving communications to an extent that permits reasonable discussion and makes rational bargaining possible” (Woodhouse and Lederach 2017, 69).

Acknowledging that an introspection would ideally precede the conflictual encounter with the ‘other’ (bargaining), I can visualize Hatha Yoga practices both within a facilitation process and as a regular habit for Peace and Conflict workers, which not only calms their mind but also brings them physically back into their bodies.

As part of a facilitation in applied conflict work, elements of Hatha Yoga practice can ideally be incorporated to the process of conciliation. This may include grounding breathing practices such as Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) or Sama Vritti Pranayama (equal breath) which calm the mind and ‘lower the temperatue’, hence also “provide a moment of calm in which reason can reassert itself” (Woodhouse and Lederach 2017, 66). It may also include physical practices such as simple grounding techniques in tadasana (mountain pose) and/or simple seated postures which elongate the spine and thereby increase consciousness of personal agency. Ideally, even in applied conflict work, the practice would end in savasana (dead corpse pose) that can allow for letting go for the reasons mentioned below.

As a regular habit, raising awareness levels requires self-discipline and the help of others (Woodhouse and Lederach 2017, 85). In concrete Hatha Yoga practice, being helped by others can simply refer to letting oneself be guided by the instructions of the facilitator, not consciously in need to anticipate the next step. While this also requires a sense of trust, it comes with the benefits of letting rational resistances go, which eventually may peak in the final resting of savasana. Here, I see the possibility to experience a form of energetic peace in which the own personal contours dissolve and an individual can experience oneself in harmony with the universe.

A shared Hatha Yoga practice (in a group) also carries and supports the individual in her or his personal practice. If facilitated and practiced well, comparison and competition – features of modernized practices in Western culture – will become irrelevant and the group’s instrospective energy can serve as systemic platform for individual processes of generating awareness. These latter reflections also hold for the didactics of studying peace. With the possibility of experiencing energetic peace that goes beyond an intellectual epistemology, perceptions of recipients can open in a way which ackowledges and affirms alternative ways of knowing.

Marc Gopin. 2012. “Becoming a Peacemaker: Personal Discourses of Peace and Violence”. in Forming a Culture of Peace. Reframing Narratives of Intergroup Relations, Equity, and Justice, edited by Karina V. Korostelina.

Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach. 2017. Adam Curle. Radical Peacemaker. Hawthorn Press.

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