I started practicing yoga with my friend Jessica in 1998. We were going for the exercise and to relieve stress from dental school. Although I wouldn’t realize it for years, practicing yoga became much more than exercise or stress relief. It became my lifeline.
Jessica went on to become a calm, cool dentist and MOM! But I did not finish dental school. I went into a deep depression after giving up this goal I had been striving for, for more than 6 years. I was half a dentist, with a liberal arts degree and a tremendous amount of self-loathing for both this failure and the failure of my marriage during this time. The practices of yoga helped me release stress, but my teachers were also teaching me about self-compassion, self-empowerment, and so much more! One of the most important words I have learned from yoga is ahimsa, which is Sanskrit for non-harming. We can practice ahimsa on our mats and in our daily interactions.
In the physical practice of yoga, ahimsa reminds us that it is important to challenge the muscle’s flexibility and strength, but to do so by moving slowly, mindfully, so you can sense when the body says, “that’s enough.” Sometimes, if we move too quickly or if we’re too aggressive—forcing ourselves into a pose too soon, before the body is ready—we can become injured. This can happen to me when my ego gets involved after seeing a picture of a cool yoga pose or peeking over at a classmate’s impressive practice. If we can become aware of this mind habit of “pushing through,” we can prevent the ego from pressing us across this thin line. Finding the edge of your stretch and marinating in the perhaps potent sensation of the now is part of the practice. If you are saying, “OUCH!”, BACK OFF and remember ahimsa, non-harming. You want to feel a sustainable sensation where you feel the stretch, but no pain. Feel your strength in the pose and take a deep inhale and exhale, trying to smooth out your breathing.
Now that you are in alignment with the stretch, notice your inner commentary when you practice. Make mental notes of what you are repeating or reaffirming in your mind. Inhale, exhale…scan your pose for details that create stability, for sensation and breathing, making adjustments as needed.
Our ego also works in another sneaky way, sometimes telling us we are not strong enough, good enough, whatever enough. This can hinder us from expanding our practice, expanding our life. Moving slow and mindfully helps us practice ahimsa (nonharming) on the mat. At the same time, keep moving—slowly, gradually—toward that crazy, fun, playful pose we’ve actually decided we could probably do! We can even go beyond nonharming and offer ourselves a little selfcompassion for showing up to practice and taking time for our bodies.
We can also practice ahimsa off of the mat, in our thoughts, words, and actions within our relationships (both with others and with ourselves). Once you’ve noticed your selftalk on the mat, then notice how this translates to your daily life. Begin to notice how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake.
Ahimsa includes thoughts, so become aware of your thought patterns when you are frustrated with yourself and/or others. Just acknowledge the thought pattern, maybe writing it down in your journal or talking about it with a therapist or someone objective. I recently cursed at my parents, and my heart breaks that my words were harmful. Of course I immediately regretted it and apologized, but I also have to be aware not to continue harming myself by beating myself up about it. Acknowledging that I lost control and then apologizing and continuing to love and have relationship with my parents is what is most important to me, not my ego’s hurt feelings.
Recognize that sometimes your best is different from other times. Give yourself permission to have different bests at different times, but always give your heart. Recently I heard someone I love grumble harshly at herself when she tripped. “Fall down and trip, dummy,” she said to herself. It broke my heart. Becoming aware of our negative, harming selftalk will help us begin practicing ahimsa off the mat.
I sometimes hear myself growl with frustration at the one I love so dearly. As I say I’m sorry, I remind myself that ahimsa is a practice…and I keep practicing.
"Before you speak, think. Is it necessary? Is it true? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence? " Sri Sathya Sai Baba
As we become aware, we harm ourselves and others less and less. Awareness helps us begin the shift into more positive, affirming thoughts, words, and actions.
Peace, Love and Gratitude,