Yoga and Non-violence

Have you ever wanted to find that balance between taking care of you, while at the same time taking care of another- whether physically, emotionally or psychologically? Ever wondered if it’s even possible to find that happy medium without compromising who you are? Well, you are not alone.

According to Yogic Philosophy, it is possible to find such a balance by practising Yoga. Yoga helps to build and refine our self-awareness which spills over into our relationships with others. Unfortunately, not a “one time- fix all- for good,” but definitely worth the fruits that it bears. Yoga is a lifetime practise that becomes fine-tuned over time. Yoga is a path well chosen for those who remain patient to its gradual unfolding.

"Only through yoga, yoga is known,

Only through yoga, yoga progresses,

One who is patient with yoga,

Bears the fruits for a long time."

-Chant from Vyasa’s commentary to Yoga Sutra III 6

So, what does it mean exactly to practise Yoga?

You might have heard people refer to it as such. Yoga is often times referred to as a practise because essentially, this is what it takes. As written in the Yoga Sutras, I.2, (ancient text of Yoga), Yoga is an ongoing discipline to slow the whirling fluctuations of the mind. Sound  familiar?

A simple place to start is by taking a look at the eight limbs of Yoga. The eight limbs are steps or tools for living of this world and they form the basis of a Yoga practise. The eight limbs reach far beyond the physical stretching we observe on the Yoga mat.  I will briefly mention the eight limbs, with more focus on the first two limbs as they apply to non-violence towards self and others. I will return to the discussion of the remaining six at a later time. The words are written in Sanskrit, language of Hinduism, from which Yoga originates.

First limb - Yamas: The attitudes we hold towards things and people outside of ourselves

Second Limb – Niyamas: How we relate to ourselves, inwardly

Third Limb – Asana: Physical postures we most identify with Yoga

Fourth limb – Pranayama: Lengthening/controlling the breath

Fifth Limb – Pratyahara: Suspending the senses

Sixth Limb – Dharana: One pointed focus on an object- internal or external, real or imagined

Seventh Limb – Dhyanam: Meditation, which arises spontaneously

Eighth Limb - Samadhi: Merging with the one, universal consciousness; however this manifests for you.

There is no set order of steps to be taken, however the movement in consciousness is one that flows from the grosse levels (first four limbs) to the more subtler layers (last four limbs).

Ahimsa means kindness, or non- violence towards others and ourselves. Ahimsa is contained within the first limb of Yoga (Yamas). Ahimsa can be considered both a Yama and Niyama. For example, we can be violent/non-violent towards others and/or ourselves. Satya, meaning truthfulness or to speak the truth, is another one of the Yamas, but it can also be considered a Niyama. For example, we can speak the truth to others and/or ourselves (or not). Consider how speaking the truth may harm or heal others. With this awareness of cause and effect we strive to speak and act accordingly. Ahimsa and Satya are closely aligned with one another, and could be use interchangeably.

So, what exactly might constitute acts of violence/non-violence on or off the Yoga mat?  There are many examples.

Paying special attention to what we eat, how we treat our bodies, how far we push ourselves on or off the mat, what we feed our minds with (i.e. negative or positive self talk) and acting with or against our body/mind constitution are just a few exemplary ways of applying the principle of non-violence in our lives.

If we were to take a look at the four gateways of speech, we can see how truth speaking can be violent or non-violent

1) Is it an appropriate time to speak?  2) Is it truthful? 3) Is it necessary? 4) Is it appropriate? Truth speaking should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa.

So, how do we find that balance between what’s non-harming towards ourselves, while at the same time taking into consideration whether we are causing harm to another?

Doing our Yoga practice will open a window of perception; how we relate to ourselves and others. As my Yoga teacher, Barb Quinlan says, “We can tell how our Yoga practise is going by how we are doing in our relationships.” Having a daily Yoga practice helps to build awareness of one’s sensitivities, preferences, mental fluctuations and reactions. Once we have a clearer understanding of ourselves, we can better understand others. Essentially, it is the relationship we have with ourselves that builds the foundation for all our relationships. So, if we want to be present and loving in our relationships with others, we must first be present and loving with ourselves. If we want to be helpful to others we must first be helpful to ourselves. Ayurveda, the Indian system of healing, tell us this. We must take care of #1, first and foremost. And this isn’t to stay this is selfish, but rather just the opposite. This is the first important step towards being of service to others. As the teacher of the Viniyoga lineage, TKV Desikachar, says, “No action set forth, if coming from a place of non-violence towards oneself can be a wrong action. In fact, speaking or standing in one’s truth by taking intentional action (or non-action, depending on the situation) gives all those involved permission to do what is best for them.

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