Mass shootings are scary and horrifying, and so of course when one happens, the national conversation turns towards prevention. What could have been done to stop the shooting? More police surveillance? Stricter gun laws?
Unfortunately, most "answers" to the problem deal with hampering or stopping the would-be murderer from doing the most damage versus actually removing the desire to harm in the first place. But stopping someone from doing something inevitably takes rights away from other people. One only needs to go through a body scanner at an airport or have TSA rifle through personal items in a suitcase to see this in action. We might be preventing terrorism on airplanes, but we no longer can have our family wait with us as the gate before our flights.
And making better gun laws won't stop people from harming a large group of strangers if they are really motivated. Suicide bombers don't use guns - they simply strap home-made explosives to their bodies. Taking away guns might slow down or stop some shooters, but it might also encourage the worst of them to come up with more "creative" ways of slaughter.
Someone who is motivated to kill will find a way to do it, on a small or large scale, using whatever weapons are on hand or could be devised. It's the intention to kill that is the ultimate problem, not the tool used to commit the dirty deed.
We can't police thought, however, and we certainly don't want society to become a real-life version of "Minority Report," where someone is arrested for having an "intention" to kill.
We can, however, create a better "psychic" environment in our world, an environment where it is easier to love than to hate. This is a tall order, however, a challenge that won't be solved overnight and probably not in our lifetimes.
Sharing yoga is one way that we can start to work towards this goal. While it's possible that a dedicated student of yoga could go "off the rails" and on a murder spree, it's not likely. Why? Because a regular practice of yoga - if done mindfully and with purpose - serves to elevate the spirit.
You don't even have to believe in the spiritual to receive the calming benefits of yoga. Atheists and cynics will still benefit from the practices of yoga, including pranayama and meditation. Asana, breathwork, and mindfulness meditation can create positive changes in the body chemistry, lowering stress hormones like cortisol and increasing mood-improving neurotransmitters like seratonin.
The Aurora "Batman" killer was on drugs. If he had been doing meditation instead of drugs, would he have been as likely to kill? Probably not.
The Oak Creek Sikh killer was following angry white supremacist rock bands. If he had been listening to the soothing mantra melodies of Deva Primal or Snatam Kaur, would he have had such hate in his heart?
Granted, yoga isn't for everyone and you'd be hard-pressed to convince a guy who was addicted to violent video games (as the Aurora shooter was) that he should turn them off and go to yoga class. But herein lies the problem. Why is it that so many of our young males spend so much time on video games instead of positive pursuits like yoga? (Don't get me wrong, I love me a good video game sometimes!) Let's face it, mass murderers are usually young males, not women. So how do we reach young males?
For one, yoga just isn't "cool" for young guys to do. It still has the stigma of being a 1970s "sensitive guy" thing. Yoga is also almost exclusively marketed towards women these days. When was the last time you saw a man on the cover of Yoga Journal? Maybe they should be calling it "Women's Joga Journal" instead (although as a woman, their perfect yoga models don't speak to me either).
New yoga styles like Power Yoga and Iron Yoga have given testosterone-driven young men an entryway into yoga that can appeal to their need for physical challenge. But more could be done on outreach.
Want to bring more young males into yoga? Here's some food for thought:
- If you are a yoga teacher, do you offer any classes for young adult males? If you were going to do so, where might you advertise?
- If you are a male yoga teacher, could you do more to mentor young men in yoga?
- Do you have an interest in writing? Could you start a blog for men in yoga?
- Are you unconsciously teaching your classes to the majority of women in the room? Could you do more for your male students?
- Watch your language - are you talking about moon cycles and goddesses in a mixed gender class?
- Do you know young male Christians who might be scared off of yoga due to religious concerns? Perhaps you might introduce them to the growing movement of Christian Yoga.
- What about a yoga program for inner city gang members?
- What other ideas do you have for reaching out to young men with yoga?
Yoga, being a whole mind-body system, can do a lot to help alleviate the angers and frustrations of young men in our society. But young men can't benefit from yoga if they don't know about it or think it's "not cool." The yoga community could do more to reach out to populations other than white women. But to make that change, it has to start with you.