Recently I was inspired by the school walkouts protesting gun violence that swept across the nation. My daughter participated in the walkout at her school and a condition of participating without any punishment (as it was technically walking out of school and not a school sanctioned event) was that she had to write a letter to a congressman. As she was getting ready to send off her letter she read it to me and asked me a question that became my inspiration for classes this week. She asked me if I thought the letter would make a difference. I remembered a quote I had read from author and social activist Howard Zinn, “Small acts when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world” My answer to her was yes. Small acts when multiplied can make change happen.
So as I often do, I began to think about how this applies to our yoga practice. Just like in our actions off the mat, small acts multiplied on the mat can create change in our bodies and minds. The movements, the breath and the thoughts that we repeat over and over again are all small acts that when multiplied can make powerful change happen within us.
I shared this idea with my classes as they began to warm up with Sun Salutations. We use the repetitive movements in our Sun Salutes to build strength and length using Tapas (heat or friction we build to burn off impurities and get us closer to our true selves). For instance, in Downward Dog; each time when we press heels towards the mat we are creating length in the calves and stretching the plantar fascia of the feet. And when we draw the belly in we create length in the spine. When we rotate out through our shoulders and in through our wrists we strengthen the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder and the muscles of the wrist. As we moved deeper through the practice I reminded the students how the acts we do multiple times in Warrior 1, Warrior 2, side angle pose and so on also create change in the body in a variety of ways.
Off the mat the same is true. How we think– or modify our thinking– can create incredible change. We know that the energy we put out in the world is what we receive back. Therefore, the practice of positive thoughts or actions– no matter how small– change the energy and actions that are given back to us. Just as I believe that “Small acts when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world” I also know that small acts multiplied over and over again is what our yoga practice is. And when we use that practice on and off the mat (same thoughts or actions repeated) it absolutely can create amazing change.
Before we ended practice, we went to the wall to practice Forearm stand and Hand stand. Even in Handstand or Forearm Stand, small acts like repeatedly bringing the heart a little forward of the shoulders helps us build to the point where we can harness the strength and balance to a place of steadiness on our hands or forearms. When we repeat mindful acts over time we find our Strength, Flexibility and Balance both physically and spiritually.
As the students moved into Savasana, the time for repeating acts in the body was coming to an end but the opportunity to move this practice into the mind in the form of a mantra was very much available. Even repeating a simple mantra in the mind, repeating that small act, can help the nervous system to quiet down and make the mind more focused. I offered my students the option to repeat “Let” as they breathed in and “Go” as they breathed out. The breath was soft and quiet but the mind was powerful.
As we sat together for a final moment we inhaled deeply “Let” and exhaled through the mouth “Go” and I could feel a lightness in the room. I was once again convinced that those simple words and this simple practice repeated multiple times creates very powerful change. Namaste.