This is the first in a series of articles, A Yoga Course in Miracles: exploring the 10 essential principles of yoga, and how each principle can be practiced not only on the yoga mat but also in our day-to-day lives to liberate us through love and understanding. Read the second article here and the third here.
What has become most noticeable on my journey through teaching yoga for 20 years now—through its move from the minority to the mainstream—is its shift from the genuine spiritual to the disingenuous physical.
The spiritual I speak of is not concerned with chanting to this god or that, praying for gifts, or prostration before a bendy goddess or bearded guru.
The spiritual I speak of is concerned with specific mental and emotional qualities, cultivated in the heart and mind, both on the yoga mat, and (just as importantly) when we move off the mat and into our regular lives.
The first of these essential qualities is ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the foundation of our yoga practice.
The Sanskrit word can be translated as sensitivity or nonviolence. On the yoga mat, this translates as doing no harm to ourselves. As we move slowly into a yoga posture, our body is continually giving us feedback, informing us what we are feeling and thinking.
Encouraging students not to think in yoga is a common mistake. Thinking is just as important as feeling. The heart and mind should be viewed like the sun and moon.
The word hatha, translates as ha meaning sun, and tha meaning moon, referring to the masculine and feminine aspects within each of us. Hatha yoga is the path of cultivating balance between these complementing aspects of heart and mind, thought and feeling, masculine and feminine, body and soul.
In a yoga posture we listen to the feedback of our thoughts and feelings—they are our guide to where we are, where we might be going, and where we have been. We listen, and discern from what we hear.
We discern between what feels right and what feels wrong. We discriminate between the good reactions and the bad. We judge what nourishes and gives to us, and what is malnourished and takes from us.
This may be the first time you have read that yoga is a process of discrimination and judgement. Because there has been a concerted effort to sanitise yoga, to make it fit into a New Age, politically correct Western box.
However, yoga comes from a different and ancient culture; it originates from a culture of consciousness and wisdom that judges right from and wrong and discriminates between good and bad.
It is wrong to harm yourself in yoga, it is good to practice sensitivity in yoga.
How often this first yoga precept of ahimsa is ignored in the face of ambition. How often are we willing to hurt ourselves in the pursuit of flexibility and strength. The ambition and the no pain no gain mentality borrowed from sports psychology has no place in a yoga practice founded in ahimsa.
A yoga posture is meant to heal, not to harm.
Through patient practice on the yoga mat, sensitivity and nonviolence become ingrained in every cell in our body, ingrained in our very being. It then becomes a naturally programmed response to treat other people just as we have learned to treat ourselves on the yoga mat.
In the organic transfer from yoga mat to everyday life, we are then able discern and deny the destructive power games our culture conditions us to play. Our reconditioned and discerning thoughts, words, and actions become peaceful, compassionate, and we do no harm.
Peace in our hearts and minds radiates peace to other hearts and minds, just as surely as power and its expression of empowerment moves others to be equally or more empowered. The age-old human arms race.
Where will this arms race for power end? It ends with you, in your own heart and mind, on the yoga mat and then off it.
Yoga is not a method to empower the self but rather a path to surrender the self.
Despite the proliferation of yoga porn and the mindless messaging from glossy yoga magazines, a yoga posture is a personal practice for inner peace, not a pose for public performance and external approval.
Too often, genuine yoga philosophy is substituted with the pale imitations of sports psychology and self-help book psychobabble.
Yoga is not a method to be in the present moment, but rather a way of seeing all moments with equal value inclusively, rather than prejudiciously promoting the value of one moment exclusively.
Without these authentic yoga precepts to guide us, the ancient and magical practice of yoga becomes little more than gymnastics dressed up in the emperor’s New Age clothes—and the opportunity for the real miracles of yoga to manifest in our lives is lost.
The super strong, hyper flexible and habitually dissatisfied yogin is commonplace, but the genuinely gentle, generous, and fulfilled yogin remains a rare species.
With the heartfelt practice of ahimsa on and off the yoga mat, you can truly be the change you want to see in the world.