Some days I get washed away by a tidal wave of gratitude for discovering yoga all those years ago. I first embraced the practice “on the mat”, showing up for classes sometimes 5 to 6 or 7 days a week depending upon the kind of week I was having, and ultimately integrating it into my daily life “off the mat” and pursuing it as a way of life through the process of becoming a yoga teacher. One of the first things that I learned in my training was that there is so much more to yoga that the poses that you do in a yoga class. The first limb of the eight limbs of yoga is a list of observances or moral ethics to guide us in our thoughts and behaviors, in how we engage with ourselves and in the world, before we even get on our mats. The first one on the list is ahimsa, which often is translated from Sanskrit to English as non-violence.
When most of us think about violence, our perspective is external – don’t harm another, whether it is another person, an animal or any sentient being on Mother Earth. Yet consider for a moment the harm we might do to ourselves. If you could record your thoughts toward yourself, would you be willing to recount those thoughts towards another? Would you impose your limiting beliefs on another? What is it like to lie to yourself? Would you insist that everyone must be able to touch their toes before coming to a yoga class? We can be our own worst critic!
What lies beneath such self-harm in body, mind and spirit is fear and self-judgment; ahimsa can guide us in a different direction, towards self-acceptance and ultimately self-love. Now, applying ahimsa toward yourself requires practice and patience because, as humans, we are perfectly imperfect. Ahimsa does not require perfection, and in fact, asks us to accept and love ourselves despite the fact that we are flawed. It asks us to respect ourselves enough to offer ourselves kindness when we wander off course into the weeds of self-judgment, which will happen. So maybe embrace the concept of ahimsa as a process of growth, as a verb and not a noun, which implies it is a destination instead of a journey.
So, why might you want to embrace ahimsa and lean into the opportunity to practice self-acceptance? Well, if you take it from me, it brings much needed relief and inner peace. However, if you don’t believe me, take a look at some recent research that suggests acceptance (or lack thereof) is a central factor in the onset and maintenance of mental health.
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