With all that is happening in the world—violence, destruction, oppression, war, genocide—does focusing on ourselves mean we are selfish?
With a recent personal immersion into the specifics of the eight limbs of yoga, I began to really dissect the yamas and niyamas outlined in the Yoga Sutras.
I felt myself particularly pulled towards the concept of Ahimsa.
What is Ahimsa?
The interpretation can be expressed in many ways.
At root, ahimsa means maintaining compassion towards ourselves and others. It means being kind and treating all things with care. It implies that violence and awareness cannot co-exist.
When we are forcing, we are not feeling; when we are feeling, we cannot be forcing.
“Ahimsa is more than just lack violence. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It does not necessarily imply that we should not eat meat or fish or that we should not defend ourselves. It simply means that we must always behave with consideration and attention to others. Ahimsa also means acting in kindness toward ourselves.” ~ From The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V Desikachar
For the first time I feel like I am able to see a different perspective. I am not violent with others, so I have that covered.
But what about me? How do I treat myself, or talk to myself, or honor my body’s needs?
Perhaps I have some work to do.
So often when we hear the term Ahimsa, we can easily see the non-violence connotation, and understand it is about not harming others. We tend to always make the connection to other beings, but how quickly we forget about ourselves. We are so hard on ourselves day in and day out, and are often our own worst critic.
The practice of yoga is not just about asana (the physical practice). Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas, which seems quite appropriate—though the limbs are not necessarily outlined to work through sequentially).
If we are not being good to ourselves, honoring ourselves, caring for ourselves, then how can we move forward with anything else?
Our society almost rewards a sacrifice of ourselves to serve everything else in our lives, except ourselves. We give time and energy to work, to kids, to family, to financial obligation, personal expectations: Exercising, friend dates, cleaning, bills…
So what is left of me? Exhaustion and distraction.
Perhaps worst of all: there’s a deep feeling of self-judgment for all that I did not accomplish.
Is there a way to break free from the busy-ness and the negative self-talk?
What if we were to set aside 15 minutes. Just 15 little minutes each day to sit and just be, with nothing to distract us. No phone, no TV, no email, no music, no chatter. Many call this meditation—though the word can be intimidating (I have a tough time staying focused during a formal “meditation”).
Maybe we can just lay on a lounge chair and watch the clouds.
So what if my mind is racing? If I can flip any negative thoughts or judgment to positive, then I’m doing fabulously!
That is my own version of mindfulness practice—a kind of meditation.
We need to be entering into our Yoga practice and approaching each day having consideration for ourselves and others. We need to learn to love ourselves—all parts, even the dark and dreary areas as that’s what makes us whole.
Through yoga we can learn to appreciate our bodies and appreciate our own energy and who we are.
This is Ahimsa.
To practice stopping the self-limiting talk is an act of Ahimsa.
Sometimes this needs to be addressed first: if we cannot love ourselves and be caring to ourselves, how can we bestow that upon others?
We can grow and learn to love ourselves—not perfectly, not all of the time.
But the growth presents itself. We are all human, and we all have our own struggle and daily practice.
So be gentle with yourself. Find beauty and love in any place that you can, and just pay attention to when you are harming yourself with your own thoughts.
Then just sit and see what happens.
Author: Saskia Cervantes
Editor: Renée Picard