Ahimsa: compassion starts within

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence. Even when our actions are non-violent, we might feel violence in our hearts.

Ahimsa is the yogic notion of non-violence or non-harming. It’s the first of the Yamas, the yogic ethical precepts that suggest the right path for a yogi.

When I teach the concept of ahimsa, I often joke that it’s an obvious one: if you’ve showed up in a yoga class, you’re probably not a violent person. You’re probably already on a path toward kindness. You’re probably already seeking to be more compassionate in your actions toward others.

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Open your heart! Even when it’s cold and snowy, open your heart!

But while external manifestations of violence certainly belie a violent heart, the reverse is not always true. We think of violence as grandiose, but internal violence can be quite subtle: we might be walking around with a lot of violence in our hearts—resentment, guilt, anger, fear, shame.  That internal violence may never manifest as an outward expression. That’s a good thing, of course, but it doesn’t mean we should leave that internal violence to rage on without check or change.

Indeed, it’s only by ceasing to struggle internally that we can cease to struggle externally—as individuals and as a collective society. That’s the true teaching of ahimsa: non-harming, non-violence starting internally. Starting with ourselves. Moving from the internal to the external. True compassion for ourselves to true compassion for others.

This is where the practice of yoga comes in: yoga allows us to acknowledge, confront, and address inner brutality. The practice of arriving in your body, moving with grace, accepting your body’s limitations; this is the practice of compassion. Being present with discomfort, being honest about your thoughts, being aware of what you’re feeling; this is the practice of compassion. Accepting yourself as you are: the most radical practice of compassion. Accepting others as they are. Even more radical, I know.

Acknowledging that inner violence exists is not the same as expressing that violence. When we act from a space of violence we cause violence to others. The destructive cycle continues. But when we acknowledge the pain in our heart, we are often amazed to see how quickly it melts away and how easily we become free of it. And more: we see then how big and full and beautiful the heart can be when the little thorn of himsa (violence) is removed.

 

Have 20 minutes? Do some yoga!

Heart-Opening and Super-Stretchy Seated Pose Sequence

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose; move your spine and stretch your body, finding what feels good
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Move back to Table Pose and slide onto your belly for Sphinx Pose; stay in Sphinx Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slide onto your belly and as you inhale float into Locust Pose; stay in Locust Pose for 3-5 breaths
  • Rest in Child’s Pose for as long as needed
  • Slowly root through your feet and move to Downward Facing Dog; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Transition to hands and knees in Table position and stretch your spine with Cat-Cow for a breath or two
  • Sit down and move to Seated Forward Fold; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Cross your legs into Cow-Faced Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths; switch the cross of your legs; stay for 3-5 breaths
  • Draw your feet together for Bound Angle Pose; stay here for 3-5 breaths
  • Lower onto your back and practice Bridge Pose 3 times; hold each pose 3-5 breaths; rest in between
  • Rest in Corpse Pose for 5-10 minutes

Author: Alexandra

Yoga teacher. Mom. Aging athlete. Writing & lit instructor. Wife. Happy. www.alexandradesiato.com

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