It’s only yoga…so why do we constantly beat ourselves up on our mats? Whether it is judging our bodies, comparing our practice to someone else’s or forcing our limbs into something they are not ready for, our mat can often become a battleground of sweat, pain and judgement! It got me thinking, how often do we forget that yoga is more than just physical?
When it comes to the practice of yoga postures or asana, we can get caught up in the notion that this is the only tool in the yoga box. In fact, asana is the third rung on the ladder of what is known as the eight limbs of yoga. This path to enlightenment was laid down in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras a long time before we ever had funky yoga clothing and studios. As one of the founding fathers of yoga, Pantajali was a guy who knew what he was talking about. Before we even get into the physical, he highlighted two things we should tackle – the yamas and the niyamas. I like to think of them as yoga’s little moral and ethical codes, and over the next few weeks we will take a look at each one and how they can relate to our yoga and life.
The first of five of the yamas is ahimsa, which literally means non-violence. It relates to refraining from physical violence against all creation, something which the Jain religion takes to the extreme. Some Jains will wear masks over their mouths to avoid inhaling small insects, while others carry a brush to sweep away any living thing that might get in their path. Beyond the physical, ahimsa also relates to things like criticism and judgement – essentially it is the constant practice of patience and compassion towards ourselves and others. As the Yoga Sutras put it: “In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.”
So how can we bring the spirit of ahimsa into our yoga practice? It starts with our intention – to invite peace and stillness into our mind and body, to work with the right balance of effort and challenge, without causing ourselves pain, physically or mentally. While you practice ask yourself a few questions…Am I forcing this pose? Am I judging myself harshly? Am I comparing myself negatively to others? When we bring a little ahimsa into our practice, we can really start to benefit from the healing power of yoga, and avoid getting swept away in the desire to physically perform.
And finally, what about ahimsa off the mat? The good old Dalai Lama sums it up nicely…
“We must behave in a way that does not benefit us alone. We must not harm the interests of others. Nonviolence therefore is not merely the absence of violence. It involves a sense of compassion and caring. It is almost a manifestation of compassion. Each individual has the ability to contribute to such compassionate nonviolence.”