Yoga: The Yamas – Ahimsa (non-violence) and finding Balance

Vrksasana-BKSAs a yoga teacher I strive to bring great classes to my students – inspiring sequences, peak poses, setting intentions, and in general a class that they can hopefully walk away learning something about themselves.  But I also try to bring some of yoga’s philosophies to class, and have started a journey to begin to become better acquainted with them and how they work in my own life.  I decided that I wanted to spend a month on each yama and niyama, getting into more detail about what they mean.  Yama is a Sanskrit term meaning “restraint” and these are rules that we are meant to live by and practice both on and off our mats.  So this month I am studying the yama “Ahimsa” or non-violence.

This idea of non-violence is at first something we can easily understand: Don’t be mean to people, don’t hurt people with words or actions, don’t hurt yourself with your internal criticisms or actions.  But going beyond the obvious, Ahimsa has us question what can be violent to ourselves and others that may not seem so obvious.

In my classes this week I am exploring the idea of “balance.”  Using Deborah Adele’s amazing book The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, I will encourage myself and my students to explore what balance means in their lives.  And this isn’t the kind of balance we schedule into our days in between getting to work and making dinner and getting to the gym.  This is the kind of balance that comes from within – honoring our mind and body and spirit and what they are asking for in the way of balance.  Are we hungry?  Are we tired?  Do we need to skip that extra hour of work to come home and just spend time with our loved ones?  The crazy schedules that we create, packed from one end of the day to the other, is a form of violence against ourselves.

Spreading ourselves too thin – may seem like we are doing many things at once to enhance our careers, our wealth, etc.  But at the end of the day you don’t win – you just find yourself not balanced or not  focused on anything or not doing anything well at all.  This is a type of violence to ourselves – the violence of overcommitment and over working ourselves is not good for us or for those around us.

So what if we were to just listen to our body/mind/spirit and honor their requests?  What if we were to look inward for balance instead of around us, desperately trying to schedule one more thing in our day to make us “happy?”  What we might find is that the answer is already there, has already been there, and all we have to do is be quiet and listen.

During the classes I teach this week, I will encourage my students to listen – to come to their mats, to honor their inner voice, and to just HEAR what their mind/body/spirit tells them.  And while we might find ourselves in some balancing poses, it is what they listen to inside that will support and lift their spirits and give them a chance to practice balance both on and off their mats.