Ahimsa ~ the art of nonviolence

The phrase “ahimsa” comes from the Sanskrit: a, meaning not/non, and himsa, meaning violence.  At first glance, nonviolence could sound a lot like ‘doing nothing.’  Immediate connotations include Ghandi’s legendary defiance against the British imperialists, or perhaps the long-haired hippies, sat in a smoke-filled room, refusing to vacate an establishment to protest the war.  But were they really doing nothing – simply avoiding an action?  Or was it their conscious discretion – the ability to distinguish an effective course of action over a simple reaction – which made all the difference?

Taken in the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written around 200 BCE (2200 years ago) and the first comprehensive document on the eight limbs of classical yoga, ahimsa is just one part of an entire web of moral values.  Both social restraints and individual precepts are laid out for the classical yoga practitioner, to ensure not only a clear body, but a clear mind and a harmonious existence in the sangha (community).  Ahimsa is perhaps the most important of the yamas, and certainly one of the most challenging in this day and age.  You’d be surprised at how often violence, in all its forms, actually pops up in your day!

Something quite special to this perspective on Hinduism, the yamas and niyamas require adherents to execute specific values in action, speech and thought.  In other words, even your internal monologue should be tuned in to this simple – though challenging – moral paradigm.  And perhaps it’s not even about morals, but about common sense.

(stay tuned for more on the yamas and niyamas!)

So today, I found myself practicing a rare form of ahimsa.  Not by avoiding meat, or refusing involvement in negative gossip – which I try to do on a daily basis anyway.  But I practiced ahimsa toward myself – I decided not to work whilst feeling wretchedly sick.

Rather than listen to my achievement-oriented brain, I took stock of what my body was telling me: you’ve been ill for five days, you were bed-ridden for two, a super healing yoga session felt amazing, but a relapse soon followed, your mind’s about as fuzzy as a cotton ball, your body is aching, and with a wheeze like that, you could pass for an 80 year old.  It was time to take a break!

When I’m hit with the rare cold, I beat it in a few days.  But this beast was of an entirely new breed.  It infiltrated every orifice and made a nasty wet nest deep in my lungs where it festered and grew til I could handle it no longer!  I took a few days rest and succumbed to the doctor’s order of antibiotics and nebulizer.

In this case, it would have been violent, or at least painfully unhealthy, for me to force myself into a full day of work.   I had to be sensitive to my own needs, despite the guilt I felt for taking a day off – especially during this crucial time at my school.  And what use would I be to the kids at this point, anyway?  All stuffed up and ready for bed?

So ahimsa.  Or the more Buddhist perspective: compassion. “The root of compassion is compassion for oneself” ~Pema Chodron

Whatever way you flip it, listen to your body, and know when it’s time for a little bit of TLC.  Sweet dreams ya’ll!

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2 thoughts on “Ahimsa ~ the art of nonviolence”

  1. Hope you’re feeling better. I had one of those days two weeks ago with a craaaazy migraine that I ended up staying home. Yoga poses for migraines?

  2. Two studies published in the journal ‘Headaches’ found that patients w/ chronic headaches that hadn’t responded to conventional treatment used biofeedback, meditation and relaxation techniques resulting in “an excellent response.” Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn found an effective approach, which also reduced patients’ dependency on medications, through mindfulness-based stress-reduction programs, including asana and meditation.

    Strike a pose, baby! Anything that’s gonna lower your heart rate and make you feel at ease. If you’re open in the hips and hamstrings, forward folds can be great – on the other hand, if you’re tight there (from running, bicycling, etc.), or if you find there’s uncomfortable pressure in your head, that might not be the pose for you. In that case, when you bend forward, you could have a pillow under your head for support and comfort.

    I love lying on the floor in supta badha konasana (when your knees are bent and the bottoms of your feet are touching, legs fall toward the floor). I put a pillow under my lower back, or between my shoulder blades and just breath deeply for a good 20 breath round.

    Also love legs up the wall – perpendicular to the floor – back lying on the floor, arm out in ‘cactus’ position (elbows bent).

    Yoga Journal suggests these poses, but I’d be careful with some of the inversions – where your head is upside down and gravity could rock the headache/migraine into 4th gear …

    Focusing on the outward breath has been shown to decrease heart rate and can contribute to headache relief – use your belly muscles and diaphragm to sloooooowly, consciously, release the air.

    Also, foods that have been found to trigger migraines:

    aged cheeses
    alcohol
    dried fruits treated w/ sulfites
    artificial sweeteners (esp nutrasweet)
    freshly baked bread (bummer!)
    pickled foods
    bananas, apples
    citrus fruits
    eggs
    beans
    chocolate (uh oh…)
    wheat
    seeds, nuts, peanuts
    cured or processed meats

    Goddamn, that’s a LOT of food! Might be a good idea to go get a proper allergy test – have you done that before?

    I hope something in there helps you, darlin’! I’ll keep my ear to the ground for more ways to prevent headaches and migraines (the latter is obviously much tougher to deal with). Good luck, homes. Sending you lots love-filled migraine-free vibes ;o)

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