Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Five "Don'ts" of the Yogic Discipline: Post 1

This week in yoga school at Body, we've been discussing the very roots of the tradition. According to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, one of the first texts on yoga written around 2200 years ago, one could achieve enlightenment by following an eight-limbed path. The path covered everything from ethics to physical practice to breathing and meditation.

Many if not all of the practices from The Yoga Sutras are still relevant today. And, in a lot of ways, his teachings are even more significant because we have so many more distractions in life: television, jobs, social life, social media, etc, that take us away from really rooting into ourselves and taking the time to make good, thorough decisions or actions. Reminding ourselves of these things is more important than ever.

The first leg on Patanjali's eight-limbed path to enlightenment is called Yama, which is basically a code of ethics on five things one should restrain from. By restraining, one will have an easier time creating harmony in his or her life.

The first principle is one I feel the most profoundness in, so I'm dedicating this post to it.

Ahimsa: The first restraint is violence. Now, the obvious example here is physical violence (murdering, punching, kicking, etc), but Patanjali's message was more intrinsic than this. Ahimsa means not only not harming others physically and emotionally, but also not harming yourself, the environment and other living beings. Practicing this principle requires a level of compassion and respect, and I admire both of those qualities.

One of the biggest lessons or reminders I've taken from Ahimsa is to not engage in gossip when it sparks up in conversation. We all know it happens more often than we'd like and, in truth, it's usually neither productive nor beneficial to anyone. My teacher described a simile I loved in which gossip is the worst weed in the garden—it's not only the ugliest thing, it grows and spreads swiftly and often overtakes what is beautiful.

Photo by EssJayNZ

Because I work in the outdoor world—and often play in the mountains, ocean, snow, rivers—having a level of respect for the environment feels natural for me. By practicing Ahimsa, I'm more often reminded to bring reusable grocery bags into the store, to bike and walk more, and avoid packaged items and plastic containers when I can.

One principle of Ahimsa that I don't currently follow is vegetarianism. I was a vegetarian for five years as a teenager and often tend towards meat-free options today, but my husband does eat meat and since we often cook dinner together, it's difficult (and costly) to make separate meals. That said, since yoga school has started, I've opted towards vegetarian options whenever possible. Because of that, I feel lighter (physically and spiritually) and healthier. It's important to note I'm substituting meat for veggies, fruits, and tofu and not pasta and cheese (as I once did in my teenage years). <---That's for you, mom.

Which aspects of Ahimsa do you practice and which do you hope to follow more deeply?

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