Jivamukti Yoga teacher Anna Greer chats to AYJ about making wise choices, healing the Earth and yogic karma [Australian Yoga Journal, nov-dec 2016]
AYJ What came first for you, an interest in activism or yoga?
ANNA Activism. I was in the student activist scene at university and it was during a time when the Howard Government’s asylum seeker policies were at their harshest. I was involved in most of the causes of the Left but the way the government was treating asylum seekers was what I felt most strongly about. Aside from attending protests, friends and I visited people detained in Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia and would send care packages. It was so heartbreaking to see children who had been locked up for years and had their childhood stolen from them in desert prison. We brought paper and colouring pencils for them and they all drew the most heartrending things – caged birds and things like this. I didn’t know how to funnel that heartbreak into anything but anger at that point so there was a big rage against the machine element to my activism… there was more hostility involved. How I approached activism after incorporating the teachings of yoga into my life was different.
AYJ You’re a Jivamukti yoga teacher. Can you tell us a little bit about Jivamukti and the importance of philosophy to this practice…?
ANNA A Jivamukti Yoga open class includes a dynamic asana practice but it also incorporates the philosophical teachings of yoga within the class setting. Students learn from the core yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutra and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and others – so Jivamukti doesn’t just stretch the body – it also stretches the mind. And though an open class contains these elements the core of the practice is ahimsa, the practice of non-harming. Jivamukti Yoga, as defined by the founders Sharon Gannon and David Life, is ‘a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings’. Asana is viewed as a way to perfect our relationship with the Earth and all beings.
AYJ Are there any particular causes that you’re especially passionate about/involved in?
ANNA My focus right now is on the biggest challenge humanity faces – and that is our destruction of and disconnection from the natural world. I see all of our collective problems as stemming from humanity’s view of nature as something to be consumed or to be conquered – from this Judeo-Christian idea that man has dominion over nature. I try to live my life in a way that resists the dominant culture. And I see passing on these teachings of Yoga as a form of activism. I have been involved in direct action in the more recent past and both are important. I love the work that the direct action organisation, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, does in protecting the world’s oceans. I have been on campaign with Sea Shepherd twice in Antarctica protecting whales from Japan’s whaling fleet. There is something very powerful about fighting destruction in that more direct way and it’s important we approach these things on all levels – education, direct action, financial support to effective organisations and setting an example by living in a way that reflects the kind of world we want to create.
AYJ How do you incorporate the philosophies of yoga into the way you live day to day?
ANNA One of the most powerful things we can do for the planet is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. We still live within the paradigm of consumption – it’s very hard to escape without eschewing civilisation altogether. That’s not so practical for everyone, so we can at least make the most ethical choices available. I try to keep my field of vision open so I can learn how I can make better choices. So, I ask myself, how damaging are the clothes I buy to the environment, to people, to animals? How can I use less plastic? Where does my energy come from? Where does my food come from? What can I give to the world to balance all this taking?
The animal agriculture industry is one of the most destructive machines on the planet. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, ocean dead zones, water use, species loss. Depending on who you ask, the industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all of the transport of the world combined, or it’s the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses out of all sectors. One thing that really hit me from the amazing documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was when Richard Oppenlander said that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, we will still exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all because of the animal agriculture industry. So giving up animal products is a really powerful act of resistance against the culture of destruction.
AYJ How, for you, is yoga and activism related? How do they support one another?
ANNA Here’s the thing. And I’m going to be honest here. I think it’s too late. All of the things I mentioned about being a better consumer, it’s nowhere neat enough. Our human culture of ownership of the earth needs to be completely dismantled. I think the only thing that is going to stop our destruction of the planet is the mass extinction event scientist predict will happen if we keep on our current trajectory. Pretty depressing huh? So the question then that crosses most people’s minds is understandably, well what is the point? And that’s where the yoga teachings can be of great service to those who are despairing or feeling helpless. The Bhagavad Gita especially is a text I have found useful for activism. Krishna says to the wavering warrior Arjuna that he must act, but to act without thought of success or failure – to act without attachment to the results of the actions. It really is a valuable teaching.
Even if it’s too late, we, who consider ourselves healers, can hold space for love, kindness, fearlessness, beauty. Karma expands, and we can plant good karmic seeds to expand into whatever comes after this age. The Earth will take care of herself and that’s a beautiful thing. So our task then is to heal our disconnection from her. And that’s what it comes down to. That’s the key point here. When we heal our own disconnected consciousness, when cultivate deep reverence for the Earth, and let all of our actions flow from that feeling of wholeness, of connectedness, than the earth will heal too and it will happen effortlessly.
AYJ What’s your advice to yogis wanting to apply the principles of yoga off the mat?
ANNA With tenderness, curiosity, warmth and openness, reflect on how your actions can more strongly align with justice and contribute more net joy in the world, than net harm. Ask what role can I play to contribute to healing? What can I give? But most of all, heal your connection with the Earth and all her beings. Do practices that realign you with your basic goodness and joyfulness. Everything will flow organically from that place.