Ahimsa is the first of the yamas of yoga, i.e. the universal moral principles or the recommendations on how to live to become liberated. It carries a message of non-violence and love to all beings, and firstly to oneself.
Our modern life has 2 important features: its pace is fast and we are committed to getting what we want in all of its areas. As a result, we force or rush ourselves to do the next thing. We force ourselves to open our eyes in the morning and get out of bed, then to do the morning routine and rush to the office be on time for work. We do sports and adopt a new diet to ensure we stay young and healthy as long as possible, but we force ourselves to do that.
And then you don’t even notice that you actually force yourself to dress up and go out on the weekends, when the only thing you really want is to stay on your couch, in your pajamas, with a book or a Netflix flick. And all you really need is a little bit of time and space to be on your own and digest the huge amount of impressions accumulated during the week. But the weekend is short and you want to get the most out of it. You ask for more, like Pepsi used to urge us to. Remember?
Well, if you think about it – isn’t it violence against self to force yourself to do what you don’t want to do?
What if you started focusing on your pleasure instead of your to do list? What if tomorrow you woke up to a joyous anticipation of what the day would bring you? Could you get up 5 minutes before to have time for the thing you enjoy, whether it’s morning yoga or cup of coffee on the balcony?
Maybe you could take a slow walk to the subway station while breathing in morning freshness and observing the awaking of the world around you, rather than rushing with the crowd? These small adjustments will only take a few more minutes out of your day, but will add so much more energy for a productive day ahead!
And what about enjoying a whole day of doing absolutely nothing next weekend? Block out a day and deliberately make no plans at all. Maybe then spontaneously you’ll feel the desire to work on your body or to cook something really delicious, to draw or go for a walk and daydream.
In practice as a yoga teacher I sometimes see people forcing themselves in a stretch or while in a challenging pose. They push their hips fiercely to open their pelvis, they go into inversions that their bodies are not yet ready for. This is actually counterproductive because we take the energy away from our bodies and invest it into our ambitions. The body holds the memory of suffering and next time it might resist any classes altogether.
Here is some advice on how to bring more simple pleasures into your life:
- When you wake up take a minute to feel into your body. What are your thoughts? What emotions do you experience? A now concentrate on the joy that the day is going to bring you. Even if something really hard is on your list think how much relief it will be to get it off your shoulders! And stretch right in your bed, that’s always a pleasure!
- Take a time in the morning and do what you like. Make it your habit.
- Meditate. Meditation switches your brain into relaxed mode helping you to take a pause and gain a new perspective. If you do it in the morning you set yourself into a calm and peaceful mood right from the start. During your day meditation will reboot you and restore your energy. And in the evening it will slow you down and help digest your day.
- If you do sport build momentum of your practice as long as it energizes you. If you feel pain stop immediately and take a break. Even if today you did less than yesterday. Be kind to yourself!
- And for those of you who do yoga: don’t neglect safety advice and the props! For example, when you sit with your legs crossed (in sukhasana) make sure your knees are the level of your pelvic bones. Use a block if you need to! Even if you are the only one in your class who sits on two blocks this works for you! Your body will appreciate it as it perceives that its comfort is your number one priority. It will remember care and pleasure and will open up step by step.
If you want to feel better the limits of your body in different asanas a teacher can help you on an individual class. If you’re in Moscow you can learn more about what I offer here facebook.com/yogakaterina. Subscribe to my page and I’ll let you know when I’m in NYC!
Disclaimer: This article reflects a part of my personal understanding of the first yama of yoga Ahimsa (non-violence). It does not mean to cover its meaning in its fullness and is certainly narrower than its traditional definition as explained by yoga philosophy, e.g. in Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali.