Guest Post Written by Stacey Pepper Schwartz
Ahimsa. This is a sanskrit word that means no harm. It is one of the most important tenets of yoga. When I teach yoga I always tell my students if they are pushing past their limit, stretching past their capacity, straining, groaning and pulling a very important muscle that will prevent them from walking out of the studio without a stretcher, then they are not practicing ahimsa. This usually gets a laugh but less than 10 minutes later I am reminding my students to “feel your bodies” and “check in with yourself and see what your body is telling you.” “Pull back,” I tell them. “Stop and listen,” I suggest. I encourage them to “let your body open, accept the stretch, enjoy the moment of letting go and trust your body will release and move further on its own.”
Ok. Great philosophy, but this is harder than the most complicated yoga posture. To me this is harder than a headstand and for the record I have never and will never be able to do a headstand. This ahimsa thing is still way harder.
I have an easier time with this concept in class then I do in my everyday life. Yoga concepts can be performed on and off the mat. In my life off the mat is harder. In class, I have set up a time for me. There are no distracting phone calls, to do lists, crumpled laundry that has been sitting in the living room since I can’t remember, school pick-ups and drop-offs and dinners that were supposed to be on the table an hour ago.
Ahimsa actually means no harm to yourself and others and it is not just referring to the physical body. It means no harm physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. For example, I should not berate myself when I see the laundry on the floor with my dog curled up on top or when the school calls to ask if my daughter was supposed to be on the bus because she is usually a pick up on Wednesday and is now sitting in the office. Physically it means not to check my email one last time before I go to bed because I know in my heart that this will actually keep me up for an additional hour. Sleep is way more important but then I have to clue into my body and hear it asking me to rest my eyes, stop the constant chatter in my mind and, “enjoy the moment of letting go.”
Speaking of constant chatter, we all do it. The inner dialogue that never stops, like a buzzing bee, but it doesn’t sound like buzzzzz, it sounds more like “that was stupid, I should have…, why didn’t I…I can’t do it, etc.” Mentally this is not kind. Actually it is downright mean. I would never stand for someone hovering over me and yelling at me at every turn but why is it so hard to tell my brain to knock it off? The answer is simple. I don’t realize it half the time. “Pull back,” I tell my students and “stop and listen.” If I stop and listen I can tell my inner voice to take a break. I prefer my kinder voice that says, ” You are doing a great job. The dog is in need of a soft place to rest and you are providing that comfort.”
Guilt – yep we all experience that too. When I take a break and go to lunch with friends that voice comes back. “You should be…money better spent on…etc.” But emotionally I am recharging. I am laughing with friends which makes the “oops, my child is sitting in the office because I thought it was Tuesday” easier. Emotional kindness can help to reframe the situation as something humorous rather than a colossal failure. And I can laugh about it with my daughter instead of apologizing profusely (laughing in the long run will serve her well so when she makes mistakes – and she will – she will see she doesn’t need to be perfect either.) “Let your body open,” I tell my students.
Spiritually, when my daughter and husband sit down to a cold meal that is an hour late, I look at them and ask, “name one thing you are grateful for today.” The question is to remind them and me that no matter how crazy the day has been we all had the ability to have it. My daughter might respond, “for my toys” and my husband might respond, “well, my meeting went well” and in my heart I am grateful to practice ahimsa, and tomorrow I will “trust my body/mind/spirit to release and move further on its own.”
Stacey is the Founder and Director of Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs. The focus of Leaping Legs is to help people regardless of age, experience or ability, become educated about their movement potential, develop kinesthetic awareness, and become more physically fit and healthy together as a family and community. Leaping Legs promotes its goal through the original Up Down & All Around DVD. The DVD received Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products Award and 10 Best Active Products Award. Dance Teacher Magazine called the DVD “an essential tool for teaching the fundamentals of movement.”