One of my biggest gripes as a Yoga teacher is the assumption that Yoga is about the ability to touch your toes, or gain flexibility, or needing to being “good” at it in order to practice. Truth is it has really nothing to do with that at all..
One of my most treasured aspects of Yoga is how we go about with showing up for ourselves and others. This is the essence of Pantajali’s non-harming Sutra known as Ahimsa. Pausing to consider kindness (ahimsa) influences the choices you make and how you truly show up for yourself and for others. Ahimsa (pronounced “ah-heem-sah”) literally means “non-harming” or “non-violence” in Sanskrit. In it most basic level, it’s refraining from causing harm. In the ancient time in which the yamas were first written down, this idea was a pretty big deal. The ancient world was rather violent, so what seems like a relatively simple instruction in the developed modern world (not to hurt anybody) was a revolutionary idea 3000 years ago. Crazy, right?
As we practice ahimsa in today’s modern life, there is more to this idea of non-harming than simply refraining from acts of physical violence. We understand now that pain can be more than just physical – it can also be emotional and mental. The deepest pain we feel is often very emotional and it most often sprouts from our relationships with other human beings. The grief that we experience when we lose someone or a part of our life that meant so much to our identity. The loss of a relationship or a painful life change can bring about deep and soul-shattering pain.
When we practice ahimsa, we are thinking about how our actions could hurt others and doing so invites us to take into consideration the potential physical, emotional, and relational consequences of our actions. We pause to consider kindness.
This is Yoga.
This week my teaching and sharing Yoga varies from fit and active high school hockey players (with incredibly tight hamstrings), to the average middle aged woman seeking self-love, to the athletic man wanting to wind down, to the dear friend grieving the painful decision she made, to the many people in assisted living who have traumatic brain injuries.
Every single person that I was in front of learned about ahimsa. They also got to feel ahimsa in action.
Want to know how I know this? Because I witnessed the relief in their tired hearts from trying so hard to maintain their emotions, I watched the tears flow, I saw with my own eyes confidence rise simply with one word, I felt with my hands their muscles relax, I exchanged smiles, and I received the magic of knowing that my work matters. The foot rub for the man who receives no touch was ahimsa. And his ahimsa back to me was a twinkle in his eye as he thanked me.
I am frustrated with the non-kind world that exists where division and opinions flood our everyday lives. I am saddened at the lack of humanity and desperate need to be heard in what seems to be a constant “what about ME” mentality. I am exhausted with the lack of kindness for fellow human beings.
But, I chose kindness despite my own struggling emotions. I offered ahimsa for the exhausted world in which I get to share Yoga. I pause. To listen. To see. To feel. To give.