If you go to enough yoga classes, you will eventually hear your teacher talk about Ahimsa, the practice of non-violence to self and others. This is one of the Yamas of Yoga as given to us from Patanjali, the person credited with founding yoga. The Yamas are a set of guidelines that explain how we as yogis should interact with the external world.
So what does non-violence to self or others mean? It means not harming yourself or others, but not just by how we traditionally think of “violence,” with guns or fists or other weapons. Violence can be surrounding yourself with people who belittle or demean you; eating processed, fried, chemical-laden food; or abusing alcohol or drugs. These are a few of the ways we are violent to ourselves.
Violence to self can also include your yoga practice. Often times in a class, a teacher will tell you to push to your edge but not go beyond. But how can you find your edge, if you don’t occasionally go past the edge?
I was violent to myself last night in my yoga teacher training program. As a yoga teacher in training, I of all people, should know better.
In last night’s class, we were learning how to do and teach inversion poses, handstand and crow pose. Both are poses that require a significant amount of upper body and core strength. I am still trying to gain back strength in my right arm that was offline for most of last year due to my surgery.
I did the best that I could in all of the poses but I wound up pushing beyond my edge and injuring myself. I imagine I’m not alone in that. Looking back, I should’ve walked out about halfway through the class.
But I stayed because of my ego, my desire to learn the required poses as part of our teacher training program; my need to conform to the group; my desire to please my teachers and not let them or myself down.
That’s the problem, when your ego starts making your decisions, you’re not following your true path. That’s another valuable life lesson from yoga. I have no plans to ever teach either of those poses. I prefer to teach classes that focus more on Restorative and Gentle yoga practices. I don’t believe in putting anyone into a pose that I myself cannot or will not do.
I learned a valuable lesson in Ahimsa last night. As I lay here today in horrible pain, I found and exceeded my edge and yoga and did violence to my body. Also, I allowed my ego to control my actions instead of listening to my heart.
Where do you do violence to yourself? Where do you go beyond your edge and allow your ego to control your actions?
It can be more difficult to follow your heart and practice Ahimsa. You can feel like your letting yourself or others down.
Do you have the strength to live with your heart and follow your true path? Can you practice Ahimsa?