ASK A YOGI: SISTERS IN ACTIVISM

In this edition's Ask A Yogi, we spend an afternoon with sisters Ruby and Christabel Reed, co-founders of Advaya Initiative, a London-based activist collective focused on empowering communities to live in greater harmony with the environment.

Words: Ruby Reed, Christabel Reed, Jill Damatac Futter //  Images: Jill Damatac Futter

How did this interest in yoga, and activism, and the environment develop for you two, as sisters? 

Ruby: We both had our own very similar recognitions separately, and then we came together with this ready-formed passion for yoga. But we developed that passion in different times, different places, different cities. Christabel did her teacher training, and I was just practicing and getting more passionate about it, and eventually did my own teacher training. We weren't so much influenced by each other, I don't think, and it was the same with environmentalism. I don't know where my love for it came from--

Christabel: You were always sooo outdoorsy, though. Ruby's like a mermaid, she's obsessed with the sea (both laugh). You love all outdoor activity so much.

Ruby: Yeah! And just travelling--we always went on holiday to amazing places when we were younger and even just here in England, outside in the country, going into the mountains...this passion for nature, and the environment, and the terrible sadness at seeing the destruction that goes on and reading about it. I remember going to India, and we ended up on this wrong road, and we drove past this enormous factory--it must have been a plant of some description--and it was this awful landscape of grayness and sadness. People were gray, the land was gray...it really opened my eyes to the realities of mass industrialization and the environmental effects of that. From there, I found that I could use the practice--the yoga practice is so empowering, and it helps you connect on a deeper spiritual level to yourself, but then also connects you to every person and every being in the natural world, and how we're all a part of that.

Christabel: I've always loved nature, but I didn't always have that same feeling of purpose, to defend all beings. It wasn't until yoga became a part of my daily practice, because it gives you time to let your worries and anxieties and personal responsibilities to fade away for a moment, and I think that gives space to connect the individual consciousness to a more universal consciousness, to see what are the real issues in the world, and what can you do to help that. I think that, still being quite young, I'm at a time where I can choose to do something that I love doing, but has a positive effect in the world, then I can lead a fulfilling life--so long that it's something that can create positivity on a larger level, then that is what I want to do.

Ruby: You were good at recognizing that from the beginning, whereas after university, even though I had all of this passion, I was still thinking, "no, I have to get a corporate job, I have to do this degree, get my MA, get my corporate work experiences". I had this job, and was fast-tracking myself onto this corporate career pathway, inside, I thought, "no, I want to do this other thing", but I resisted, I thought, "no, that's not respectable". I was measuring my idea for success by grades, and career progress, and what my life looked like on paper, rather than what it felt like as a person. I didn't want that to be my future, forever.

Christabel: Bringing the two together--I think we inspired each other once we discovered that we wanted the same exact thing.

Ruby: It's amazing to be passionate about something and to be able to share it not only with a friend, but also a member of your own family, in this case, my sister (both laugh) It's so great to be able to bore someone to death about it...but not actually bore them to death! 

Advaya Initiative has an aim of "increasing harmony between human lives and the natural world". Could you tell us more about that?

Christabel: I think that bringing human lives into harmony with the natural world...we've forgotten that we're a part of nature, that since the industrial revolution, it's been this dynamic of us versus nature: how can we harness nature for our own benefit, and our own goals, rather than seeing it as we're all a part of this larger world. This isn't necessarily a new idea--it's just bringing life back into balance, how it should be. We should see nature and the world as something to be in harmony with, rather than something to use and extract from and destroy. We should nurture it, and let it nurture us.

Ruby: There's currently this idea of re-wilding, which says that humans shouldn't make things grow, but that we should let things grow, and we become a part of that. 

Some of our themes in this issue are activism and empowerment. In terms of cultivating a life of activism, what are your thoughts on that? 

Ruby: Definitely self-education. I wish I could say that I was a full activist already--I'm not, at all, I wish I was, but I'm just starting to make proper changes in my life, how I live my life, how I relate to other people, the world around me, and the natural world especially. But small things, like changing your electricity provider to use renewable energy, or being aware of the foods you eat, of what you consume.

Christabel: I think that the yoga practice, in itself, even simply practicing every day can give you that space for self-reflection, where you can see the habitual thought patterns and habits that lead you down paths which are the roots of how we behave as humans. What do you really need, and what does the rest of the world need? We're so fed by the media with all of these paradigms of thought which allow us to continue to perpetuate the same issues surrounding ecological and economic imbalances. When you start to slow down your mind and start to reflect on issues surrounding you and the world, that's where the change begins.

Ruby: I think that it's also important to share the knowledge, rather than just sitting on it. Tell people why you're a vegetarian, or why you've become a vegan. Share documentaries that you've seen, of books and articles that you've read. Do the bit that you can to open others' eyes to these things. It's more than possible to integrate a lifestyle that is more aligned to nature without alienating yourself from your social circles. And it can spread in small ways, even if it's one friend, or a family member. Gradually, with time, the more people live with awareness of their actions, the more it will become normal. And on a larger scale--investments. Investment has grown in green industries over the last few years, going back to 2010. 

Christabel: Activism is so important on a grassroots level. Governments are starting to withdraw from green economies and investments, only to perpetuate environmental degradation through methods such as fracking, fossil fuels, or nuclear power, though that has its good and bad.

As a collective--Advaya INITIATIVE is a team effort. What has that been like working together as a team, with a common goal?

Christabel: The event we had this past September was amazing. We were all there really early in the morning, the night before we had been making the signs, and the decorations--it was a group of ten of us, working together to make this event happen.

Ruby: It's really wonderful to share this with others. That's where the collective really happens, running up to the event, in the preparation. And when we were there, we had all of these people giving out food, preparing the mats with us, it was a real effort, and everyone was helping one another. It was a lovely, empowering, community effort. 

Christabel: We do want to promote community, this idea of empowered collective action, to make Advaya a sort of microcosm to how we could all work together. 

Ruby: Advaya itself means "nondualism"--advayita. And it's so wonderful to be taking that side of yoga, to make it a part of our collective lives. 

Christabel: As a global society, we need to bring down barriers, to not be thinking of separation, not just between countries or cultures, but also between humans and the natural world.

Ruby: People can feel so disempowered in the face of governments and injustices, and there's this sense of "oh, there's no point in doing this", but anybody can create change, especially together, and just believing that you--we--are important enough to make a difference is essential. 


ABOUT RUBY AND CHRISTABEL REED

As co-founders of London-based environmental collective Advaya Initiative, sisters Ruby and Christabel Reed create events whose mission is to expand knowledge, awareness, empowerment, and a sense of community around environmental issues. Ruby has just completed her 2-year yoga teacher training at Triyoga London and has just returned from a month in Mysore, India; Christabel, already a yoga teacher, having completed her 300-hour training in the Krishnamacharya tradition, is currently earning an MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at the esteemed SOAS, University of London. Learn more about Advaya Initiative on their website, and find them on Instagram or on Facebook.