Headed towards Ahimsa

I can remember the first time I attempted Sirsasana; Headstand.

I was both engulfed in awe and fear, I thought to myself ‘Wow that’s cool’, ‘I’m seeing the world from a completely different direction’, ‘Can my hands take all my weight’, ‘What if my hands give may and all my weight is dumped on my head and neck, will my neck break?’

In the years to come I did not attempt inversions, mostly because I was too afraid of weight distribution and arm strength, this all changed when I joining the Yoga Teacher Training Programme.

Why?, well, here we go, brace yourself, we had to do a headstand for 3 minutes.

For those who fell off the chair, I’m going to give you a minute to get back up.

Right, well you heard me right, headstand, 3 minutes, part of exam.

After numerous attempts and multiple thuds on the mat, I was left with neck pain, arm pain and feet pain, yes, lots of pain, therein lies my realization and lesson on Ahimsa.

What is Ahimsa and how is this connected to a headstand, will Ahimsa help me get a headstand right?

It may, but believe me, getting a headstand right is not the goal here, understanding and practicing Ahimsa towards ourselves and towards others is the Goal.

I know what you are thinking, hey dude, what is Ahimsa man?, you keep saying it, now explain it.

Ahimsa is the practice of not inflicting violence or injury and extending love to everyone and ourselves.

When I was attempting a headstand, I looked around me and saw that all my classmates were getting it right, I was the only one who was not getting it, so I pushed myself, i tried my best ti brave through the fear and then I tried to muster all the arm strength I had, I told myself that I absolutely have to get it done. In the end I only manged to get up for a few seconds, and then back down again with a thud.

I felt dizzy, my neck was hurting and my arms were shaking, it was too much for me, but I pushed myself anyway. I didn’t want to attempt that it was too much for me.

So tell me, what was I doing when I continued to push myself beyond my limits, yes, I was treating myself in an injurious and violent manner, and what is the opposite of that, yes that’s right, it is Ahimsa!

So now, what should I have done?

Here are some steps on how to introduce Ahimsa to your practice:

  1. I should have tried my best within limits, we should push ourselves to progress but be aware of our limits. How do you know you are going beyond your limits, one clear indication is PAIN, when it hurts and your arms are about to give way, pull back and rest, remember yoga is not a destination, rather a journey.
  2. Props!, use them, the Yoga Blocks and Straps are there for a reason. There are many Ashtanga Yoga Poses where using a block will reduce the strain on your thighs
  3. Support, lets take the headstand as an example here, start off my raising one leg up and then kicking the other leg up towards the wall, so yes, use the wall as support
  4. Modifications & Options, Yoga Teachers always give us some modifications to the poses they are teaching, if you need them, take them, sometimes its too early and our hamstrings have yet to warm up, so consider the options and modifications for each pose.

As we consciously include Ahimsa in our practice, be sure to include it off the Mat too, let us treat ourselves and others with love.