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Why Yoga and Meditation May Have Everything to Do with Winning the 2020 Presidential Election

Why Yoga and Meditation May Have Everything to Do with Winning the 2020 Presidential Election

  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath, focus your attention, set an intent, exhale and relax. It may well all come down to the power of the mind in the end.

We know what we as a people need and want out of Election 2020. In a year where the Black Lives Matter movement has made the world sit up and take notice of it’s long cry for justice and equality through a dying man’s plea to be allowed the most fundamental act of existence …. to breathe, it is important to note that all movement, and indeed movements, begin and end with the breath. 

As things heat up on the home stretch of the election with just 45 days left to go before the Day of Reckoning, there is excitement and palpable tension everywhere . With live debates slated to begin soon, campaign rhetoric is stepping up, along with last minute rounds of efforts to convince undecided voters and get existing ones enthused.

While some of the candidates are rallying up every ounce of reserve energy, polishing strategy and charm, bringing their A-game, connecting with people on the ground in swing states, pushing themselves hard, making speeches to generate waves of positivity, other candidates are weaving a web of lies, rousing up the fringe base, grumbling, plotting and conniving, finger pointing and unleashing a string of attacks designed to cause confusion  . 

Emails and news channels are pursuing us doggedly, beseeching us to make the right choice. On traditional mainstream media emotions are running high, and  trolls are escalating the tone through mean spirited comments on social networks. Provocative misinformation is putting people on edge. 

Everywhere we turn, we see and hear voices raised, heads shaking, nervous tics and furrowed brows, and strident negative observations about “the other side” . 

It’s intense. And only going to get worse before it gets better . 

There are unmistakable visible signs of high stress all the way from the top to the ground . There are constant reminders that there is little room for error. Or else the unthinkable alternative will come to pass. 

The entire country has been put on fight or flight mode 24/7. 

Insomnia is becoming everyone’s new bed partner, white noise and sleep music apps are being downloaded faster than they  are being uploaded, heads are pounding, and jaws clenching in a widening circle of synchronized anxiety.

As a longtime meditation practitioner and coach, and Clinical Ayurveda & Yoga wellness practitioner I can read the mind-body language all around me loud and clear. 

The number of stressed out folks is definitely growing.

Whether at campaign HQ or the quiet suburbs, as this ongoing enormous pressure builds, it is imperative that we as a nation, take time to consciously pause a few times a day to stretch tense wound up knots in bodies that have been frozen tight on all day zoom calls ,and relax minds scrunched up in concentration, getting work done, along with dealing with the multitude of daily domestic demands placed upon us  . 

And We need to take some very, slow, deep, calming breaths. 

Periodically. 

Why is having a calm, strong mind and fit body even more important now than before? 

Two obvious words. First, Pandemic. Second, Politics. 

We’ve had six months of calibrating to the crippling ,widespread disruptions caused by the first , and we are still adjusting and trying to grapple with the many unknowns of it. 

The  second is a shape shifting, wild, capricious animal subject to massive behavioral unpredictability . It is Something we are figuring out as we go along, years later .

Taken together, and boiled down, the  Unknown plus unpredictability equal stress and inflammation to mind and body – and unless something effective is done to actively manage them at the root it is its own epidemic. 

Political  battles require  a special kind of stubborn confidence and total, unflagging , and physical energy . 

The author’s son Bharat meditating on the beach.

As candidates, campaign volunteers or common folks, letting even little doubts, worries ,fears creep up in the mind can be an immediate energy draining downward spiral and also end up transmitting a chain reaction of anxiety in others. A certain mental fortitude, invincibility, and faith  has to be developed that can forge ahead bravely in the face of any opposition or odds. 

While factual errors about the candidates records must be firmly corrected, and lies refuted , by them and us, their supporters, none of us can afford to get emotional and dissipate and deplete precious energy,  wasting time unduly in fits of anger, however righteous, or engage in excessive return mud-slinging .

It’s Better to breathe, smile, deflect ,sidestep and ignore the baits thrown and conserve  energy for positive messaging. 

 In other words, it is essential for everyone of us who is rooting for a change in the White House to stay consistently strong, buoyant and inspired . 

The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been.

