In honor of our recent Yoga Special Issue...
Ahimsa, nonviolence is a key part of yoga, and yet, many yoga teachers tend to overlook it. How do you incorporate ahimsa into your yoga classes? How do practitioners respond?
I feel that many yoga teachers are practicing ahimsa. It just tends to be narrowly focused to not hurting one’s self when practicing poses, or extending a smile to a stranger. These of course are wonderful things and at the same time, I feel it is imperative that we as yoga teachers take the meaning and practice of ahimsa deeper, so it impacts our daily actions from how we treat ourselves as well as fellow beings. Ahimsa is incorporated into my yoga asana (posture-based) classes through a deep focus on empathy and compassion.
In the various yoga postures, you become a dog, a cat, a cow, a mountain, a cobra, and other aspects of creation as a whole from elements to shapes to animals. Essentially, when we practice these poses, we are putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, claws, hooves, wings, paws, fins, and so on, in an effort to empathize and understand our interconnectedness or sameness with others. The poses themselves are a method for developing greater empathy and compassion.
My experience is that people respond positively to this approach. I’m not telling people what to do or not to do. I’m also not telling people my perception of what is right or wrong. I’m simply talking about the practice of yoga, the philosophy behind it, and how we might take it into our daily lives. I’ve witnessed many people transform their life through the practices of yoga.
Please tell us about your beautiful book, the premise and why you wrote it.
The premise of World Peace Yoga: Yoga for People Who Breathe is to assist people to create peace within and create world peace. The sub-premise is that yoga and veganism are one and the same. Most people think of yoga as the postures and putting your leg behind your head. In reality, anyone that is practicing being conscious and aware of their daily actions is practicing yoga – and it’s important that we as vegans practice more aspects of yoga to avoid getting pulled down from the heaviness of life.
I wrote this book to bring together the multi-faceted aspects of a yoga practice and to create a holistic, fun, colorful, and practical tool for living yoga on and off the mat. I was also inspired by Will Tuttle’s book The World Peace Diet. Will beautifully shares in his book the far-reaching implications of our food choices and the connections to various spiritual traditions. I feel my book is a lovely companion book as it outlines the actual practices, such as breathing, posture, and meditation techniques to maintain inner peace in a non-vegan world. I provide the self-care tools for dealing with the stress of everyday life so that we may be more effective in all that we do—as an activist, a partner, a mother, a co-worker, and on. My dream is that this book touches the hearts of those who read it so they may live more fully from a place of authenticity and realize the gifts they have to share with the world.
What kinds of shifts do you see happening in the yoga world?
The practice of yoga is growing and changing. It is estimated over 36 million people are practicing yoga in the United States. And, while some aspects of yoga, such as ahimsa, nonviolence have been watered down, there are many yoga teachers and studios doing beautiful things, such as Holly Skodis who created Yoga is Vegan. There is also a paradigm shift happening.
The Old Paradigm: You take a yoga class, attend a workshop, or spend time at an ashram or spiritual center to find a guru and get as close to that guru and possibly worship and idolize that guru for as long as you are able.
The New Paradigm: You take a yoga class, attend a workshop, or participate in a retreat to connect with others, to be in community or sangha and get involved with advocacy/education/activism based on yogic principles, i.e. ahimsa/ nonviolence, aparigraha/ nongreed, and satya/ truth telling…being of service to create a more peaceful world.
Yoga is empowering people to be active in a variety of social justice movements. People are realizing both the value of immersing themselves in practices, such as meditation, for their own personal growth and healing, while also having an awareness of worldly matters. They are connecting with global issues of justice, equality, liberation, and radical inclusion as an important part of their yoga practice. People are realizing that we are all in this together. We are one.
How do you describe your yoga path and the connection between veganism and spirituality?
For me yoga practice and spirituality is about connecting with your most kind, compassionate, and authentic self…and to ultimately realize the interconnectedness of all beings and the earth. When we understand and tap into this connection, we develop greater intuition and empathy, which results in extending compassion—this is veganism. The wider our circles of compassion extend the better we know or intuit how to connect with others, how to resolve conflicts, how to create solutions, how to exist in harmony, and how to live in peace.
How do you maintain your dedication to the vegan cause and prevent burnout?
Things I do to prevent burnout include a consistent yoga/meditation practice, time outdoors and in nature, swimming, playing with my son, drinking green juice, fueling up on healthy eats, sharing plant-based meals with others, and the list goes on. I have found that a daily self-care practice is essential to avoid burnout, stress, and frustration.
Can you give our readers a glimpse of what your personal practice of yoga looks like?
My personal practice is always changing, especially now that I have a child in my life. My son Noah is 5 years old, and once we are solid in a routine and in a groove, that quickly changes to something else. A glimpse into my day-to-day right now looks like…
- Drinking a large glass of water when I first wake up
- Having a cup of tea in the morning before Noah goes to school (without being on my phone or checking email – just having a cup of tea)
- 30-45 minutes of movement – it might be yoga poses or other form of exercise
- 5-10 minutes of seated meditation
- 5-10 minutes of lying on my back and resting my legs against a wall
- And of course, a given is living a vegan lifestyle, which is a huge part of a yoga practice
In one sentence, how might you convince someone to practice yoga?
Interested in replacing your stress with serenity, your fatigue with vitality, and your uncertainty with clarity—the practice of yoga may just be for you.
Anna Ferguson is the author of the first vegan-centric yoga and art book, World Peace Yoga: Yoga for People Who Breathe, a companion book to Dr. Will Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet, a #1 Bestseller on Amazon.com that has been translated into 16 languages. In addition to being co-creator of World Peace Yoga studio in Cincinnati, Anna is engaged in several evolving paradigms as a co-founder of Heärt Montessori, a school where empathy and compassion are taught as part of core academics, the Jubilee Animal Sanctuary, providing a glimpse of what a peaceful world looks like, and the Cincy VegFest, an annual one-day vegan festival. Anna is active on social media and you may find her on Facebook and Instagram @annafergusonpeace.
“A full spectrum exploration of why, how, and what yoga truly is and strives to be and embodies. This is the real deal manual for complete harmonic yoga oneness.” – Kip Andersen, Film director and producer of Cowspiracy and What The Health