I asked my girls what they thought I should talk about in my yoga class this thanksgiving week and my daughter Maggie had lots to say. To be fair, she always has lots to say- my little self proclaimed chatterbox. In this case though she was quite concise:
“mommy, you should talk about the golden rule”.
This is a big one in our house, because as with many siblings mine vacillate between best friends and worst enemy's hourly, When I asked her to explain how the golden rule is connected to thanksgiving she basically said that in order to feel grateful, as we are invited to feel on this holiday and season of giving thanks, we must ACT grateful too.
Little did she know that in her 6 year old terms she had hit on one of the corner stone teachings of yoga -Ahimsa! Translated as loving kindness, compassion, and non- harming or nonviolence this concept is thought of by many as the supreme principle in Yogic philosophy, and the key to mental, physical, and spiritual peace and health.
As Dr.David Frawley (Yogic & Ayurvedic teacher and author) says” Ahimsa is the most important observance in the practice of yoga and the basis for mental peace which is not possible if we harbor thoughts of harm for others... or are engaged in actions that are violent, destructive, deceptive or manipulative”
So basically some level of peace is a necessity if we want to live a healthy, balanced, happy life, and not spend most of our days suffering. Yoga is all about teaching us how to move through,and past, suffering and one primary way is by practicing treating both ourselves and others with loving kindness. While this practice can not stop suffering dead in it’s tracks, Ahimsa and the broader practice of Yoga do have the ability to teach us how to keep it to a minimum, and navigate our suffering with greater skill and ease.
This time of year especially can trigger some of the little and larger ways that we suffer. The grocery stores are busy with often aggravated shoppers, and in Florida our roads are flooded seemingly overnight with our northern transplants. Fights break out over parking spots and the last hot new toy left on the shelf. There is a flurry of preparation and travel that for many has a tendency to shift even the most balanced folks towards overwhelm, anxiety, impatience, perfectionism, and burnout. The rush of wind and cold stirs things up too.Then there is the time with family. For some it is lovingly anticipated all year, and for others it's dreaded. Either way being with family has a way of excavating old feelings, outdated habits, and long forgotten versions of ourselves supposedly discarded when becoming “grownup “.
So the price we pay for getting swept up in busyness , being right, over consumption, or angst is pretty high-health, happiness, and peace. And It’s not only our own well being and inner peace that’s at stake- but ultimately world peace too!!!
As Maggie realized-not only do we need to cultivate an attitude of ahimsa, but it must also be reflected in the way we behave towards others and ourselves in order to be meaningful and trans-formative. In other words, It's the alignment of action with attitude that gives this practice power.
So how do we have both the feelings and behavior of kindness and gratitude?
Well first off we make it conscious. Being honest and aware with ourselves ( as yoga naturally teaches us to do ) and realizing the ways that our empathy is both triggered and challenged is the first step to actually choosing how we want to show up. Coming to the mat gives us a safe and appropriate place to practice first being compassionate with ourselves, so that we can then practice Ahimsa with others and within the bigger picture of our lives. We have the opportunity to practice uniting not only our body and breath, but also uniting the way we move with the we feel in our hearts and our souls. The Yogi’s believe that our true nature is of peace and compassion. From this perspective it’s not a stretch to synch with this attitude. It’s one that is already within us waiting to be remembered.
If we can discover our innate capacity for Ahimsa in our practice of postures, how much easier will it then be to apply it to all of the postures of our lives? What would the impact be if we could bring our self awareness, our deeper breathing, and the way Yoga teaches us to slow down and tune inwards into our daily actions and interactions? How would that really start to change our world?
So here’s the point- Loving kindness ( Ahimsa) is already within us waiting to be discovered, in coming home to ourselves and our full loving attention we can remember this natural quality , and by linking the action and attitude of Ahimsa we can move through both our own and the world's suffering with greater skill and ease.
While coming to mat is a great anchor, we may not make it there every day. Here are a few ways to keep connecting to Ahimsa outside of the studio and inside our lives:
Sit. Carve out 1 minute ( or longer) everyday to sit in silence. For days when you have some time practice Metta. Set a timer, choose a regular place, make it so easy you can't’ say no.
Breathe. Set a reminder on your phone, or put post-it notes around your home or work for daily ( or hourly) deep breaths. Even 3 slow breaths can go a long way for guiding us home to this heartfelt state.
Eat, sleep, and move. Prioritize simple self care. It’s what allows us to show up feeling, acting, and looking our best.Never underestimate the value of rest, water, nutrition, time outside,and exercise in this season of late nights and rich food. Apply the 70%/30% , nourishment/indulgence concept to keep even a holiday grinch grounded and open to love, peace, and joy. 60/40 works too!
With true gratitude,
Your yoga trailguide, Jill