Yoga can be broken into eight “limbs” or areas of study and the common poses you see or practice in a yoga class represent one of those limbs and breath control accounts for a second. The other six limbs serve as guidelines to help us be better people inside and out, to release distractions, to learn to focus and concentrate, to meditate, and to find peace.
There are a million lessons we can learn through exploring these Eight Limbs, and today we are going to focus on the limb called Ahimsa. It is the first sub-section of the limb known as the Yamas (kinda like the yoga “don’t do this” list) and it means non-harming. So, the rule is non-harming, meaning don’t punch people in the face, right? Gotcha! Easy enough. Duh.
Maybe this isn’t so simple once we break this down a little more. I like to think of Ahimsa as having 2 different sides: a physical and a mental one. We understand how to not hurt one another; this lesson is taught in pre-school when children get frustrated over sharing toys and one kid bites another and then they are all taught the important lesson: “We don’t bite our friends.” (There is even a song from Yo Gabba Gabba about this and it is catchy and gets stuck in your head. You’ve been warned.) It is then you start really selecting your friends and weeding out the biters, hitters, and kickers. Please keep this mindset as you enter high school. Friends or boyfriends that like to fight are definitely not people to spend your energy and time with. Yo Gabba Gabba doesn’t lie, and neither do I.
Do we ever cause harm to ourselves? I’m not going into the dark spaces for this one, but self-harm is a real thing, a symptom of deeper issues, and if that speaks personally to you, I encourage – no, demand you to speak up and get help. Please.
The type of harming I am going to discuss is more along the idea of being compassionate with your body, listening to its needs, and picking healthy food options. Do NOT compare yourself to yogis who are tossing their foot behind their head like a winter scarf because all you will end up with is a torn hamstring and nobody likes a scarf with holes in it. Listen to your body when you move through the yoga poses, be gentle in the stretches, let go of the ego and pick up some props. Do whatever it takes to treat your body delicately, compassionately, and with respect.
The other type of Ahimsa is mental. This is the one that I think has the most damage, goes highly unnoticed and is the least discussed. Kids are mean to one another, that is true. There are far too many stories of bullying and harassment and social media has it’s own level of responsibility. I could (and probably will) do a whole essay on the ways teens, adults, “we”, emotionally harm one another but I do believe that Peace Begins With Me, so we have to look inward before we can look to fix others.
In my opinion, the worst form of harm is when we are being horrible to ourselves. When we allow the negative thoughts to manifest into self-defeating characters they tend to grow with us and follow us through life. Allow me to introduce The Me-Bully, The Inner Critic, and The Brain Ninja. These nasty voices judge, criticize, and pick-apart pretty much any aspect of our lives where we leave room for doubt or insecurity.
My Me-Bully loves to pick apart each yoga class I teach, decision I make, or outfit I choose (or more often the body under the clothes). My Inner Critic likes to point out and over-analyze every comment I make minutes, hours, even weeks after I have said something embarrassing although I’m 99.9% sure the other person either never even noticed or remembers aforementioned event. My Brain Ninja wants me to quit before I’ve even begun. She hurls sharp ninja stars tipped in self-doubt at my exciting, creative ideas, popping them like balloons at a booth at the fair, hoping to win a giant panda bear. And yep, they all get me good every time. I take the bait. I fall for their negativity. This is when I have to realize I’m being the biggest jerk to the cutest kid.
Inside of me is a little Sacha that had all sorts of dreams, would run everywhere just because, proudly wore BBQ sauce all over her face, and had no worries. Somewhere along the line I started telling that child she was silly, she needed to be thinner, or that the kids at school would only like her if she acted a certain way. We start bullying that little inner child who just wants to play. We criticize the dreamer with wild ideas and start laying on the guilt.
When this Trilogy of Negative Traits starts to get noisy stop and close your eyes. Plant both feet firmly on the floor, drop the shoulders, and think of your kindergarten self. Recall the picture your mom has of you grinning, proudly holding your new Cabbage Patch backpack or maybe the family video of you owning the dance floor when you were a flower girl in your cousin’s wedding, literally “dancing like nobody is watching”. Bring a smile to your face and think of ways to protect this little person. Lighten up a little and not be so hard on yourself. See the humor in things; look through a child’s eye. Soften your expectations of yourself and allow yourself to be kid. Practicing ahimsa, or non-harming compassion, must start somewhere so it’s a great idea to start with yourself.