Ingela's Reflection

Ahimsa: Non-violence, kindness, harmony

 Ahimsa has many translations: non-violence, non-harm, loving kindness, compassion, care, harmony and peace!

We are all trained that we should be kind and considerate to everybody. Yet it’s not always that easy. Sometimes we are more considerate to people we meet on the street than to our own family members. We are more caring to our pets than to our own bodies.

So how can we cultivate a genuine expression of Ahimsa to all? The Zen Master, Thich Nat Hahn, has an interesting insight:  “Love is listening.” In listening deeply to all life forms we experience that we are all interrelated. In listening to our heartbeat, we experience the connection to our mother’s heartbeat, our great, great, grandmother’s heartbeat and all the way back to the very first heartbeat. We are all connected to that first heartbeat. From the experience of interconnectedness comes a genuine expression of care for all living things.

Vimela Thakar explains this well in Glimpses of Raja Yoga: “When you are dedicated to the awareness of the wholeness of life, to the interrelatedness of everything you see in life, naturally your life becomes a dedication of Ahimsa or non-killing, non-violence. That becomes a value of your life. It becomes a demonstration that you do not hurt anyone intentionally. You do not want to destroy anything or anyone. You want to have an intelligent, cooperative, harmonious relationship . . . harmony is the essence of non-violence.”

In listening deeply we experience Ahimsa, not as an externally conditioned quality that we should be kind and considerate, but as an internal expression of genuine care for all of life. To learn to listen is the main focus in Yoga; to train the mind to become quiet, so we can listen and expand our awareness to life.

The practice of Yoga can enhance our experience of Ahimsa and the expression of Ahimsa can enhance our Yoga practice. Let’s see how we can bring kindness into our daily practice on the mat. First we tune into the breath, we listen to our heartbeat, to the source within, and experience gratitude for the gift of life and a desire to take good care of our body and being. Then we move into each pose giving special attention to balance and alignment, not because we should create perfect, beautiful poses, but as an expression of care. For example, we align the feet and knees in each standing pose to be kind to our knees, and we align the pelvis in all poses to be kind to our lower back. The knees, lower back, and neck are three areas in our bodies that are often misused, abused, and harmed by our lack of awareness and care. Instead we give special attention to alignment for future health and healing.

After balancing the body you move into your “healthy edge,” a place of heat, circulation, and rejuvenation. But finding the “healthy edge” is not always easy as it continually changes, depending on the time of day, previous activities, body rhythms, hormones, etc. In playing the edge, some people are “pushers,” others “pamperers.” The “pushers” treat the body like a machine, expecting immediate results, ignoring limitations and ending up with pain, strain, injury, and harm. The “pamperers” stay away from the “edge” due to fear, lack of trust or just laziness, which inhibits health and healing.

So to find your healthy edge you need to go slowly, listen, breathe, trust, and explore with care and courage. Also, when we encounter our tender or injured areas in the Yoga poses, we push or pamper or swing between the two extremes. Instead, an injured area needs extra kindness and care to invite trust and healing.

Another way to practice Ahimsa daily is to tune into what your body and being need to find harmony; i.e., if we are tired and stressed out, we focus on relaxing and restorative poses. If we feel low or depressed, we focus on energizing standing poses, inversions, and back arches. Instead of practicing poses we should do mechanically, we listen and adapt our daily routine to our needs. Curiously, the way we relate to our bodies in the asanas often reflects how we relate to ourselves and others. Do we push or pamper?

The most common way that we practice violence daily is with our criticism. We generally don’t go around throwing rocks at each other, but we do throw mental rocks with our criticism to others and ourselves. We criticize our own looks, body shapes, and performances, and as a reflection of our own criticism we criticize others in the same way.

Swami Radha says in her Seeds of Light, “Love is listening. When you listen you have to surrender criticism. Otherwise, you don’t really listen. Listen with intuition.” The opposite of criticism is understanding. When we listen to the history of ourselves and others, our hearts open up with understanding and compassion.

An analogy I once heard: A flower is made up of many parts. Each part in itself is not a flower, but all together they create a unique flower. It’s the same with us. We are all made up of parts from our mothers, fathers, ancestors, society, and stars. We are not separate parts, but all parts together create the uniqueness of each of us; i.e., we are all here with unique bodies, talents, and missions in life. Some bodies are round, others thin; some have short hamstrings, others long. Some people are extroverted, others introverted. Instead of criticizing, we celebrate our own uniqueness by doing the best that we can, with the best that we have, to be the best that we are, and we give understanding and support to each other’s journeys through life.

Buddha said 2,500 years ago, “Love is understanding. If you can’t understand, you can’t love.” Last, I once heard Thich Naht Hahn say that only by loving ourselves can we truly love others. And only by forgiving ourselves can we love ourselves. And only by forgiving others can we express genuine love and care.

So, the power of listening, understanding, and forgiving seems to be the key to Ahimsa, to harmony and peace, on our Yoga mat, in parenting, marriage, and all relationships as life continually changes and evolves.

Life is a gift, and let’s take good care of it!