There seems to be a lot of controversy about NFL players "taking a knee" during the playing of the National Anthem. As an act of peaceful protest against the unequal treatment of black men (who are shot, injured, arrested, incarcerated) in disproportionately large numbers to the white population, kneeling instead of standing is a powerful visual meant to be disruptive but ultimately meant to cause some soul searching in the audience. But kneeling has also been used as an act of bowing to authority, of showing contrition, of demonstrating a prayerful attitude, and as part of a marriage proposal. Kneeling was never considered an act of disrespect until now.
There is a powerful pull for individuals to conform to actions performed in a group; standing to recite a loyalty oath with hand over heart, as in the Pledge of Allegiance, allows individuals to blend in, to demonstrate that they are part of the group. When one person declines to remain part of the group they are often ostracized, as Colin Kaepernick has been. If others in the group join the one person and their numbers grow, those who sympathize with the original protest but who were previously afraid to fully express themselves can feel more courageous in their new group. This can result in dramatic positive change, as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired massive peaceful protests against segregation (and violent backlashes by authorities), or in equally dramatic displays of assumed racial supremacy as with the recent marches by neo Nazis and white supremacists (which usually resulted in violent clashes with anti fascists).
As practitioners of yoga we are part of a group striving to create peace and balance within ourselves, hoping that this will spread to the larger community. Some work very hard to project "love and light" at all times while denying the shadow within themselves (unless you are a saint and have no shadows). Others work very hard to deny the light and embrace the shadows of race hatred, extreme nationalism and xenophobia. Most are somewhere in between, trying to make the world a better place but still on occasion lapsing into reflexive expressions of patriotism, or concerns about violence in "those neighborhoods". It has been said that when we are truly peaceful within our own hearts that expressions of violence will cease.
We can strive all we want to practice the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali but perfect Ahimsa (non violence, the first Yama) is impossible. We must kill to nourish ourselves (plants are sentient beings too), we commit violence in some form (mild or otherwise) every day in speech, thought, and sometimes in deed. The deeper work lies in cultivating equanimity as in the Bhagavad Gita - gaining the strength to do the things we must do while remaining unattached to the results. This should not result in doing nothing in the face of injustice; even small gestures can begin the transformation in someone else.
As we are seeing in the #TakeTheKnee movement.
Feets Don't Fail Me Now
Can you feel if you tend to put more of your weight onto one foot or to one side of the foot? Can you feel the effects of your habitual standing posture on your back? Do you know how to adjust your foot positioning while walking or running, can you feel the effects of that positioning on your knees? Have you ever worked out your feet the way you work out your arms, chest, shoulders, back, abs or legs?
The next time you are outdoors in a natural (and safe) setting, take off your shoes and allow your feet to luxuriate in the feel of the grass. Wiggle your toes, walk slowly across the ground while paying attention to how you can roll from heel to toe in slow motion; feel for all the bumps and irregularities in your path. Can you also notice how this slow mindful walking meditation feels in your legs, torso, and mind?
It's okay if you don't notice anything, keep practicing anyway and see if anything shifts in your awareness. Contrast how you feel when walking outdoors with how you feel barefoot in your home, the difference between carpet, rug, wood floor, stone.
Now see if you can coordinate your breathing with each step; choose a rhythm you can maintain and make your inhale and exhale relatively even in length (or make the exhale a little longer) and as smooth as possible (try not to suck the air in quickly or forcefully push the air out). For example, if you choose to try a 4 second inhale and 4 second exhale, take the entire 4 seconds to breathe in, and the entire 4 seconds to breathe out (and remember you can breathe out for longer). Once you have your breath rhythm it's time to try your mindful walking with the breath.
Can you take the entire 4 seconds it takes to breathe in to take one step? Can you do the same with your exhale? Can you sustain this practice for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer? Or do you have the time to forget about time and just practice until it feels like the right time to end it?
When finished, sit quietly for a few minutes and notice the effects whatever they might be. Smile to yourself, fold your hands in prayer and bow your head, or find another formal way of ending your practice if you wish. See if you can maintain the feeling of the practice while moving on the next part of your day.