Ahimsa - Kindness

I want to start this January blog with a quote from Barack Obama;

“What we can do is to live our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world.”

Yoga goes beyond physical practice of postures. It has a holistic approach with emphasis on mind, body and soul. Yoga, if you embrace it; and maybe you already have without realising; can help you to change your mind set to be kinder and therefore possibly happier.

This month’s blog is about delving deeper into the mind pathway of yoga, leading to a greater ability for mindfulness. Kindness plays the most important part.

There are 5 yoga pathways or Yoga Margas. Hatha yoga – union by bodily control (postures) – is just one of these pathways, that if you attend classes you are already practising. Raja yoga is the name of the pathway that aims for you to gain control over the mind. The theory of this pathway is that you can gain this control by awareness or mindfulness of the stream of thoughts (monkey chatter) that flows through the mind and then control them through concentration and meditation.

As discussed in my previous blogs, particularly ‘Find your own path to Meditation’, this requires dedication, discipline and time. Raja yoga stems from Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali took many oral teachings of yoga and compiled and wrote them down into a book called ‘The Yoga Sutras’ about 2000 years ago. We know very little about Patanjali and it is unclear and often debated as to whether he wrote all of it or others collaborated. Within ‘The Yoga Sutras’ is approximately 195 aphorisms (sutras), or words of wisdom, which outline the eight limbs of yoga.

These eight limbs are a tool to examine ourselves:

Yama – Behaviour towards others

Niyama – Behaviour towards self

Asana – Meditation seat

Pranayama – Breathing practices

Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the sense into relaxation

Dharana – Concentration on one point

Dhyana – Meditational state

Samahi – Blissful consciousness and transcendence

Ahimsa (kindness) comes under the first limb (Yama) and is deemed the most important quality, with many yogi’s seeing everything else as impossible without it.

Rashi describes it as this;

“Ahimsa means ‘to cause no harm’, to exercise compassion showing grace and calm. Never cause hurt and always be kind to your body, spirit and always your mind. Practice non-violence each and every day. In your words and actions and all that you say.”

So how does all this link to our yoga practice and our lives?

Firstly, within our own yoga practice, whether we practice at home or in a class, it is essential we are kind to ourselves. We need to be responsible for ourselves in making sure we ‘cause no harm’ by being overly pushy or not listening and noticing the sensations in our body. We must be compassionate to ourselves. We need to be fully present in our mind, aware and watchful to achieve this. We need to be concentrating on our movements, where we are placing our body and not doing this too fast or too slow, so we have ‘grace and calm’. We need to tune in to our feelings and the sensations within us.

By practicing this on our own yoga mats we will then, hopefully, be able to transfer it to our lives, being kind and positive about what we and others can achieve, rather than having a self-critical inner voice. If this is something you particularly struggle with, repeating a Metta meditation as you move in yoga can be massively beneficial. To start with try just memorising and repeating one line;

“May I be filled with love and kindness, may I be free, may I be happy and safe”. (One for yourself)

“May all beings be free, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be happy, may all beings be safe, may all beings awaken to the light of their true nature”.

So as you move forward into 2019, if you find yourself needing to set intentions and resolutions or you find yourself having a difficult day (which we all do) think about and reflect on ahimsa – kindness.

I agree with Barack Obama, Budda, Albert Einstein and many others of great wisdom, that kindness is the most important quality someone can possess, but don’t forget that it is not just about treating others with kindness but also ourselves and comes with responsibility and discipline. This small intention can cause big ripples.

“Kindness gives birth to kindness” - Sophocles

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