Yoga Philosphy 101- The Yamas & Niyamas: AHIMSA
Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings or simply put “kindness”
“Raise your words, not your voice,
it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder”
So this week we are looking at Ahimsa which directly translated means "non-violence" or put more simply means "kindness" and how we can integrate this Yama in to our every day life.
I have split this in to small bite sized pieces & illustrated these with a practice or experience from it’s application in my life. Hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to apply this practice in your life too.
Living with love & kindness, being kind to yourself, positive self-talk.
I don’t think there are many people who don’t give themselves a hard time sometimes (or a lot of the time). We all have a mean little voice in our heads that says things to us we would NEVER say to anyone else. However, it is possible to change these voices if you shine a light on them & practice to change them. Our thoughts & feelings become our actions & habits so by changing how we think we can change how we act & react in situations which would usually result in unkindness.
Try this: spend a couple of days being aware of when you are hearing that little voice & the things it is saying. Write down the 3 most common negative phrases you use & then create 3 positive phrases to counteract them. Write them on the bathroom mirror, on a piece of paper in your pocket. Repeat them to yourself every morning as you brush your teeth & every night before bed.
During the day, each time you catch yourself thinking these things stop, take a breath & repeat to yourself your positive counter-phrase. It’s really hard initially & it feels like it won’t work (eye-roll & “yeah, right” was my first reaction to this technique) but it REALLY works. After a week or so you will notice the negative voice is less present & less audible. Eventually it goes completely. But keep up the positive talk because it’s easy to slide back in to those old habits if you don’t keep practicing.
Yoga Practice in Kindness
When I teach I always invite my students to be kind to themselves in their practice. Yoga is not a punitive practice at it’s heart but many teachers teach it as such & many of us come at it from a sports rather than spiritual background & as such carry with us a “no pain no gain” mentality. Many of the modern postural yoga practices with their roots in western achievement culture & gymnastics are based on somatic dominance (listen to J. Brown’s Yoga Podcast with Matthew Remski here if you want to understand more about this term & it’s impact on yoga practices).
When you are practicing yoga asana, always ask yourself in each pose whether the pose feels good in your body. Please don’t bully your body. Have a clear & open mind each time you go to your mat & question why you are practicing yoga the way you are. Is it serving your body? For a long time I pushed myself in to a strong vinyasa practice on days when I just wanted to lay on the floor & breathe. Both are still valid practices if you are listening to your heart & body and doing what feels right for you in that moment. Some days it is good to do a strong gymnastic practice to get the bloody pumping & the sweat flowing but sometimes it’s nice to curl up in front of the fire with a blanket & bolster & practice nadi shodana!
This also goes for meditation & mindfulness practices. I struggled for a very long time with seated meditation practices because I found sitting still & breathing incredibly hard. Teachers would just say I needed to just do more of it; that I wasn’t practicing enough to see the fruits of my labours. Even now I struggle with it. However, when I found the yoga nidra practices I finally managed to find that place of quietness & stillness.
Often yoga nidra is not seen as true meditation by some schools of yoga as it is usually associated with Step 5 of the 8-fold path; Pratyahara – sense withdrawal. However, through my regular & sustained practice & exploration of yoga nidra practices I believe it is a real expression of all of the steps from dharana, dhyana & leading to Samadhi. Again, I think some schools don’t see it as a true practice probably because it is so easeful & we have so embodied & internalised that ethic of nothing being worthwhile unless it’s difficult or challenging that we discount it as a practice because it is so comfortable. It doesn’t make it an easy practice though! I have had some strong & powerful insights, shifts & experiences in this practice. Probably because my physical body was so comfortable & I could completely let my body & breath go. As with everything it is ALL about the intention.
There has been a lot written about self-care online recently & for women a lot of it in the media equates to new clothes or a facial or manicure. Pffft.
What I have learnt is that self-care is different for each person. It is doing the simple things that make you feel more yourself.
For me it is making sure I have 20 minutes at the end of each day in quiet, by myself to do something I love; usually yoga nidra, singing/chanting, reading, knitting or weaving. It is making sure I exercise & practice yoga every day. It is going to bed at a reasonable time & making sure I eat well.
What does self-care look like for you?
Boundaries & Saying Sorry
Develop better boundaries.
Say “no” to things more often & don’t offer an explanation. Be strong in you No.
I am terrible at saying no. I often know straight away that I don’t want to do something but don’t want to disappoint, let someone down or reject their kindness so I will often say yes & then be the flaky friend who doesn’t turn up or cancels plans at the last minute. In recent months I have stopped doing this. I have taken a moment to think & check in to see if it is something I want to do, I have then checked my calendar to see if it is actually a possibility for me & then said a clear & emphatic yes, or no. Those few moments to think & commit have saved me a lot of stress!
The flip side of this is to also say yes. To things that excite you or make you happy or, for an extra challenge, things that scare you. By making your no count you also add extra power & energy to making your yes count too.
For a little explanation about boundaries watch this by Brene Brown.
Saying sorry. We don't always behave in a way that we want to or should do. We all lose it sometimes, do or say the wrong thing & deliberately or inadvertently hurt those around us. Knowing & acknowledging when we have done this is the first step to changing our behaviour going forwards.
A big heartfelt sorry to someone can heal a hurt; both for them & you. Forgive yourself if you do the wrong thing too. It takes practice & letting go of your own agenda.
Kindness to Other Beings
Being kind to others by not hurting someone physically, mentally or emotionally. Be kind in thought, action & speech.
I love Sai Baba’s quote
“Before you speak ask yourself:
Is it Kind
Is it true
Is it necessary
Does it improve on the silence?”
Being kind to all beings whether they are human or not. Understanding that people who look, speak & behave differently to you are equally needful & deserving of your kindness as those that you can easily identify with & relate to.
Seriously consider becoming a vegetarian or at least reducing your meat consumption. If you are already a vegetarian, consider becoming a vegan. If neither of those things sit well with you then maybe have 3-4 days meat free per week. This has a significant impact on animal welfare & there is growing scientific evidence that reducing meat, egg & diary consumption has a huge positive impact on not just your health but the environment including global climate change, deforestation, habitat & biodiversity loss. If you need a prod in that direction please read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It definitely galvanised the wavering vegetarian in me. Modern factory farming methods are truly horrific & if you are going to eat meat you should know how it is raised & make informed choices.
So, there you go. Kindness. Any easy practice to understand but not always easy to do. Where can you start? What changes can you make in your life to live in a more kind-hearted way? Please leave your comments below!
Next week we will be looking at Satya: Truthfulness.