There are eight limbs of yoga which can be thought of as branches on a tree. We tend to focus on two of the limbs during a yoga practice, one of these being asanas (postures) and the other pranayama (breathing technique). Over the last term, in class we have focused on the first limb of yoga, Yama. The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics,” which offer a guideline to how we treat the world around us and ourselves.
One of these 5 yamas is Ahimsa, non-violence. Practising Ahimsa depends on how proactive we are at practising courage, balance, compassion for others and love of self.
During the first week, which was Halloween we focused on practising courage, which can be controlled by fear. Fear can come in many forms for each individual. Perhaps the fear one may have is of changing jobs, entering a new relationship or standing up for yourself and speaking your mind. In order to face these fears we need courage which can bring strength of character and peace of mind. It is just as easy to tear down fear as it is to create it.
I asked the students to reflect upon being courageous and explore the things that may be holding them back and asked them to step out of their comfort zone. Reminding them ‘the limits on your life are only those that you set yourself’. We continued the class with a strong grounding practice to on build strength to overcome some of these fears.
The following week we looked at the ability to self-love. Life can be extremely busy for many of us with tasks to complete on a daily basis. Whether it’s caring for family members, meeting deadlines at work or university we can forget to take time out of the week to have a personal pit stop. By having a regular yoga practice we have the opportunity to practice self-love by taking time out of a busy schedule and dedicate that time just for you. The class was dedicated to a forward fold practice where we spent time hugging the body, offering the body self-love. I encouraged the students to even give themselves a kiss on the leg whist doing a hip opener which proved challenging for some! Time to offer ourselves self-love is one of the most important things we can do in order to live a more joyous life. If we can’t love ourselves, how can we love others?
In week three we practised a strong balancing sequence, especially for the students at York St John University where there was an opportunity for a head stand practice. There was a real sense of achievement for the students who were encouraged to be courageous and to master the mind by focusing and concentrating to remain still and steady in order to create balance within the physical body.
Creating balance in everyday life can be challenging. As mentioned above we can fill every breathable space with appointments and activities. Taking a look at our calendar will reveal the truth of our crazy schedule. Like the body, the mind needs time to rest. We create this rest by allowing space that we can breathe in. We use relaxation in class to give ourselves space to breathe in and focus on nothing more than remaining still and steady. For some this may be the only time in the week to complete let go of a crazy schedule.
In the final week of practising ahimsa we focused on compassion, compassion for self and others. We learn compassion as we stop trying to change ourselves and others and choose instead to do simple acts of kindness and allow other lives to be as important as our own. Some of us may have a painful story tucked in the corner of the heart. If we remember this perhaps we could see with the eyes of compassion rather than the eyes of our own judgement.
Reflecting upon this reminded me of when I lived in London. At times I thought people were rude or unwelcoming, on a mission from getting from A to B. However, by showing a little compassion and giving a gentle smile, a smile was generally returned, leaving me and probably this stranger with a sense of kindness. To develop compassion on the yoga mat the practice focussed on backbends to open our hearts. As we begin to expand the boundaries of our heart, we can see clearly to act in ways that truly make a difference to ourselves and others.
Overall, practising asanas, postures such as a strong grounding practice, forward fold sequence, balancing sequence and a heart opening practice we can create more awareness of how we treat the world around us and ourselves. This demonstrates we have the opportunity to become more in tune with our self, not only on the yoga mat but in everyday life.
I completed the theme of Ahimsa by reading a statement by a young holocaust victim, Etty Hillesum:
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.