Living Ahimsa

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.


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A Drop of Goodness

I am not in this world to change people’s minds.

At all.

But I am in this world to be a drop of goodness that I hope will better humanity. I believe I am also here to remind others the responsibility to engage with fellow humans from the place of respect and oneness.

The last few months I have been faced with some tough situations that have invited me to look closely at the people I surround myself with. Along with the tough situations I have experienced, it may also be that taking the big turn becoming fifty this year has brought about a deeper wisdom about myself and where I want to invest my energy.

Or perhaps with more clarity, who I want to invest my energy with.

Maybe I just have a huge need to get off my heart the sadness that I have witnessed by people in recent months or maybe my honesty will spur someone else to think about their own role in the division and indifference to humanity that is so obvious these days.

In a world where it seems many people are focused on themselves, I am seeing some incredible discouraging characteristics; selfishness, hatred, self-centeredness and greed to name a few. And what saddens me even more is that my recent experiences have come from so called “healers”. People who claim to care about others, yet their actions are so out of alignment with those claims.

When I look at the world around me and the last few months, the word that keeps coming up to me is respect.

Respect, by the way is not words that can be easily typed into a text or portrayed through social media. I am talking about looking around at the world and acting with respect and to truly hold each other in deep regard.

Respect is treating or thinking about something or someone with honor. In a world where many have limited drinking water or warm beds to crawl into, I am deeply bothered that so many people will invest their emotions and time into arguing over simple acts of stewardship for each other as we all share this planet. It boggles my mind that some people feel that having to follow certain recommendations are not okay when really the intent is looking out for the safety of fellow beings. You know those things like stops signs, seat belts, speed limits that prevent less death, less injury. They certainly don’t eliminate every single event, but they greatly reduce tragedy. And yet, those things don’t take away rights, they just help to keep everyone safer and show respect for others.

Actions of respect. Doing what is best, not just for themselves, but for others. That is the essence of respectful actions.

Simple, right?

It seems not so much these days. In this all about me life our world seems to be living, it is grueling for someone like me who expects, and even demands respect.

In the last 18 months I have lost, or chose, to step away from many people who I was completely shocked to learn the truth of them, instead of just seeing the externally projected perfect Instagram loving people many of them have claimed to be. I saw the depth of their lack of respect for others.

Sometimes taking a hard look at your tribe or circle of people can be much needed. This is bigger than just slicing through your Facebook “friends” with a quick click. I am talking about taking a stand for what your heart feels and using discernment to kindly step away.

Reevaluating who is in your tribe can sometimes feel daunting. It can be incredibly isolating and down-right scary. I have even had a few times in the last year that the disappointment brought about periods of deep sadness.

When we start the process of choosing who we want to have in our tribe, we have to remember that this is not about ourselves being right and them being wrong, although it sure does feel like it, instead this is about aligning yourself with people who hold you up and who protect your heart. It is about making sure that the ones you choose to share your energy with will respect you and are grateful to be part of your life.

Aligning myself with those who are here to make a difference in the world for the better of humanity is where I want to be. After all, a single drop of respect and goodness can make some big waves in the world.