Blueberry Ahimsa

While hastily packing my groceries, I dropped a half-pint of blueberries. They rolled. The entire line of shoppers paused. The woman filling her grocery bag next to me paused. Then she started picking up the berries one at a time. The woman working the cash register smiled and said, “I’ll eat those during my break!” All around, what could’ve been an awkward and irritating event turned into moment of communion. I was flustered, and the kindness of the woman who reacted by helping to collect the scattered berries made all the difference. These ordinary, inconvenient moments happen all the time. How do we respond?

This week, one of my colleagues asked me to cover an yoga class for her with a focus on ahimsa: nonviolence, non-aggression, compassion. Bringing the sankalpa (intention) of non-violence into yoga practice has meant asking students to increase awareness of how they are with themselves during movement, with what quality of presence. The virbhadrasana (warrior) poses are useful for this exploration, when moving into and out of a pose dynamically with the breath and staying for several breaths: Turning up the volume and energy of the pose, and then turning down the volume.

What’s helpful is that I’ve also been reading Kelly McGonigal’s book, Yoga for Pain Relief with a strong feeling of recognition. It is the closest description of how I teach to anything I’ve found yet. I recommend it as an accessible workbook that introduces yoga as a system of breath, movement, relaxation, and meditation. In her chapter on befriending the body, Dr. McGonigal suggests reflecting on the body with gratitude and appreciation: “This gratitude practice is an opportunity to reflect on how your body has supported you.” What really struck me is gratitude practice as an antidote to anger and other negative emotions (in this case, toward our bodies and in response to chronic pain). Introducing acceptance and friendliness toward our bodies via gratitude practice is a deep practice of non-violence and compassion. Thank you, feet! Thank you, heart!

Ahimsa satya asteye brahmacarya aparigrahah yamah (II.30)

When we learn to treat ourselves with non-aggression and compassion, we bring this ethical principle into how we are with others. As all are connected, how we are with ourselves so we are with all beings. How could you practice awareness of non-violence in your own life?

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