Ahimsa translates as “nonviolence.”
You probably think a yoga class is an unlikely place to find violence. I would think so but I ask myself why, after 23 years of practicing and 18 years as a yoga instructor, have I found myself in pain and injured, from teaching and practicing yoga?
There are other stories of long time yogis and yoginis who’ve had back surgeries, wear wrist braces and even had to have hip replacements, etc. as a result of their dedication to their yoga practice. Hmm, something isn’t working here… I don’t think it’s “the yoga”.
From my own experience, I know that it’s not what I’ve done for 23 years that has led me to pain and injury, it’s how I’ve done it that has gotten me where I am today. I did my first sun salutation in 1993 in Paradise Valley, Arizona. I felt amazing, and immediately formed the mindset: “If one sun salute makes me feel this good, then more will be better.” I began doing sun salutes every day and acted as if I was addicted to the practice.
When I started teaching, I wanted to share the benefits of my beloved practice. I taught several sets of sun salutes 4-7 times a week. I’ve never counted how many forward bends, chaturanga’s or down dogs I’ve done over 23 years…but repetitive movement injury through yoga is real and with yoga’s steady growing popularity, physical injury is happening across the globe due to what I identify with as”the human condition”.
I honestly don’t believe that it’s “the yoga” that’s hurting people, it’s people hurting themselves. Woe is to be human and see the irony in that; something that was designed to relieve suffering is causing suffering.
Why I practice yoga
I practice yoga to get out of my head and into my body, simply stated. When my body feels good, my mind feels at peace. When my mind feels at peace, I behave better. When I behave better my relationships and interactions with others become harmonious.
Ultimately, what motivates me is that I don’t want to hurt people, especially those whom I love. Ironically, the way to become more conscious so that I don’t hurt people is that I don’t hurt myself.
I was taught that yoga is a proactive method of nonviolence but only when I stopped hurting myself in asana did I understand how it makes me a more compassionate being in the world. I’m not a master at this but it’s become clear to me that if I want to make a difference in this world, I need to practice nonviolence.
Yoga is like a mirror that never ceases to reflect back to me not only what I’m doing but more importantly how I’m doing it. Now, if an asana causes me pain however subtle or gross, I move away from it because I want to respect and preserve the function of my body, my family, my neighbor and my planet.
Why I teach yoga
I teach yoga because I believe I can contribute to making the world a more peaceful place. I teach others to beware of the myths like: more is better and no pain no gain, in asana. These myths are sneaky and our modern day world feeds our egos with instagram and facebook and the postings of insane variations of hand balances and upside down splits while head balancing on a rock, in the middle of the ocean or on the beaches of a beautiful island in paradise. Do you think these folks might be in a little pain while shooting those pictures and videos? How about a lot of pain? I’ll bet you my yoga mat, they are!
Asana is a practice of the microcosm. We become aware of our physical actions on our mats and that allows us to reflect on how we are acting off our mats. Yoga guides us to become more conscious. When we become more conscious, and willing to give up what is harmful, we become stronger at decreasing violence on the planet and to the planet. Whether it’s mental or emotional or physical harm, awareness of harming ourselves is the critical, first step.
I started practicing yoga because I needed a way to be kinder to myself mentally and physically. I teach yoga because I want to promote nonviolence. Our world, as we all know too well, is a terribly violent place and I believe that when we stop being violent with ourselves we instantly contribute to decreasing violence in our world. When we experience and establish self-compassion then we can have compassion for everyone else and we’ll all make a difference together in making a peaceful world.