Beyond the Mat: Ahimsa in life
As my experience with my 300 hour yoga training and immersion began last weekend, we have been invited in the weeks until our next meeting to explore the yamas within the experiences, thoughts, patterns, and wanderings of the daily experience.
The root of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the yamas, codified by Patañjali in the Yoga Sutras, are the yamas. The yamas are external ethical principles to guide ones’ interactions with the world around them. They are guides for how we interact and move through the experiences in the world and our relationship to those around us. (I'll share my experience with the other Limbs of yoga another time.)
“The external disciplines, or yamas, are the way we yoke ourselves in relation to the world. This includes not only objects but also beings. Thus, the yamas guide our actions toward the benefit of all life. However, the “great vow” is not so much altruistic as practice, as Patañjali explains below, for the yamas benefit the individual at least as much as society, with each of its aspects bringing us around toward equanimity and insight by eliminating a set of distractions….For this reason, the yamas must not be thought of as moral commandments but as skillful ways to relate to the world without adding to its suffering or ours.” (Hartranft, p. 33-34)
Our invitation in Week 1 is to observe ahimsa, which can be translated as "do no harm". More commonly, this yama is considered to encourage the practices of non-violence - toward oneself, toward the environment, toward all living beings. This can be offering compassion, but this can also be observing and updating the mental stories one tells ourselves. The mental stories we have heard so many times before that we may not have realized are continually streaming through our consciousness.
Ahimsa encompasses everything from:
- am I practicing patience when sitting in a traffic jam?
- do i remind myself it is okay when a mistake is made?
- how am I treating myself and my partner if we are in a disagreement?
What did I observe this week?
I have quite a few stories, This is the work of a perpetually recovering perfectionist.
I have much more patience with others than I do with myself. But when I pause when being impatient with myself, it becomes more natural to step back from whatever the frustration or story is. I can find the humor, the opposing perspective, or simply rest the mental commentary.
What else did I experience this week?
I found examples of compassion and caring, such as the coming across The Empowerment Plan, a business based in Detroit, MI that employees women from local homeless shelters to make coats for others living in shelters or who are homeless.
I was able to start recommiting to my mediation practice. And since we were also invited to add Nadi Shodhana (alternative nostril breathing) to our mediation practice, I was able to experiment with those perfectionist mental stories as I navigated trying the breath practice without use of my hand.
I found myself a bit more at rest, even with nights that were a bit restless.
The beautiful, if often challenging, reminder that to navigate the world with compassion and perspective, I have to start with myself. To do this, I can continue to introduce ways to find humor amid challenge, to find grace under pressure, and to appreciate all that I bring forth.
As I prepared to teach my weekly class this week, I decided to share readings around ahimsa and self-love. So I offer this here too - ahimsa as a daily practice for living.
"...to practice falling in love with myself...I was curious what affect this would have on others as well as on me. Falling in love is such a delightful place. The other can do no wrong. The loved one is always beautiful and delightful to be with, and you want to be with them all the time. Falling in love leaves no room for the violence of expectations and judgements; it is free for delight and joy and spontaneity. Everyone around the lover also feels the love. Love creates a spontaneous combustion that includes all in its path.
Love lies at the core of nonviolence and begins with our love of self. Not a love that is ego-centric, but a love that is forgiving and lenient; a love that sees the humor in imperfections and accepts the fullness of the human expression". (Adele, pg.31)
Adele, Deborah. The yamas & niyamas: Exploring yoga's ethical principles. On-Word Bound Books, LLC: Duluth, MN, 2009.
Hartranft, Chip. The yoga-sutra of Patañjali: A new translation with commentary. Shambala Publications: Boston, 2003.