The title of this post is inspired by a book called Men in Dark Times written by Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher whom I greatly admire. The book, which made a strong impression on me, consists of a series of essays about extraordinary individuals who did indeed live during "dark times" and what their reactions were.
The daily barrage of bad news accompanied by graphic images can be disorienting, leaving us feeling drained and paralyzed. Many students and friends say they’re overwhelmed and feel helpless and want to know whether yoga can be of use in today’s dark times.
The answer is an emphatic "yes!"
To begin with, yoga postures (asanas) help us to tone and relax our bodies. The more we are in tune with our bodies, the more our bodies will strengthen us to withstand the turmoil that besets this country and the world at large. Yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation re-center us, calm our nervous system, create feelings of wellbeing and deep relaxation, and help us regain our equilibrium.
Yoga also has many important and lesser-known dimensions that are particularly valuable in dark times. Practicing yoga will shift our perspectives, allowing us to fine our true purpose in life.
The yogic term for this is Svadharma. “Dharma” can be translated as “the order of the Cosmos.” Svadharma means one's own individual place in the cosmic order and specifically what activities in your own life are most in alignment with the universal Dharma.
This is difficult to discover intellectually. Most of us try to “figure it out” or vacillate, not knowing where we "really" belong or how we can participate in healing the suffering world. Yogic practices can put us in touch with our higher intuitive self, allowing us to discern our unique Svadharma.
Yogic postures help our bodies to become finely tuned instruments that enable us discover who we are and what draws us. The relaxation and centeredness that we gain from breathing and meditation enables to be more receptive to our inner wisdom and guidance.
As we deepen our practice, we begin to realize that each of us in our own unique way can bring light to the dark times in which we live. Some of us will participate in direct social/political activism while others may choose more individual acts of compassion. And a calm, compassionate presence brings healing to everyone you meet, regardless of what “formal” activities you’re involved with.
The more we learn about ourselves and our gifts and capacities, the less helpless and more empowered we are, allowing us to better navigate the dark times in which we live.