Resolving Conflict Through Yoga

Combine post-election grumbles with the family holiday table
and you have the ingredients for conflict. Fortunately, if you practice yoga,
you also have the recipe to help ease the upset.

During 47 visits to the former USSR during the Cold War,
yoga teacher Rama Jyoti Vernon
developed a conflict resolution technique based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Combining yoga philosophy with deep listening (also taught in Nonviolent Communication),
Vernon guided dialogues between Soviets and Americans to build understanding
and trust. Vernon believes that the
dynamics of conflict are similar, whether they are between countries, among
family members, or within one’s self,
and that yoga offers universal tools
for creating peace.

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Patanjali’s second sutra (“Yogas chitta vritti nirodha”) defines
yoga as calming the mental fluctuations or, in Sanskrit, vritti. Vritti is
related to the English word “revolve,” and we’ve all experienced how the mind
can turn things around. Conflict often begins when we
turn things around by mis-identifying with the ego self, a klesha or obstacle
that the sage Patanjali called asmita.
Yoga teaches us discernment, so that
we are able to step outside asmita or “I-ness” and
gain perspective on the true self. In other words, as the ego begins to
recognize its patterns, we realize: “I am not my ego.”

This realization strengthens our ability to listen to
others, to bear witness even when their words dent the ego structure. This
equanimity or serenity is, as Sri Krishna teaches Arjuna (Bhagavad Gita
2:15), being alike in pleasure and pain. In a state of serenity, we do not
crave approval or fear rejection. We remain serene even when faced with
troublesome vrittis or mind waves, such as incorrect perception, imagination,
and memory.

According to sutra 1:12 (“Abhyasa vairagya bhyam tan
nirodha”), the ability to calm the vrittis comes through detachment and
practice. (For guided practice, Rama
Vernon,
Ruth
Hartung,
and others
teach yoga-based conflict resolution workshops around the U.S.) The yamas
and niyamas
are a brilliant foundation for developing discernment and equanimity, but each
of yoga’s eight limbs supports and strengthens the practitioner’s evolution
toward wholeness and peace. (Yes, even asana.)

So the next time Uncle Bob tries to push your buttons over
the cranberry sauce, draw on your yogic skills to listen for the underlying
vrittis. (But maybe don’t say to him "It’s all about the yoga!")

What are some ways you have resolved inner or outer
conflict through yoga?

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