About a year ago I quit wearing my Garmin (FitBit/Apple watch/Letsfit, whatever your poison :) It occurred to me that I exercised only to achieve an arbitrary goal instead of for the enjoyment it brought me. For the feeling of warmth, strength and power I felt. I never walked simply to enjoy the walk, the flowers, the blue sky. I never stopped to feel my feet on the ground, the breeze on my skin or the sunlight on my face.
It reminds me of a book I’m reading by Thich Nhat Hanh. He talks about doing things just to do them, not to achieve a goal. He says that everything you need you already possess. I read that and thought, “Really? Maybe YOU possess everything you need but not me.” LOL!
The Yoga Sutras are one of the ancient documents that guides the philosophy of yoga. “There’s yoga philosophy?” you might ask. “There’s more to yoga than getting my foot behind my head?” YES. There’s so much more. I love the Sutras but like any ancient writing we have to determine what is relevant to our lives today and what is oceans away from what we need.
Ahimsa is the first (and possibly most important) of the Sutras. I think of this one as “first do no harm.” Seems particularly relevant at this time in history. Not only are we dealing with a pandemic (which feels like a slow burning forest fire right now, tiresome yet deadly) but we are also dealing with the outcome of harm that has been placed on our BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) community for years. The question is, how do we continue on the path of Ahimsa in the present day? How do we keep from perpetuating harm?
Ahimsa begins with ourselves. Not harming ourselves. Sometimes we think and speak not so nice things about ourselves. We all do it. We try to burn ourselves down from the inside, wallowing in every negative thought. But would we think these thoughts about our loved ones? We certainly NEVER say those things to our loved ones yet we it feels oddly ordinary to do it to ourselves.
Ahimsa means looking at yourself as a loved one. You are your greatest love! That may feel strange at first because our conditioning has taught us otherwise. We are taught to look outside of ourselves for love. We are taught that it is selfish to do kind things for ourselves first. We are thought that a good person is always selfless and gives to others first. But when we do this we are depleting ourselves.
We’ve all heard the phrase “giving from an empty cup.” When we take care and love ourselves first then we are giving from the overflow not trying to scrap the bottom of a desert dry well to bring water to a thirsty friend. When our cup is always full, we are absolutely overflowing with an ocean of love to give. This is the truth and very far from what our culture has taught us.
If we all began to love and care for ourselves more this world might look very different. We might not see the gaping red-sea divide that exists in our society today. Deborah Adele (author and yoga teacher) has this to say:
“Ultimately we have just one moral duty:
to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves,
more and more peace,
and to reflect it towards others.
And the more peace there is in us,
the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Deborah Adele, Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice
The best part is that taking care of ourselves can be fun! When we practice yoga together (virtually and in-person) then we feel better. We are taking care of ourselves, together. I love how our yoga community supports each other and feel very grateful for ya’ll. We get to practice Ahimsa together every day!
I recently read a quote that said, discomfort is a wise teacher, and unconsciously found my head spasm a nod in agreement. Discomfort is an interesting thing. We try to avoid it at all costs and yet there are so many times in our life when we will be uncomfortable. The dentist is one that comes to mind immediately. But what else? Remember waiting in line at the DMV? Ever wait in line for so long you felt your muscles clench up and thought you would pull your hair out?
Now we have phones to help us fill that time. Technology helps us to not mentally BE in those uncomfortable positions. Our children can now play video games in line at the grocery store. No more temper tantrums (well until you take away the Ipad then be ready for a truly uncomfortable experience). No more clenched jaw when your little paper number didn’t get called, again. No more boredom. And, no more being aware of our actual experience, feelings or thoughts. Scrolling our phones is way more entertaining than listening to our internal dialogue of worries or to-do lists. But what are we possibly losing?
Think of the muscles in our bodies. If we don’t use them they become weak. The muscles we are losing here are those that help us to really feel and cope with the uncomfortable, even painful experiences in life.
And maybe that’s why this time in history has been so hard for us! We aren’t used to being told that we can’t have all the comforts we desire and our normal routines. That we can’t have hugs from loved ones and to see their fully unmasked faces. All of this makes us feel very tense, irritable and uncomfortable! There is no amount of technology that can help us hide from this.
Yoga teaches us a lot about discomfort. Ever fallen on your face in crow pose? I have. It was UNCOMFORTABLE. On the up side…is there an up side to falling on your face?…maybe this unusual time of quarantine can help us strengthen our coping skill muscles. The more we can get used to discomfort, the more we are able to cope with it and possibly even grow from it. How many people didn’t know how to use Zoom six months ago but are rocking it now? We are learning here people!
Now let’s learn to take the lessons from our yoga mat into our everyday. So next time you are in pigeon pose (or any posture that is not your favorite) try this. Bring all your awareness and focus right to the place in your body where you feel the uncomfortable sensation.
Lean into that sensation. Lean in to the uncomfortable. Lean in to your lived experience. Lean in to the present. Lean in to life.