Yoga And The Practice of Caring About Everyone

Leah R Vineberg

Daniel, the publisher of Yoga Partout, asked me if I would write an article that connected yoga to the practice of caring about everyone. As a fan of a public art intervention and manifesto I created a number of years ago, called Care About Everyone, Daniel felt that this moment in human history may merit a gentle reflection on the correlation between personal, spiritual practice and our capacity for radical inclusion. Although I am an experienced yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a consultant in Whole Systems Change, I am approaching the writing of this article as a lifelong yogi. Rather than providing answers, I prefer to offer a series of invitations and possibilities. I hope these contemplations will be of benefit.

What does yoga, a solo, interior, personal practice, have to do with caring about everyone- or even caring about anyone other than ourselves, for that matter? I can't speak for others, but I've always had the view that yoga helps me "be a better person". But what do I mean by that? And how does this happen?

Coming To The Mat

The first step in yoga is the decision to come to the mat. If I come to the mat, I am willing to be changed by the practice of yoga. Yoga dates back thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years. Although the physical benefits are plentiful, yoga is a discipline that also nourishes the mind, heart and spirit. Regardless of my motivations to practice yoga, it is not a casual undertaking, and the impacts of yoga will run deep. I will come face-to-face with myself and my life. To come to the mat means that I am willing to see things more truthfully. With every practice, I learn to be with what is here and with what arises in my body, heart, and mind throughout the session. I may encounter difficulty. I will encounter limitations. Resistance may come. With presence and breath, I stay. In yoga, I am regularly building my capacity to both flow with and tend to what emerges, with great care. I am learning to be a friend toward myself. This is where my friendship with you begins.

Clearing The Past, Arriving In The Present

I arrive at my yoga mat in one state- physical, mental, emotional- and by the end of my practice, my state has naturally evolved into something else. Moving the body with intention re-establishes a healthy and fresh flow of energy and brings mental clarity. Yoga brings us into a wholesome experience of earthiness within the body, helping us to be more grounded, embodied and available for whatever arises in our day. By the end of my yoga practice, excess thoughts and concerns have found their place. I can bring the best of myself to my interactions with others because with my practice, I have created space. There now exists a space beyond all that I already know that I know, and what could be can arise. As such, the person in front of me is also no longer bound by my preconceptions of who they are and who they can become. In fact, we are both free to be who we have become, and evolve here and now to meet the call of this moment.
Yoga practice asks effort and discipline. I work to clean out the debris so that newness inherent to each moment is accessible to me. We both merit this quality of presence. Furthermore, my view of everything expands and is more equitable and inclusive. I can see further, I can imagine more. There are literally more possibilities after a yoga session. I have more agency around how I will walk the path ahead of me. And I will bring this sense of possibility wherever I go.

Samasthiti: Showing Up Again and Again

In the practice of yoga, we may find ourselves returning to Samasthiti between poses, or between short sequences of poses. It is a simple standing pose. Feet are touching, or hip-width apart, nicely grounded. The hands are either at the heart, in the namaskar, in prayer, or hanging by the hips. Nothing else is happening, we are just here, breathing, seeing, being. To me, this practice is one of the most powerful moments in a given yoga session. It is the opportunity to come back to the present moment, in a more easeful posture; re-set, and breathe. Samasthiti, is defined by the wondrous yoga teacher Maty Ezraty as "Equal Standing"; a command to attention, to stand in balanced stillness... with equal, steady and still attention" (Ezraty 2007, Yoga Journal). To care about others, at its most foundational level, feels to me to be about showing up, to be fully here, receptive and available to what is. It also asks that I continue to show up, that I bring attention back again and again throughout our interactions, to myself, to you, to our conversation. Samathiti invites me to show up for the new, to hold space for not knowing, and to be here, now. That is how I aspire to be with you, in "equal standing", both of us here, plenty of space for us both.

Balance Between Effort and Surrender

Yoga is not easy. It requires and cultivates focus. It asks for our strength, but not our force. Opening happens progressively. To safely practice yoga we need both discipline and patience. We may wish to touch our toes or drop into a standing backbend, or walk on our hands, but we can only be where we are. There is a lot of give and take. We show up and bring our all, or bring what is available (plus a bit more), and then we see what is actually possible. Some postures may always stay out of reach, because of physical ability, age, or a host of other factors. Yoga asks us to be humble, and asks us to adapt. It is an invitation to orient toward where we want to go, and to take steps toward more difficult postures, and also to graciously accept where we are, surrender and breathe. With healthful alignment, the body will learn to relax and open. Long-held patterns can eventually be released and new perspectives can occur.
To care about everyone is also not automatic. I need to first think that it is possible. My reflex may be to focus on difference, to look to the extremes, to convince myself that there are certain people I could never care about. But the heart can be tended; the heart can grow. I can slowly begin to include more "difficult people" in my heart. I can work to find something about them I may actually already care about. And if even that is too hard, I can cultivate the wish to care about them eventually. Again, there is nothing to force. Yoga invites me into a more spacious relationship with all things.


Yoga is a discipline. As such, it is held a little differently than physical exercise. The last pose of each session is savasana, also known as corpse pose. Savasana is considered as the most important pose of the practice. It is during this time, lying down on your back, in total and complete rest, that the body will absorb the benefits of all the previous poses. It is not an effortful pose, but what is asked for is presence. It may be challenging because many of us resist rest, and not doing anything can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Savasana is about letting go and letting things be. Most situations and most living livings would not benefit from my effort to control them. In fact, such exertion also causes harm for me. Savasana brings us back to easy flow, back to what's natural, back to trust.
Caring about everyone can be just like caring about anyone, but there are also some important distinctions. There are countless ways to care. We all have our "love languages", our preferences around how we liked to be cared for. In personal relationships, all of that would need to be mitigated so that people are cared for in the way that best resonates with them. Caring about everyone is a spiritual practice, it is aspirational. It is like the Buddhist practice of metta, or lovingkindness. It is an inner suggestion to myself. I hold the wish to care. Then I bump up against everything that comes up to tell me how I can't do it. And then I hold the wish to care again, and I see what happens. Repeat.

Leah R Vineberg

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Leah R Vineberg is a consultant in Whole Systems Change, with expertise in Wellness and Relational Culture, with a Masters Degree in Human Systems Intervention. Prior to working in organizational development, Leah facilitated numerous retreats, workshops and classes in yoga, meditation, and other somatic practices. She had the great fortune of studying with exceptional teachers including Pema Chodron, Joseph Goldstein, and Tim Olmsted. Her principal teacher is Ken McLeod. Leah is also an artist and a writer and worked professionally in the arts for many years. She lives in Montréal, Québec.

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