Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas that make up the code of conduct for the eight limbs of Astanga Yoga.
When you read about ahimsa, it is often related to non-harm to others, and in particular to animals. Going deeper than that, for me, ahimsa is kindness/nonviolence to oneself.
Last night in one of my classes, we were working on headstand for the first time. About five minutes into the practice, someone stopped and said, “I feel like I am six years old again. I never learned to do headstands or handstands when I was little, and that makes me quite sad. I feel totally out of my depth.”
We have all experienced this feeling, or one like it. It is a mixture of emotions– fear, sadness, frustration. Often when we experience these emotions, we beat ourselves up for not being better or working harder.
As a teacher, I feel these moments and insights are the key to true yoga teaching: how can we use spontaneous insights to get to the essence of yoga?
In this example, I gave the yogini in question the first part of the exercise again in order for her to work towards the strength and connection that may one day lead to headstand, thereby facilitating her ability to connect with something tangible that she can feel in her current practice.
Maybe she will eventually do headstand; maybe she wont. For me, it is irrelevant, in that through her honest and astute observations, she chose to stick with the preparatory version I had given and not force herself into a posture that she was not ready for.
This, in my view, is the true practice of yoga. It is the process of letting go of the ego and not pushing forward into postures for the sake of it. If more yoga practitioners practiced ahimsa, many injuries could be prevented.
In the end, yoga postures are not there to polish the ego. Yoga postures are a vehicle to open and unblock the physical body and ultimately teach us about the bigger picture.
There will always be something else to find and do, and this for me, is the exciting part of yoga, and life. If we could do it all today, we would be pretty bored, right? And yet, we struggle with the desire to be able to do everything here and now.
The true challenge is practicing in the present moment and accepting where we are. Interestingly, when we practice in this way, this is often when the body begins to open. The present is the only certain and true thing, and being in it is one of the hardest, and yet most simple things to do in life.
This is where yoga transcends a class and becomes a life practice:
How can we bring the principle of ahimsa into the work place and into our relationships with our partner or children?
Essentially, by dropping the judgement and allowing ourselves (and in turn those around us) to be where we are right here, right now. And interestingly, this is the key to change.
Editor: Nikki Di Virgilio
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