The Sanskrit word Ahimsa. Some of us know this as the first limb in yoga from the Sutras. Yet the Sanskrit word may be misleading being translated into English. Non-harming or avoiding injury is a negative word so some prefer to use positive words. No matter the word though, the first reaction may be “of course” I wouldn’t harm anything. But it goes deeper into our own state of mind; includes one’s deeds, words and thoughts each moment of our life. What is harmful to one person may not be so to another. Additionally we may be unaware or resist. So how do we decide what is right?
If we make choices based on Ahimsa, we find that the rest of the limbs, from the Sutras, fall into place. Even if you don’t know the limbs- you may know “the golden rule”. Do unto others, do the right thing, good karma, etc. For example, you can’t be healthy if you steal, are untruthful, lustful or possessive.
I’m not denying that we are human and do unhealthy things. Truth is some may not care about being healthy at all. Point is that you can’t beat nature; which is why you can’t be one way and expect to change the outcome. One action causes another.
If you do want to be healthy you can stop buying all the “Self Help Books”. The answer is this 5000 year old practice; Yoga helps us determine if we are making healthy decisions or choices. A side effect of yoga is the physical form which we can clearly observe; this includes the body, eating, sleeping, environment etc. It is not the goal of yoga though. If you are making healthy choices, these things happen naturally. This doesn’t mean that yoga is a fitness. As Indra Mohan says “It is a work-in not a workout”.
As you keep practicing you change your awareness. You have to be prepared to fall off balance; the point isn’t to be perfect. That is why when you eat too much, drink all night, yell at traffic, gossip about a co-worker, we can tell immediately that the body is responding. We know when something is bad for us and the point is to find our own center of mental health again.
Asana is quite different than poses. Even this word is taken out of context and naturally what you can observe is easier to evaluate; therefore you assume posture is the practice called yoga. So you observe the positions (body) but there is so much more going on. The quieting of the mind, as the Sutras say. Pranayama (breath) becomes the most important limb; long & smooth breath, increasing awareness to promoting good health. Therefore it can change your actions, thoughts and emotions. By pausing we can change some of those mental patterns or habits we form within ourselves.
Asana isn’t to be dismissed though. Often we practice asana (Sutra Limb) for a reason – you can use your senses to observe. If you are doing a posture because that is what you do, then you have to consider if it is right for you now. Is your response based on an expectation, habit, who you want to be, or jealously?
We know our body is always changing but often we hold and resist. I am not comparing what I did at 14, 24, 34 and just so happy to be where I am now at 44. By allowing your body and mind to relax you can make good choices for you. Celebrate it!
This becomes harder as much is done and sold in the name of yoga. It isn’t yoga though and this is why so many are injured. Often we are stuck in the patterns of doing what we were told; following a “one-size fits all” pattern or series to try to be someone else. The media is great at tapping into this fear. There are those teaching yoga that believe in pushing or adjusting you to fit into a position that may not be right for you.
All that time you spent pushing yourself to being something or someone else is better off spent addressing that reaction. It helps your well-being, to be friendly and kind to yourself and then this has an effect on others. Ahimsa! Watch the breath – you can’t push that; the breath is honest with you. You can’t force it. You honor it and listen to it instead.
When you are upset, tense, angry the breath is short and shallow. There is a time for it of course. I help many expecting Moms deal with the pain in childbirth; we know that the first reaction with pain is to fight it. To form a new habit we change that path or direction and practice slowing the breath in asana. Then we can slowly remind and teach our mind that experience. We don’t come to yoga knowing this ahead of time; we come open and prepared to learn. That is why I like to consider myself at Level 0 for yoga classes I attend.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying to avoid challenging asana positions. For the individual they may ok with it. Headstand, for example, should be a smooth, long breath, just as in Tadasana (Standing Mountain). However we may choose a position based on emotion; we avoid what we need and do what we want. Many apply their exercise routine to yoga; pushing to see progress or change. Marketing knows this, which is why the word “Power” is sold. If we lack it or want it (envy), we’ll purchase it to obtain it. – right? I’ll drink a Power Drink instead of resting but sooner or later my body will communicate. Choice is yours but you can’t change the outcome. I can’t avoid the “Oil Light” forever. Sooner or later the car will stop.
Just as you may enjoy an image that reminds you of peace, you have to remember that someone else may feel differently. They aren’t stupid, dumb or other harmful names we use for having this reaction; they too have experiences and need to work within themselves to create their own state of bliss.
Instead of looking outside for the answers, trust that you have had them. I just came from a yoga workshop with AG & Indra Mohan. Interesting to see those lightbulbs go off with those attending. Some reaffirmed what they already practice and for others they knew it was there and were brought back to it. Just as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz found out – she had the answers all along. She asked the Witch why she didn’t just tell her in the beginning and she said “You had to find out for yourself”. When you are ready the teacher will appear.