Yoga Off the Mat: Ahimsa
As we jump into the Yamas and Niyamas in detail, we could “save the best for last”… OR we could begin at the beginning. The Yama that oversees all other Yamas, the umbrella standard for our Yoga off the mat: Ahimsa. Ahimsa directly translates to “Nonviolence”, however, upon picking apart this beautiful concept, we peel back layers and find so much more than “don’t be violent”. When we begin with Ahimsa, allowing it to permeate all other actions and thoughts, we create a core foundation of well-being and right-doing. In building our house of Ahimsa, the floor plan must first be to find our courage. Without the fearlessness to dive into life headfirst, to experience the pitfalls and still continue, to disagree and still understand, we cannot possibly live our true Ahimsa.
When living a fearless life, the self must be in balance. In the Yoga community, we hear about the “Chakras being in balance” or “balancing our diets”. What is it about balance that drives Yogis to deeper self-exploration? The concept is simple: Balance is the act of listening to our inner voice. Listening well enough to understand on a deep level what our bodies need, what our minds are craving. With a culture that is so constantly moving and doing, the idea of taking a moment to listen deeply to ourselves to retain balance seems unheard of. This pause to determine our truth is quite possibly the most non-violent act we can ask for in a moment’s notice.
As aware beings, we question most things. One of the most consistently questioned ideas is of course our own power. We walk through life fearing our own power, getting trapped in situations where we feel like we’ve run out of options, and thusly outburst with aggression and violence. Ahimsa asks us to question this powerlessness instead of accepting it. When we utilize the choice we have to shift our thinking in situations of little hope, we embrace the shortcomings and allow appreciation to take the reins. Times when we feel most powerless can be the greatest opportunities to grow and learn.
When we’re most balanced, how do we feel about ourselves? When we aren’t happy with ourselves, how do we treat others? Can we help how we appear to others when we’re at battle internally? Ahimsa says no. How we treat ourselves is a direct reflection of how we treat others. If you are sorrowful and pitiful, your presence will be one of pity. If you are forgiving and loving toward yourself, you will love and forgive outwardly. On the alternate, when we cannot love and accept inwardly, we throw tiny stones that can have lasting impacts on others.
Ah, now comes the most typical picture of nonviolence – Violence toward others. While some of us might think “Yeah, I’m not going to punch my neighbor, obviously…”, nonviolence goes much further than that. The subtle nonviolence we look past daily can have deep impacts on those around us. One of my favorite instances of this is the distinction between “helping” and “supporting”. When we help the people we care for, this indicates a feeling of superiority and distrust in the others’ abilities. Support, however, allows us to trust the others’ knowing and autonomy, acting with Ahimsa toward their journey. The same trust and love comes into play when we decide to truly listen, instead of waiting for our turn to speak or respond; when we realize there is nothing to fix in any other person.
When boundaries between people are solid and stable, we cannot develop compassion. When we give those boundaries permission to dissolve, we grow understanding and compassion toward others. This compassion gives us more than room to grow (although it gives us that too!), it gives us freedom to understand, relate to, and love other people. The most beautiful thing in the entire world is forgiving and loving another, without necessarily fully understanding their point of view or situation. Every person is on their own separate journey with their own pitfalls and successes. And you know what? We all experience joy, and we all suffer. Once we can fully believe the truth of oneness - that each of us are one drop in an ocean, and the ocean in one drop – we begin to live within the wholeness that compassion is bred from. In that space, Ahimsa is born and thrives.