Do no harm

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Do no harm

Feb 16, 2021

do-no-harm

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

 

The time I have spent on my mat has changed my life in so many ways. I love asana, the physical practice of yoga. I love to move and breathe and feel. I believe in the power of somatics to heal our bodies from the inside out, or outside in. 

But, it’s my yoga practice off the mat that has truly transformed who I am and how I choose to live my life. 

Yoga is a practice that brings us closer to our true essence, beyond the layers of conditioning, beyond the trauma, beyond the ego self. It requires a balance of self-compassion and honest self-inquiry. It is not an easy practice. It is often confronting and uncomfortable. And it leads to liberation. That is the ultimate goal. 

The depth of yoga, known as the Ashtanga, or the 8-limbed path, has been laid out for us in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It has very little to do with modern postural yoga that has become so commonplace in the West. You will not find detailed instructions for chatarunga or handstand. It is about how we live our lives. 

The 8-limbed path begins with the yamas and niyamas. The yamas are the moral and ethical guidelines suggested to reduce suffering, both for the individual and the collective. 

Over the next 5 weeks I will be writing about the yamas and how we can bring these practices into our everyday life. Off the mat. 

The first yama is the anchor for them all. 

Ahimsa. 

Ahimsa is translated to mean ‘non-harming’. 

I wanted to unpack this a bit. Ahimsa is more than kindness. It requires accountability. It requires profound honesty (we'll get to satya next week).

Ahimsa asks us to actively resist harm. To acknowledge where there is harm and then working to undo that harm. It is acknowleging the impact of our own actions and working to repair when harm has been caused, regardless of intention.  

I often speak about compassion when talking about ahimsa. That includes both compassion for all living beings and for oneself. Compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of others, coupled with a desire to alleviate it. This second part is what makes compassion different from empathy. First, we must be aware and enter into the suffering of another and then we take action

This awareness is key. And so many of us who live in bodies that hold identities of privilege do not need to be aware of the suffering of others. Or we choose to look away, ignore, create stories about the suffering of others. Because it makes us uncomfortable or may lead us to have to make real changes in the way that we live in the world. Changes that are inconvenient. 

Especially when the groups we identify with are being called out and  implicated as continuing to perpetuate harm. (White, male, cis-gender, etc.)

If I think about my own education, there is so much that I was taught that is very problematic. I was taught history through a Euro-centric lens. A lens that is steeped in White Supremacy, colonization, heteronormative patriarchy and individualism. So, the unlearning and the interrogation is ongoing and it is hard work. Sometimes I catch myself saying things that I didn’t think I believed because these ideas are so deeply rooted in my psyche. And it is a daily practice to check myself to reduce the harm I am causing in the world. 

When I have been called out for my own biases and have caused harm it is so useful to notice how my body responds. The way that I may want to hide, run or defend myself. Instead can I sit with the discomfort and then work to repair the harm that has been done.

This is yoga. This is the practice. This is the unraveling. The unlearning. 

This is also where self-compassion is so very important. Holding space for mistakes. Letting go of perfection. Forgiveness. Otherwise we can get stuck in the stress response and no change happens. 

Some practical examples of ahimsa:

  • Wear a mask
  • Reduce negative self-talk or self-beat. 
  • Connect with people in your life authentically
  • Self-care practices (rest, sleep, nourish) that lead to less reactivity and more compassion
  • Anti-racism
  • Disability justice
  • Trauma-informed practices
  • Any social change movement that rests in the idea that we all deserve to be well
  • Assess where you spend your money. Great place to begin harm reduction practices

Consider the ways that you can practice ahimsa throughout your day.  From the small, simple actions like smiling at a stranger to the bigger investigation about ways in which you can dismantle systems of harm. 

 

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into yoga philosophy, consider joining the next Empowered Yoga Teacher Training™, a trauma-informed, justice-centered program. We invite students on a journey through both the ancient, traditional practices of yoga and modern neuroscience and psychology. Our programs are led by a diverse group of teachers with various yoga backgrounds, identies, and lived experiences.

We have two paths:

  1. 200 Hour Certification for those who are looking to become certified yoga teachers. Includes an in-person intensive. 
  2. Advanced Yoga Studies Program (100% online) is designed for:
    • Anyone committed to living a life of right action and dismatling systems of oppression (from the inside out)
    • Certified yoga teachers looking to integrate a trauma and justice-informed lens into their teaching, including the impact of systemic oppression (100 hours of YA CEUs available)
    • Yoga practitioners who wish to deepen their understanding of yoga beyond the mat through a trauma-informed, justice-centered perspective.

 

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Ahimsa is translated to mean ‘non-harming’.  Ahimsa asks us to actively resist harm. To acknowledge where there is harm and then working to undo that harm. It is acknowledging the impact of our own actions and working to repair when harm has been caused, regardless of intention.