When I first tried a yoga class, it was to distract myself from emotional distress and spiralling negativity. Yoga classes were the only time I could escape my thoughts, having exerted the physical energy required to then let my mind calm down.
I quickly became hooked. Over the course of yoga classes and retreats, I fell in love with yoga and realized it was so much more than just performing asanas.
But in recent weeks, I’ve found myself building up expectations of myself. Comparing. Feeling frustrated from not being able to do certain asanas. Engaging in negative self-talk. Feeling defeated. Thinking hostile, angry thoughts of others, for example drivers who cut in front of me abruptly, or being irritable with my colleagues.
Which is where a timely reminder from Patanjanli’s Yoga Sutras comes in handy:
Ahimsa: non-harming, in thought, word, or action. Ahimsa is cultivating an attitude of loving kindness, first to one’s self, and extended to all others.
I was not practicing ahimsa; instead I was demonstrating violence to myself. Thoughts of guilt, shame, resentment, disappointment, etc. all have a seed of violence within. When we don’t act according to our truth, but out of our fears, we are being violent to ourselves.
How do we practice ahimsa?
In our daily lives: Starting with ourselves, by watching our thoughts, and observing ourselves in interaction with others, and by observing the intention behind our words and actions. When we become aware of the negatives thoughts in our consciousness, the first step is to pause and acknowledge them in the awareness that thoughts come and go. Then, we can ask ourselves if we can develop greater perspective and look at the situation from all angles without assumption and without judgment. We can choose to practice kindness to all around us, even if others aren’t nice to us. We can’t control others’ actions, only our own.
On our mats: By performing our asanas gracefully and without force, with respect for our bodies and their limitations, and by accepting what asanas we were able or unable to do after each practice.
By incorporating ahimsa in our lives, we have the opportunity to relinquish hostile, irritable and unkind thoughts, attitudes and actions, and instead to make space for peace.
As Sri Aurobindo says, “All life is yoga.”
Joanna Khoo, 200hr Jan-May 2014 weekend batch
Hillari Dowdle, “Path to Happiness”, Yoga Journal
Dorna Djenab, “Ahimsa: The Yoga Practice of Non-Violence”, My Yoga Online
Judith Lasater, “Beginning the Journey”, Yoga Journal