I’ve been really taking some time with this one: ahimsa, non-harming, evaluating the places of harm in my life. This is a difficult one for me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been putting off writing about it. There’s something about putting my difficulties out on the internet for everyone to see that feels very vulnerable. The ego kicks up its head and demands that I be perfect; or, failing that, that I put up a perfect front. And then yoga is in the background, reminding me to set the ego to one side and do the practice.

So, what do we mean when we talk about non-harming? I mean, it sounds pretty simple, and even though there are a lot of ways to practice it, I suppose ultimately it is simple. Ahimsa is about living in a way that causes as little harm as possible. If you think of yoga as union, this makes a lot of sense. We are one, the person I see in front of me is an extension of me. Following ahimsa is a recognition that every action I take has a real effect on me and on the world around me, and I want that effect to be a good one.

There are a few main subsets to this. First is the treatment of humans. This is the constant interaction between you and the people around you. But there are other considerations. What about animals? Bugs? The environment? To be honest, for me, as part of my exploration of ahimsa so far, these are background considerations. I try to treat people with respect, and I’ve never been one to lash out in the heat of an emotion. I eat mostly vegan, largely for health reasons and partly because I hate the idea of taking a life. I look for ways to reduce my impact on the environment. I am far from perfect in these areas, but I am taking small steps.

For me, the highlight of ahimsa has actually been self-harm. I can reach out to others, and do try to extend kindness and compassion and all the good things yoga (and pretty much every religion ever) preach, but when it comes to doing the same for myself, I can be pretty bad at it. So ahimsa, for me, is about not beating myself up. My Ashtanga practice has prompted a lot of self-study, and one of the areas of my life I’m working on is holding myself accountable for the things I do and do not do. It’s a fine line to walk between being loving and compassionate to myself and being stern and telling myself to just do it – whatever “it” is on that day or in that hour. Sometimes it’s actually really hard. Sometimes the most effective way I can get myself to practice ahimsa is to remind myself that I am serving in the capacity of a yoga teacher, and to do my job well I have to be at my best. Otherwise I am tired and slow, I doubt myself and my abilities, and I risk harming my students with my own inattention, through the harm I inflict on myself.

Those are the hardest days. But in the moments when I really recognize yoga, union, it becomes easy. We are one, and this (ahimsa) is part of being human. Love and compassion all around, living in a way that causes as little harm as possible. In those moments, ahimsa becomes the natural state of being. And this is the place I work towards. What’s been most effective for me is actually to not seek the places where I’m not practicing it, because I get mired down, stuck in my own muck. Instead, I look for the areas where I am already practicing and try to expand them, to act in that way more often. And when I do see myself straying from ahimsa, to try to correct without judgment. When I am conscious of this, it changes my life for the better.

I’m curious what happens if you take a week or two to do this. Be conscious of the ways you practice ahimsa, and actively invite more of that into your life. Become aware when you are not practicing ahimsa, and actively try to correct the effect your words or actions or thoughts have had. What happens when you do?

~ by Carmen Celeste Thurston on April 10, 2013.

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