What is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa, is one of the most often quoted yamas in yoga, translated as ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’ in thoughts or words, it is a simple idea and not unique to yoga, ‘do no harm’. We can all nod wisely and agree. Yet is one of the more challenging yamas to practice.
Yesterday evening’s classes were themed around Ahimsa towards ourselves, building the practice of compassion towards ourselves, our minds and bodies and then hopefully overflowing with kindness and compassion to others. Can we be kind to ourselves when we sit to centre or meditate but find ourselves revisiting mistakes that we’ve made, or imagining what other people might be thinking about us? Can we be kind to our body when that right knee or ankle is not as strong or as open as the left? Or what happens when we see our bellies or nose or, god forbid, double chins on the screen? Do we internally say something or think something about ourselves we would never say to a friend? We would in fact be outraged if anyone said such a thing to even an acquaintance.
Starting with our practice on the mat we can integrate Ahimsa into our awareness and way of thinking. Most of us have a harsh inner critical voice, we compare ourselves with the airbrushed happy images of others, often without even being aware of it. It used to be fashion magazines and TV but now thanks to filters we can compare ourselves to our friends and peers on social media as well. We have our phones with us all day, even in the yoga bubble I have created for myself on Facebook, filled with mindfulness reminders and positive thoughts there are so many images of beauty and outward perfection, slim girls in great poses, sexy leggings, happy kids and parents, moments of outward joy depicted so we can get the impression everyone has it sorted.
Here’s the thing, the ideal of perfection we have for ourselves is fake news, or at best a moment. I put the photo of me and my son happily making our Christmas pudding up on Facebook this week. It was a fun, magic moment nicely framed between the first time I went to bake the day before and found we didn’t have the ingredients, “where are all the sultanas gone?” and another moment about five minutes later when I was feeling flustered and he was under my feet. I banged my head off the open press door. “Go and sit down.” I shouted. “Mama,” he said indignantly, “ we were having a lovely time and then you just shouted at me.” I did. So much for perfection. I said I was sorry, I thought ‘bad mama’, ‘bad messy kitchen’, “bad cupboard door”. No one on Facebook saw that bit but I’m guessing most of you have been there.
Life has lots of moments, and parenting is hard. Ahimsa,non harming compassion, is a practice, a really good . We can give ourselves time on our yoga mat or meditation cushion or maybe your garden being kind to yourself, forgive yourself maybe even love your imperfectly perfect lovely self. Why not? When you can do that it makes it easier to let it flow outwards to others. You’re not so bad,we are all just doing our best, imperfectly perfect or perfectly imperfect as we are.
Your challenge if you chose to accept it is to try a dash of compassion with yourself over the next few days. Take a step back and be kind. Don't judge yourself too quickly or too harshly. I'd love to know how you get on.