More than ever, these extraordinary times we live in call for focused calm equanimity if the positive outcome sought is to be achieved. 

Faking relentless cheer non stop is a strain. It needs to arise and flow from a natural reservoir of optimism . 

It’s Time to tune in and tap into our inner zen.

The ability to have a zen attitude towards life arises from an inherent quality we each possess called  “sattva”. We can access it by simply turning inward and paying attention consistently. Over a period of time, the noise and clutter fades away, leaving a pure, calm, deep and joyful silence from which we draw energy to serve as our best versions .

This requires conscious slowing down body and mind ,by harnessing the breath . 

The reward of being able to detach from the surface tumultuous waves of the mind’s volatility and step back into an objective watching witness state ultimately resting and refreshing deeply in what can be described as oneness stillness Is freeing and limitless. 

Our best inspirations, intuitive abilities , purpose and direction come from this space. 

The practical end result in the ‘ real world ‘ outside , is a balanced mind that functions in equilibrium , that is able to see reality as it is, allowing us to act from a vantage point with clear vision .

Yoga, pranayama,meditation are proven ways to master the mind and body and act from this state of heightened awareness. 

The quality of breathing and the state of mind are intimately related. 

It is through the mind that Prana, life force energy, variously called chi, Qi, enters and is channeled to flow throughout  the body . 

When the breath is unconsciously forced, agitated, shallow, or unnatural due to excessive anxiety , anger, slumping in a depressed posture or just holding in everyday tension for long periods , this Prana, or life force,  becomes erratic and disturbed affecting the  working of the mind and body in a variety of ways, none of them good  . It is a cycle. Impaired and agitated mind causes poor breath flow. Poor breath flow leads to poor quality of mind . 

By stabilizing the breath and allowing it to flow smoothly , the mind body unit correspondingly functions efficiently at optimum.

The ancient solutions of yoga, pranayama and meditation are techniques designed specifically to battle and overcome  adversity in the battlefield of life experienced through the minefield of the mind successfully . 

In a world that seems to be getting progressively more complicated at every turn, we need these tools to navigate and subdue the chaos. 

Wellness practitioners, entrepreneurs, political and community leaders ,or any self aware folks just trying to beat the hustle routinely turn inward to these practices to shut off the noise and gain perspective and energy to handle what is on the table.

Maybe this is why a small group in the Biden Harris camp has been offering weekly online zoom yoga sessions to enthuse and calm its volunteers.  Billed as an activity aimed at “restoring the soul of all Americans” via free weekly virtual yoga classes until election day Nov. 3, it is a clear initiative in the right direction of keeping the all important mind-body-spirit  health of volunteers as a priority.

In fact, The Biden-Harris campaign is practically crafted around the slogan: “This is a battle for the soul of our nation.” 

Speaking of Soul, and the battles for it, Kamala Harris has spoken about her commitment to her weekday and weekend Soul cycle sessions in the past. For the unschooled, Soul cycle workouts involve pedaling intensely indoors to rousing powerful and uplifting anthems designed to awaken a mind body party of positive happy energy. It is a movement that has its fair share of woke, peace loving, celeb devotees who absolutely swear by its efficacy.

Biden is known to be a runner and his energetic strides and jogs to the mike for speeches are quite adorable, inspiring and amazing to watch when people far younger are less fit and move slower.

We need leaders like this who are energetic, positive, upbeat and inspirational . Whether they have a specific yoga and meditation practice or not, both Biden and Harris certainly seem to reflect the qualities arising from a conscious, healthy and regular disciplined routine that engages mind and body positively. And The Mind body soul connection wellness mantra supported by the campaign should resonate at a subconscious, subliminal level with many voters. 

 President Trump has also for his part been contributing to the tremendous surge in meditation and yoga .Ever since he got elected in fact.

But not in the way most people who inspire the peaceful mind body movement do. Trump is not known to be a yoga practitioner, even though some of his family members seem to have gotten on board with aspects of it. Ivanka Trump publicly thanked Prime Minister Modi ,an avid yoga practitioner and advocate for his tips on yoga nidra during the days of the initial covid lockdown, and both she and her husband Jared are known to have taken Transcendental Meditation classes.

