Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ahimsa.... what does it mean?

If you are a somewhat seasoned yoga practitioner, you have probably heard about 'ahimsa'. It is a word from the ancient language of Sanskrit, which was used to write down all ancient sacred Indian texts.
Ahimsa means "non-violence".
Easy enough to understand as a concept, you might think. In a way, it is.
However, maybe it means more than we perceive at first glance. In India the sages who practice ahimsa walk barefoot and try to not even crush a bug under their soles accidentally.
I am thinking that no matter how hard one tries to avoid crushing a tiny bug under one's foot, it is bound to happen. We cannot see what is hiding in the grass, or even in the dust of a road. So, whether the sage likes it or not, he will inevitably hurt some little creatures unintentionally. He can't help it.
So, maybe we can say that non-violence means to not inflict harm by intent.
What comes first to my mind then is - obviously - the meat eating habit of a big part of the world population. Is that violence? Is killing an animal for food violence? Since this is a subject of great importance to many, it will be hard to determine who is right and who is wrong. People just love to eat meat way too much. Do they need it truly for sustenance? The answer is no, not at all. Entire nations used to be or still are vegetarian and thrive healthily. Top Olympic sportsmen and women are vegetarians and outperform anybody else. I myself have never eaten meat in my life and am the healthiest person on the planet, well, one of them!

But, I rather wanted to talk about ahimsa much more closely in relation with the practice of yoga.
Two weeks ago, I pulled or strained a rib on my left side. I was practicing a bow posture, and in order to enhance it, I used a strap to achieve a stronger back bend. As I pulled the strap over my head, I felt that sharp pain in my left floating ribs, and I knew the damage was done right there and then. Ouch. That really hurt! Two weeks later, I can still feel where I pulled the rib out of its cartilage. It is amazing that just one little spot of injury can affect the performance of the entire body. I can feel that injury two weeks later, when I do a variety of postures, as all the muscles perform together, and they find this one week spot.

But, on the bright side, I did learn this lesson: Ahimsa in the practice of yoga means also to use props in the right way.
What does that mean? When using a prop, it must be done only to support the posture at the level where we can perform it, without any help from a prop. It is there only to ease us into what we can do by ourselves.
I used it - and so do many yogis every day - to push myself beyond what I could have done without it. The result was an injury, a violence committed towards my own body.

I did already understand the concept that yoga should not be competitive and also not understood as a form of gymnastics or body building. However, it was obviously good to realize that such an anodyne thing as a prop can also be the source violence towards oneself, through inappropriate usage and practice. I shall remember that lesson from now on.

Thanks for allowing me to share this insight with you!

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