Many of us first discover yoga on a sticky yoga mat, exploring the physical postures. There is a whole world Yoga that we don't often hear about. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras refer to the eight limbed path and a part of this path are the Yamas (restraints) and the Niyamas (observances). Whether we are on our mat or out in the world, we can practice yoga. Ahimsa is the first Yama and the place that we like to start.
Ahimsa is often defined as the idea of "non-violence" and may also include words like compassion, understanding and self-love. This may be expressed in the way that we speak, the way that we think and the way that we act. In a fast paced society, many of us find ourselves speaking without a filter. Words tumble out of our mouths or onto a screen, quickly, without much thought. When we practice ahimsa, when we act with compassion, from a place of love, we are able to exist in a world without adding more violence.
Many of us think of the aftermath of guns, knives and fists when we think of the word violence. We may see ourselves as a pacifist and recognize that we have never physically fought. But we may also want to consider our own inner dialogue. How do we speak to ourselves? Do we look in the mirror and criticize the way we look? Do we call ourselves stupid? Or are we patient and compassionate with ourselves. We may want to notice our thoughts, our feelings and create space for self-love. We must start with ourselves.
The yoga practice allows us to have a starting point. Even as we practice the physical postures and put our bodies into shapes, we discover we have choices. Do we go into a plank posture and struggle through when we aren't ready? Would we be more loving to ourselves if we took the option to come to our knees or let ourselves completely surrender to the mat? Are we moving in a way that allows us to focus on our breath first and then move? Are we paying attention to how we feel and allowing ourselves to feel good? Or do we let the practice be another form of self-violence? When we practice, we have choices. We have control over our own life. We slow down, we breathe, we feel and we notice. We practice self-love and then we take that off of the mat, showing kindness, compassion and love. The fruits of our practice are then able to ripple out into our community.
When you combine this personal practice, the value of non-violence towards us, this compassion towards ourselves, it becomes a very powerful thing. We gain skills of patience, grace, strength, silliness and ease that we bring out into the world. Yogis aren't all built the same way, and yes we all experience the realm of human emotion, including anger. But to do so in a place of ease in us is quite powerful. Many of the world’s struggles and inequalities revolve around power. When we seek to have power over others, oftentimes that goal actually comes from a place of lack within ourselves. If we all loved ourselves completely, did not need to seek out power, much of the world’s problems could be solved.
I challenge you to first look at how you show up in the world. Are you positive? Do people feel at ease and supported by you? Can you go one whole week without complaining? One week where you focus on what you are grateful for. Maybe you will find an accountability buddy, and both of you can do this together. This may be a difficult challenge, but maybe you will notice how you feel and how others respond when you show up to life in this way.
By Jenn Olsen - ULP Board of Directors