Friday, October 18, 2013

A shower, my thighs and Ahimsa #365Yoga

Levi rockin' the Scorpion Pose
A guy rocking Scorpion Pose (Photo credit: FabulousTerrah)
Yesterday, after I finished Insanity Cardio Recovery (a.k.a. the "slow, painful death of my thighs" workout), I was thinking about whether or not a painful workout went against the "nonharming" principle of yoga. I was standing in the shower at the time, and I was also wondering how a non-cardio workout could have made me sweat so much, so don't expect anything too deep and philosophical here.

Ahimsa, usually translated as nonharming or nonviolence, is the first of the Yamas in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The Yamas teach us how to control our personal conduct when dealing with others. In its simplest terms, the principle of Ahimsa asks us to not hurt anyone. But, if it's part of the code of ethics for dealing with others, does it allow us to hurt ourselves?

I've heard yoga teachers point out Ahimsa as the reason we shouldn't push too hard during an asana practice. "Show compassion for yourself!" "There's no pain in yoga!" "Stay within your edge!" I've said these things myself. They are yoga teacher language for "Please don't get hurt in my class." I have to wonder, however, how the guy rocking Vrischikasana never pushed past his edge while learning how to get there. And if he was sore for awhile, like I was when I was regularly working on scorpion pose, did he feel un-yogi-like because he wasn't gentle with his body?

My thighs disagree, but I think using Ahimsa as an excuse not to take reasonable risks with my body takes something away from the Yamas, which are supposed to remind me that it's not, in fact, all about me. The violence we're supposed to be avoiding isn't muscle aches from a good workout, it's the harm we do when we think we're separate from everyone else. It's the pain that we cause whenever we allow differences in race, gender, nationality, religion, living conditions, etc., to create an "otherness" in our thinking. It's the rips in the web of existence that we create every time we come from a place of fear rather than openness.

I'm not advocating recklessness in yoga classes or home practices. We should always practice safely and with intention and awareness, to avoid injuries. I just think we do a disservice to Patanjali when we claim Ahimsa while we're dropping into child's pose but forget to talk about the much deeper commitment nonviolence requires when we step off our mats. After all, Patanjali probably never saw a forearm balance. I know he never checked out Insanity.

Yes, there are awesome yoga teachers out there digging into the Yamas in their classes, but they weren't in the shower with me. It was just me and my thighs, and, Ahimsa or not, we've got another workout tomorrow.

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