For the love of God, please send an Iyengar Yogi to Congress!

If you live in Michigan’s 9th Congressional district, please read immediately. If you feel passionate, as I do, about the potential that the practice of yoga (that is, the complete practice of yoga, which includes all eight limbs of the practice as elucidated by the Sage Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras) has to change the world for the better, please read on, even if you don’t live in Michigan’s 9th congressional district.

Michigan's 9th congressional district is located in parts of Oakland and Macomb counties in the southeast areas of the state of Michigan. It includes the communities of Ferndale, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Hazel Park, St.Clair Shores, Warren, Bloomfield, and Sterling Heights.

Andy Levin is running to represent this district in the United States House of Representatives.

I would call Andy Levin a friend. He has also been my yoga student for nearly a decade.

I have never been happier to support a candidate for government office in my entire life. I’d like to say why in this article.

I’ll start with a brief bit about my perspective as a voter, my relationship with Andy aside. As a voter, I am compelled by Andy’s strong commitment to the following principles, coupled with his clear demonstration for many years that he will live by them. Of primary importance to me are his strong concern for environmental stewardship (or to use his words: “reverence for the planet.”) social justice, human rights, and equitable distribution of resources and support to all people. Andy’s history includes many projects, internships, travels and, most recently a “green energy business” that demonstrate his commitment to these and, in my view, many fine principles. For those who would like more specific information, I urge you to explore Andy’s website further at https://www.andylevinforcongress.com/experience

As already indicated, the 9th district election is deeply personal for me. On one level, what yoga teacher wouldn’t be excited to have his or her student occupy a seat in the United States House of Representatives? To be sure, that would be a kind of feather in one’s own cap. But upon reflection and in light of recent events, this seems to small even for consideration. So for the remainder of this article, I’d like to focus on Andy’s humanity, the practice of yoga, and why I think the two make for such an important combination for such a (or any) position of influence as U.S. Congressperson. As I write this, a phrase keeps ringing through my mind: “United we stand, divided we fall.” Repeatedly I hear about the “deep division" in our country. Repeatedly I hear stories about (and often see) people at odds with each other, people condemning one another. People killing one another because of often little more than differences of opinion, belief systems, or life-practices.

One of the main personal reasons I want to support Andy is that he has supported me. And he has supported me on more than one important occasion. I won’t go into the details now, but he has made unforgettable contributions to my yoga teaching and the furthering of its reach into the world. I feel deeply grateful for these contributions. Any time I have asked of him to contribute—even for a hastily rehearsed, free, public yoga demonstration, or an ad-hoc video endorsement to be used in marketing my studio—he has given of himself with enthusiasm and sincerity. A bit more intangible perhaps is the way he seems to listen when I talk to him. I know of few people who pay such keen attention when another speaks. And I have often been moved by his candid sharing about his own life experience—its challenges, hopes and fears. In my view, such a level of authenticity and openness indicates a deep trustworthiness in a person. In an age where a common view of politicians is that they are deceptive, self-seeking, even treacherous, it seems all the more urgent to have someone in public office who embodies the important yogic principles of humility, generosity, honesty, and gentleness.

The word yoga itself comes from the sanskrit word yuj, meaning to join or “yoke” together, to bind, or unite. It seems quite obvious to me that someone who engaged in this practice of yoga—of yoking the various (and yes, possibly dis-united) parts of his or her body and mind into a single, harmonious, benevolent oneness—might just have the special skills needed to bring this to the outer world, to others, at a time when it seems so desperately needed. It is said that a yogi conquers the unrest, the destructive forces within him or herself and, in so doing becomes a beacon of harmony. His or her very presence dissolves discord, hostility, even violence. Think about it, what would it be like to have people like this in positions of influence? People like this “running the country,” as the saying goes?

Of course becoming a full-fledged yogi seems to be an extraordinary endeavor. It requires a tremendous level of vitality, discipline, faith, effort, courage. Very similar qualities that have gone into the formation of our nation. I’d like to speak on these in relation to my experience of having Andy as my yoga student. In class, I have found him to be highly attentive, sincere, diligent, and tenacious. Iyengar Yoga requires students to work hard, to simultaneously express and cultivate something called tapas. Tapas means “burning zeal in practice,” or quite literally, “to burn.” Iyengar Yoga often requires a most blazing kind of effort. It is an effort that burns up one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, both mental and physical. It burns away one’s enslavement to one’s own self-centered likes and dislikes, cravings and aversions, fears and anxieties. I have consistently seen Andy’s make such effort in class—sometimes too much of it, to be honest. At times, I have to encourage him to go a bit easier at some things as yoga does not simply require intense effort, but also a quiet and patient kind of yielding to what is, until the time is right for change to happen. Perhaps there’s a metaphor in there for the times in which we live?

I’d like to end this article with a couple of further considerations. First, by its very nature yoga demands and fosters a high level of sensitivity to and reverence for life. It also requires a strong commitment to handling that life with care and goodwill. What’s most important to me about having Andy Levin be my congressman is that I feel I have repeatedly seen Andy demonstrate this care and goodwill. I have repeatedly seen him strive to cultivate it, both in class and outside of it. This is someone I want to put “in office.”

This points to my last consideration: My yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar has written the following, “The yogi believes that every creature has as much right to live as he has. He believes that he is born to help others and looks upon creation with eyes of love. He knows that his life is linked inextricably with that of others and he rejoices if he can help them to be happy . . .” (Light on Yoga, pg. 32). Though I cannot claim Andy has fully attained to this ideal any more than I can claim I myself have, in my opinion this passage captures the essence of Andy’s character. These are qualities that I feel I have seen Andy literally embody and manifest in action time and again. My heart leaps with joy to imagine such a character being brought to bear on our nation’s political system. I am sure that, with enough such yogis in office, life in this country will flower beautifully. Let us vote for this vision, that the policies that guide us—that unite us as United States citizens be guided by those who can, and will “rejoice” in helping others to be happy.

Godspeed, Andy. Thank you for practicing yoga.

Andi Mahoney