Yoga Mat with Laptop and Yoga books

I defy any journalist not to have been fascinated and angered by the recent extraordinary Donald Trump press conference which ended with seasoned reporters jeering the American president.

“For half an hour, the president berated us,” the BBC’s North America Editor Jon Sopel wrote afterwards, his blog and accompanying video replaying his terse exchange with Trump.  “I’m just telling you, you’re dishonest people,” Trump had told the reporters and broadcasters.

There’s no denying Trump voices a widely-held view, with journalists consistently ranked among the least-trusted professions, (although higher than politicians).

Having recently left a long career as a BBC journalist and become part of the slasher community – freelance journalist/digital writer/trainer/trainee yoga teacher - it’s been interesting to observe how people react differently to me when I introduce myself as a yoga teacher rather than journalist.

I’m still the same person, but that final slash has moved me towards a calmer and more considered outlook on life.

And I’ve been thinking about how yogic philosophy could help journalists in the face of hostility.

Here are three things journalists can learn from yoga:

1.  Speak the truth but transcend ego

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras urge yogis to speak the truth (‘satya’). It sounds obvious, but especially in what’s arguably a post-truth age of politics, that’s not straightforward.

In my experience, journalists are driven personalities who doggedly seek truth.

We’re bold and challenging, but the flipside of that necessary bravery can also be egotism.

Yoga teaches us to transcend ego in order to reach the truth – but without being less brave.

It’s an approach embodied by a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual and political leader who embodied karmic yoga:

“Be truthful, gentle and fearless.”

Buddha statue

2.  Keep our focus

Trump’s vitriolic White House news conference hadn’t been the first time he’d attacked or blamed the media, but was the most sustained since becoming president. An inspirational message to staff by Reuters editor-in-chief Steve Adler had already urged his journalists to take a considered approach to covering Trump, saying: “Don’t pick unnecessary fights or make the story about us.”

Yoga teaches us concentration, moving the mind towards focused attention known as nirodha. It’s about not becoming lost in side issues, but focussing on the matter in hand.

Adler concluded his message: “We operate with calm integrity not just because it’s in our rulebook but because – over 165 years – it has enabled us to do the best work and the most good.”

Mindfulness is integral to yoga in its full sense and can help us achieve that calm and focus, even when it feels like the world and its leaders are opposing our every aim and achievement. It’s a principle Mr Adler clearly understands.

3.  Protect ourselves

Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses can raise strength and courage ahead of tricky encounters
Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses can raise strength and courage ahead of tricky encounters

Ahimsa, or non-harm, is another tenet from Patanjali’s sutras, and also central to Buddhism and Hinduism. It’s a wide-ranging concept, encompassing kindness to people and animals, but also to oneself.

When on the the yoga mat practising our asanas (postures) we move within our limits and aim to “bend, not break.”

In daily life, we can take this principle further and set up a shield to protect ourselves from the harm that others try to send our way.

A story about the Buddha (admittedly said to be a fake Buddha quote) illustrates this:

One day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him.

The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

Yet it’s so easy to rise to the bait, to become angered and let that anger infect our actions, our minds and bodies. I’ve observed journalists become physically and mentally ill after years of working in the fast-paced fight or flight’ environment of deadlines and hostility.

It’s unusual to meet many working journalists over the age of 50 – we tend to burn out. What’s kept me going was discovering yoga some 16 years ago.

One take-away trick I use before going into situations which might be emotionally challenging is to find a private place (often the loo!) to practice a few Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2) postures. It’s a powerful stance which builds inner strength, courage and self-protection.

Or as Star Wars philosophy would have it ‘May the Force be with you.”

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