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Practicing Ahimsa Toward Self

“Whats the worst that can happen? You die?”

Ive always found it funny, placing things I fear or find extremely uncomfortable in the
same frame of mind as death. Almost like a way to laugh at the hard truth of life
rather than be overwhelmed by it.

That being said, many times, friends and family shudder calling me out for being
extremely cynical or nihilistic. A sad outburst of an excuse to give up.
Growing up, my parents were adamant about every utterance being a dua, a prayer
that somehow went from one’s mouth to God’s ears. That is God had ears, or any
form of humanistic quality. And this utterance, was apparently my cry out to Death itself.

Highly overdramatic. And yet, the statement was not entirely false.

It comprised of a half-truth and also a full truth, but one that serves to obscure from
the reality of life rather than clarify. Yes, we will find ourselves grasping our last few
breaths, but it is not truly, the worst thing that could happen, right?

To me, death is not a failure or a the moment for finality, but rather a necessary part
of the life cycle of being incarnate. Life (and living in its glory) is not separate from
death (and perhaps, the trail of sorrow it leaves behind). Its part of a continuous
mysterious experience of redemption and renewal, and the vastness of what else
might be out there.

The utterance itself might have stemmed to provide me comfort and certainty in a
possible outcome, and yet, in stating it out, was I violating my mind and pushing it to
make sense of such a macabre reality.

The way we schedule our time, push our bodies, and compare and judge ourselves
against others, and feed ourselves these stories, are we repeatedly creating an inner
environment that is filled with violence?

If we saw someone saying the things we say to ourselves out loud, would we not be
quick to call out such behavior. Yet when these same painful sensory experiences
arise in reaction to your own thoughts or actions, we fail to recognize your behavior
as violent.

One of the yamas, or moral restraints, in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is ahimsa, the
practice of nonviolence, and this includes nonviolence toward yourself. Of course,
you may well want something in your life so much that you are willing to take a
chance of hurting your body by driving it too hard. But usually a conscious, short-
term exertion to reach a goal is not what causes violence to self. More often it is a
matter of long-term disregard of the signals of imbalance.

This disregard comes from repeatedly getting so caught in wanting or fearful mind-
states that you’re unable to reflect on your own behavior. You may have a surface-
level awareness of the distress you are feeling in your body, but you don’t sincerely
respond to the discomfort. In the past few weeks, with the pursuit of being my
absolute best at work, being healthy and YTT, Ive been fully disregarding all signs to
how noisy my thoughts are and how overcommitted Ive been in my activities.
Violence against self through the body can also occur in situations where you are
taking deliberate care of your body, such as in doing yoga. How many times in a
yoga class do you get lost in your desire to get a pose right and actually add tension
and stress to the body rather than listening to the limits of your body?

It is good to hold a pose longer or to work to get more lift in a pincha, but not if you
tense or harden the body as part of the effort. Your face should stay relaxed, and
breath be free of any holding. Even more importantly, the mind needs to stay soft
and gentle; my teachers often describes the act of practicing kindness to your body.
Practicing yoga in this manner can help you learn how to release the tendency
toward violence to yourself in the rest of your life.

The next time you’re yoga class, if you don’t observe and work with all of the
emotions and moods that arise, you are missing half the value. Watch yourself the
next time you go to class: Do you get angry at your body? Do you unload with the
frustrations of your day and then expect it to do what you want? See for yourself how
every strong emotion; from frustration and fear to longing; is felt in the body as
tension, pressure etc.

In turn, each of these bodily sensations can be released through the yoga, which will
free the body from violence and usually quiets the mind. Once you learn to do this in
yoga class you can utilize this awareness; at work, at uncomfortable situations, or in
moments of fear.

Nonviolence to self is a lifetime practice of which there are ever more subtle levels to
discover. The more you are able to be with yourself in a nonviolent way, the less
harm you will do to another. Be gentle with the body and mind; refuse to get caught
in believing that things have to be a certain way in order for you to be happy.
At some point each day, softly close your eyes, relax your shoulders, let your mind
settle on the breath without trying to control it. In the ensuing quietness, see for
yourself how mysterious life is. Be comfortable in the uncertainty of it all, and dont
feel the need to brush it off with an utterance that perpetuates the fear under the
guise of humour.

Maybe the next time, Im scared out of my mind and worried about what might come
next; I should go, “Whats the worst that can happen? I dont really need to know.”


200 Hour YTT Feb-May’21