Trumps ex wife Marla Maples has also apparently been drawn to yoga and Eastern meditation practices and has even been to the Brahmakumari Center in Mount Abu in Rajasthan. 

Many of Trumps staff are said to be serious about their yoga and mindfulness practices. Perhaps it says a lot that everyone around the President is reaching for these  practices to alleviate what can only be sky high stress on a daily basis.

Several media reports post the 2016 election results reported a massive surge in anxiety among sections of the population, with people driven to seek solace and make sense of what happened trying to grab on to anything that would help them deal with the unimaginable scenario that was beginning to unfold in their lives for the next few years.

In the last four years, it is not coincidence that yoga and meditation coaches in the US  have been seeing an unprecedented rise in class enrollment AND fewer dropouts.

Even before Covid, which has brought in its wake  a dismaying increase in mental health issues ,  the American Psychological Association was able to trace the highest stress levels in a ten year time frame   to the  period immediately post the 2016 election outcome. 

Now if you are a skeptic or cynic, and if you think hordes of folks are burying their heads in downward dog or whimpering in child’s pose to hide and escape it is not the whole truth by any means. Yes these practices are a respite from the cruel reality outside- but People turn to yoga and meditation not just to seek refuge, turn inward and unwind but also to center, ground, themselves reflect with clarity , recharge and energize for getting back on the field and engage in positive action for change.

The field has been booming in leaps and bounds because it has  shown tangible benefits .Hence its sweeping adoption and widespread acceptance by government, veterans, cops, firefighters, hospitals, recovering addiction centers in addition to the classic yoga studio setting in the past few decades.

 But there is zero doubt that the election outcome of 2016 has directly contributed to a spike sending many scrambling for their yoga mats and meditation cushions.

Teachers across the board have reported publicly in journals and magazines in interviews that their students who felt despair, who were pessimistic and depressed , found renewed purpose on the mat through mindfulness practices , acceptance, peace, surrender and a feeling of getting back some control through tailoring their response to external stimuli and provocation better .

Chaos, bewilderment, and stress has been increasing among Americans the past four years . And one thing that has seemed to make a tangible difference in relieving some of the pain has undoubtedly been the tranquil, kind, compassionate atmosphere of  yoga and meditation teachings encouraging objective detachment, heightened awareness, self-empowerment, self-healing and self-care at a deep level.

Yoga Communities and specialized retreats, have been sanctuaries of healing and dialog and  these days even the online ones, foster healthy bonding and unity in an atmosphere of respectful silence and listening. Much good and collective mobilization can be created after twisting and breathing out all the toxins along with pent up angst and frustration and taking inventory and letting go of garbage during shavasana. 

In the space where dismay and anger were,  Faith and renewed hope arise once  breathwork blasts away and clears the clutter of sticky mental obstacles. Instead of dissonance and scattered thoughts everyone gets on the same page fast after a good yoga and meditation session. 

Those who are willing to go deeper into meditative contemplation and introspection also have stronger weapons to handle the war-zone that is out there.

 In the mythological battles between evil and good in Indian lore, the asuras( the evil side) were stubbornly committed to their plans , were physically stronger and capable of inciting harm and unleashing great destruction compared to the noble, ethical, and physically weaker devas ( the good side)  . They even appeared to have the upper hand many times, time and again thoroughly  demoralizing the population with their harsh speech, foolish theories, relentless onslaughts and adharmic actions. 

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But where the devas had an advantage over the Asuri was they could channel the tremendous power of their mind , willpower and intelligence from the Universal Force to shore up and compensate for the lack of their physical strength , and still cleverly defeat and vanquish their enemies in the end every time establishing righteous rule. 

Physical might and fitness was considered absolutely  essential but a balanced, calm mind , sharp acumen willpower even more superior to overcome obstacles and emerge victorious . This has been demonstrated time and again in our ancient literature and stories.

How does one develop this incredible mental ability where one operates under extreme stress and provocation with poise yet swift and decisive action ?

Yoga, pranayama, meditation, and in living in alignment with Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle principles daily .

How appropriate that Yoga which in Sanskrit means to yoke the mind and body using the breath to enter into a state of calm stillness is called upon to unite  and yoke together the diffuse energy of a divided country  into a solid, focused target objective at a time like this ? 

