A Lesson in Ahimsa


Sometimes, I need to be reminded about pain. Maybe I got cocky last week and tried to do too much, or maybe it was just dumb luck that I tweaked my back. The injury seemed minor at first, but it managed to debilitate me for the better part of a week. To make the whole thing bearable, I’m attempting to treat it as a learning experience, but it’s not going so well.

I often have students come to yoga classes when they are injured, sick, sore or tired. Some have long-term injuries or illnesses that make even simple movements complicated and painful. Planning practices and modifying poses for them is challenging because I don’t always know what’s going to cause them pain, kinda like I don’t know what’s going to cause my back to go into spasms. I guide them through gentle and restorative practices and try to offer alternatives when a pose is beyond reach, but I mostly have to rely on them to respect their bodies’ boundaries. Pain, I remind them, is your body’s way of telling you you’ve reached a boundary and it’s time to back off. I trust my students to listen to their bodies. So why couldn’t I practice what I preach?

Now that I have pushed myself well beyond my limits and am paying the price of being incapacitated for a week, my next course of action has been to mentally and verbally berate myself for getting into this situation. I’m not used to relying on others, and I don’t like it one bit. I spent yesterday with friends who basically waited on me hand and foot, and I felt guilty every time I had to ask for something to be brought to me, even though I’m sure I would’ve done the same for them or any of my students. I just kept thinking about how mad I was at myself for hurting myself, for not heeding the warning signs, and for thoughtlessly going through round after round of Sun Salutations when I really should have been resting.

But maybe this is another chance to practice what I preach: ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence toward all living things, including myself. Physical nonviolence means not forcing through my boundaries and not abusing my body. Sure, I may have failed on this front last week, but I can do better this week by taking the time to heal . But there’s also mental and emotional nonviolence. It means not mentally berating myself anymore, not saying out loud, “God, I’m so stupid, why did I let this happen?” It means treating myself the way I would treat a student who shows up to my class with an injury: with kindness, patience, and a little bit of indulgence. I’ve been told before, but now I know for sure that ahimsa is the hardest to apply to oneself. So, that’s my lesson for this week I guess.

Endings and Beginnings
Yoga Sutra 1.19: Conservation Law Applies to Yoga

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