Trauma-informed yoga guide, Taimour Ahmed stresses the importance of retaining our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing as activists, proposing that we need as many healers as we do fighters and people can be both

2022 marks a decade since I became politicised. It’s been a transformative ten years, and I’m now thirty-two. In those ten years, I’ve befriended some amazing people, supported some amazing projects and hopefully positively impacted the lives of others through my own work. Generally speaking, it’s been life-changing to see every day people come together to build platforms and movements with very little resources. In spite of all the growing challenges in our communities.

Looking at the progress in the British landscape, in those 10 years, the fight against structural inequalities has only intensified, whether that be fighting deportations, police violence, gentrification or violence against marginalised communities. It feels like a lot has changed and yet nothing has changed at the same time. 

Amongst all the outward challenges of being an activist from a racialised community, as a qualified trauma-informed yoga guide I’ve made a greater effort to understand my internal life. An area which I felt needs greater attention, especially in relation to activism. Having ‘grown up’ in the movement, if I reflect back on my journey through a trauma-informed lens, I feel that not enough importance is given to understanding the personal trauma of activists as individuals. All of which can create complex challenges for the individual and ultimately the cause they’re advocating for. 

The Student to Activist Pipeline and Its Flaws

Growing up I was barely aware of politics; a problematic teenager who openly made transphobic, homophobic and other discriminatory remarks. It was in my first year of university I read Malcolm X’s autobiography and it changed my life. Malcolm’s words exposed me to truths I had known and experienced yet unconsciously chosen to ignore in an effort to not ‘rock the boat’. Existing as a student in the wider landscape of increasing tuition fees, decreasing benefits and drone warfare in 2011-2012, I started to become politicised. Through reading, attending events, protests and this growing thing called Twitter, my world opened just that little bit. The ‘student to activist’ pipeline introduced me to external concepts like Marxism and Anti-Imperialism and it encouraged participation in events and protests. However, looking back, there was no exploration of inward concepts like navigating trauma, exploring motivation or even ego-management. This is where I feel like I would have benefited a lot, especially as a young adult with a lot of unresolved trauma. Trauma that I ultimately took into my activism.

The Consequences of Not Understanding Trauma For Activists

The consequences of not understanding personal trauma are real for anyone, not just activists. Unresolved trauma plays out in various ways, whether it’s mental difference (i.e. anxiety to depression) or behavioural changes. Ultimately, our trauma shapes how we view and navigate the world. Specific to activism, one of the consequences of not understanding personal trauma is that people may end up latching onto activism as a means of self-identity to compensate for insecurities they have developed earlier in their life. For example, in my case, I didn’t do that well in school during my GCSEs. As a result, I developed deep insecurities about not feeling ‘smart enough’ in any social setting. These insecurities became more intense in activist circles where I had access to and engaged with some really smart people. 

My insecurities about not feeling ‘smart’ enough were intensified in 2014 when an article I wrote on beards and the stigmatisation of men of colour went viral. Instead of celebrating the article and what it had achieved, I used it as my defining moment for validation. Essentially, I used the article as a ‘look at me, I have some brains..’ moment to everyone around me. It was a defining moment as the surrounding noise became less about the message and more about the (my) ego. It’s not nice to openly admit that I devalued something in this way that meant so much to other people, but it’s the sad truth. Following this experience, things didn’t get any better. I continued to use anger as my fuel for activism. I actively sought out views that validated my mindset, i.e that anger is the only fuel we need in activism – when in reality care, empathy and kindness are equally as important. 

Realising that I was stuck in a cycle of seeking validation through my activism, I decided to take a break in 2019. I felt like I had nothing valuable to offer.

Exploring A Trauma-Informed Approach To Activism

In the extended period I stepped away from activism, I became qualified as a trauma-informed yoga guide, something which has radically reshaped how I view and engage with activism and how I live my life. Navigating activism through a trauma-lens has meant that I take time to understand my motivation for doing something before I commit to it – especially given my history. Before I commit to any work I think about the following things:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Who am I doing this for?
  • Am I doing this for selfish reasons?

Exploring these questions in the form of written journaling or even a conversation in my head has allowed me to understand my motivation before I work on anything. Outside of ego management, I also place a lot of importance on rest. Typically I find that I don’t make the best decisions when I am rundown or burnout. As a result, I actively say no to projects if I am at full capacity – even if I feel a level of guilt. All of which has helped me sustain my well-being while providing me with enough headspace to ask challenging but necessary questions. At its essence, trauma-informed care, for me, has been the act of small changes that have led to overall positive change.

What Does Activism Mean To Me Now

My idea of what it means to be an activist has radically developed in the last ten years and it feels quite cathartic to openly admit how my unresolved trauma impacted this part of my life. For me, activism now feels like a relay race. The hope is that we can pass the baton onto future generations and they have something solid to build upon, inshallah. Maintaining an outward lens, my focus now is to also ensure that I and other activists actually get to make it to the stage of being able to hand over the baton while retaining our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We need as many healers as we do fighters and people can be both. All of this requires a lot of individual and community orientated work rooted in joy, togetherness and healing. As Shane Thomas said in his article Why Do We Need Activism?

‘the truth is activism – when done right – isn’t a symptom of having too much time on your hands, being a killjoy, or manufacturing problems that don’t exist. It’s love actualised.’

This is why now, a decade later, I finally feel like I’ve found my place in the movement as hopefully someone who heals and nurtures. It’s taken a while, but I’m grateful to have arrived, despite all the pitfalls.

Taimour Ahmed is a trauma-informed yoga guide and mental health activist who mainly works with racialised communities. Find him on twitter @yogabytaimour 

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