 Those familiar with the teachings of the eternal cycle of cosmic creation, maintenance, destruction understand that nothing is permanent and do not constantly agonize, fret and lament unnecessarily. They know Change inevitably brings ups and downs. And that one always has the ability to step back, mentally,  while still tirelessly, continually doing their part and engaging in right action for truth and justice.

In my meditation coaching, I teach that as one progressively masters the inner landscape of the mind , there is less chance for over the top, impulsive jerky reactions  and more opportunities to calmly take info in and come back with  a measured conscious response.

Trust in the Universal Plan teaches acceptance of what is, while encouraging us to strive to do better always . 

Surrender frees us up from the burden of feeling we have to micromanage and control everything that’s going on beyond the scope of what best individual effort can correspondingly yield. 

As a famous Indian saint Swami Chinmayananda said we learn to “ do our best and leave the rest” . 

We relinquish the attachment to polarity, and engage with flexibility, determination and an open mind with full commitment to the cause . By doing this without constantly agonizing over the fruit of action at every step, we avoid shortchanging ourselves by setting in motion a less than 100% effort and therefore a self defeating plan.

We now find ourselves in that uncomfortable transition time before the big shift. And we need all our wits about us. It is time to rally. 

Whatever the questions and doubts are , the answers lie within. 

 We have to keep the mind game strong.

In the Mahabharata War, the importance of understanding and mastering the mind are explained over 18 chapters of the Gita by the wise charioteer Krishna in order to inspire the desolate and defeated warrior Arjuna filled with self doubt and cowardice . Arjuna is exhorted to let go of his erroneous and cloudy delusions , awaken to the nature of reality , arise , and fight the good fight as his role and duty demands it.

As a beautiful metaphor for the political battleground ahead, we as a people can engage as PEACEFUL WARRIORS , conquering all our inner vulnerabilities through the gifts of yoga breathwork and meditation so that we are better equipped to mobilize, do our duties as good citizens and work together with the candidates we support on the side of truth and justice, humanitarian compassion and empathy, wisdom ,prosperity and peace and get Democracy and decency on the winning ticket.

Lets get in the field and do what we must do with tremendous effort , and then lets take a collective deep breath, exhale, and relax , letting go and surrendering to the Higher Power with grace, embracing what comes and is rightly deserved. 

Can I get an Om, Amen, Shalom and Amin ? 

A few tips and insights on managing stress .

Do not let stress and anxiety build up. Find ways of healthy release through regular daily exercise, like a walk in fresh air, hobbies like gardening outdoors, or doing other things you enjoy  . 

Seek yoga, breathwork and meditation guidance online from ethical professional practitioners who are well trained and know what they are doing. 

Have a regular yoga pranayama meditation and prayer practice . 

No time or incentive for working with someone else or Bandwidth for doing these yet ?  Then Simply Check in on your breath a few times a day . Anytime it’s not smooth , just relax, place your left hand on your chest, right hand over belly button do a few slow deep abdominal breaths, inhaling belly out, exhaling belly button in relax with eyes closed for a few minutes  and self – reset . This easy exercise will help . 

Talk to loved ones openly and honestly instead of trying to put on a brave front of invincibility if you feel overwhelmed. A good laugh or smile even if its for a few seconds does magic to mental state in these times when loving touch is scarce due to social distancing. 

Have a regular daily practice of self-care to take the edge off and calm down the nervous system.

Use essential oils and aromatherapy to send a signal to the brain to ease up on the fight or flight response  that’s a huge telltale stress marker . 

Do not skip meals. Eat nourishing fresh food and hearty soups. Stay hydrated to your individual thirst levels to keep mind and body working well. Drink warm herb teas as fall weather sets in and stay off cold foods . 

Have a balanced daily schedule from waking up to bedtime. 

Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, I’ve set my intent – have been meditating upon us collectively manifesting a Biden Harris victory . 

Be well! 


Hema Ravikumar is happy to lead relaxing and de stressing breathwork and meditation sessions for groups of individuals. Reach out and email her at ayurvaidyahema@gmail.com for info anytime.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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