This week I will start teaching my 5-week class on Thursday mornings. I have a good number of sign ups, and a couple of yoga teaching friends that may drop by, and I am excited to start.
Since I am preparing for that, I will be writing a weekly series on Wednesdays in October focusing on the 5 Yamas, Sanskrit for “restraints” which are part of the gems of wisdom making up yogic philosophy. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and nonpossessiveness.
The first week we start with Ahimsa, or nonviolence, literally to “do no harm.” This is so fundamental to the practice of yoga. Yet it is not always respected in our desire to “get things right” or to imitate our teachers.
We do violence to ourselves when we strive for perfection rather than balance, when we overdo rather than just do. The hardest part for me in this lesson was realizing how hard I was being on myself. My inner critic became apparent when I started listening to the thoughts in my mind more often.
Learning to bring some compassion to those “sub-personalities” that were driving some of my behavior, I have embraced a new pattern of nonviolence by becoming curious about that critical voice. Rather than believing it, I realize it often comes from that protective part of ourselves that is driven by fear and by the conditioning of our families of origin, and society as a whole.
By directing our attention to the breath and the body, getting “out of our heads” for a moment, we can step back from that inner dialogue. The mind’s stories create a cacophony of noise that is not the REAL self. Developing compassion for that inner voice, rather than criticizing ourselves for having it, allows us to move forward with greater ease.
This is in line with Kristen Neff’s work on Self-Compassion which I explored in an earlier post. There is a way in which treating ourselves with kindness flows out to our relationships with others as well. As Deb Adele’s book on The Yamas and Niyamas points out: “If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip.”
What I have noticed in practicing self-compassion with my flaws and short-comings is that I have so much more compassion for others as well. In this way, ahimsa becomes a powerful foundation for living well.
May you, my lovely reader, practice ahimsa by noticing where you are not being as kind to yourself or others as you could be. In what ways can you more easily accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism?