Perhaps the most potent aspect of yoga is its universality and inherent secularism. Patanjali, the founder of the yogic system was very clear that this path of awakening was not ever to be tied to any particular religion, culture or creed. The eight steps of awakening known as the Ashtanga Marga (eight-limbed path) are a step-by-step guide to becoming who we are as human beings. The first step on this spiritual ladder is self-control or the five YAMAS. The first of these five points of discipline or principles of conscious living is non-violence (ahimsa).
In our yoga practice we honor those who have come before us and practiced the disciplines and realized the fruits of that practice. In looking for a model of ahimsa, Mahatma Ghandi comes to mind. He was a passionate practitioner of non-violence though dealt with some very challenging questions. Many would suggest that in starving himself and emaciating his body he was in violation of this principle though he did it for the "greater good". In small ways in our own lives it is important to strive for non-violence in thought, word and deed and it is not always clear what behaviors are having a violent effect in our lives or the lives of others.
Our practice on the yoga mat provides us with an interior focus that serves to empower our reflective nature. This is an important step in giving us the ability to be present with our thoughts. When we can be present with our thoughts we gain the ability to hesitate before saying or doing something that may be of a violent nature. One of the dictionary definitions of violence is, "intensity of feeling or expression". As we continue on the path of yoga we invariably become more and more subtle in terms of our awareness. We learn to transmute our intense feelings and emotions without denying or repressing them. This is something that I am continuing to learn and it can be very difficult.
We all have violent habits that can be rooted out with awareness, practice and discipline. I tend to put up a wall in moments of feeling hurt. This defense mechanism is designed by the ego to protect me but invariably makes me emotionally unavailable. In moments of intense feeling this can lead to a "violent silence" that can be quite painful to the person with whom I am relating. My practice this week will be to cultivate the courage to lower that ego-based guard and be vulnerable as a path to deepening my understanding and expression of non-violence.
Take a moment and consider the role of violence in your life. Subtle forms of violence include gossiping about someone, thinking negatively about another, secretly hoping for another to suffer, indulging in gratification over another person's pain. There are infinite ways in which we may step towards the principle of non-violence. Please let me know if there is something that "clicks" for you with respect to the practice of non-violence in your life and practice.
Yoga with Claudette (thank you!) at the Milo Boathouse in Yarmouth tonight at 7pm. I will be back in town for our Wednesday class. Remember that by developing your Beloved Yoga practice you are improving your ability to practice non-violence and thereby improving the quality of your life, those around you and at some level the entire planet. Afterall, we are all connected!
Namaste: "The ONE in me greets the ONE in you",