Uniting Our Responsibility by Mary Pat FitzPatrick
Everyone has experienced flashing someone a smile or imparting a kind word and receiving a cheerful response. Maybe you motioned someone ahead of you in line at the grocery store or onto the Metro Mobility bus. From such simple acts of kindness, both the giver and receiver gain joy that can be contagious. Conversely, one may have had the experience of talking before thinking and saying an insensitive word, or even just having an unsympathetic thought without speaking it. That unkind word or thought ends up following the offender and hurts them more than whoever it was directed to.
In Patanjali’s foundational text of classical Yoga philosophy, he outlines the eight “limbs” of yoga. Yama, the first limb, refers to vows, disciplines, and practices that are concerned with the world around us and our interconnection with it. Ahimsa is the first Yama. The basic definition is compassion toward oneself and others, not physically harming others, and not thinking negative thoughts about ourselves and others.
We begin to understand Ahimsa when we realize we are united. Our thoughts, words, actions, and reactions have an effect on ourselves and the world around us.
“The thought manifests the word;
The word manifests the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let them spring forth from love
Born out of compassion for all beings.
As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”
Ahimsa in an asana is listening to the body. It is paying attention to the “gurus” – the places we may need to be especially patient, be it an injury or quiet place that needs awareness to awaken. It may involve being mindful of how it feels to spread the fingers and toes, pressing through their ball mounds. It may mean noticing one’s shoulders are raised, then dropping them away from the ears. It may be finding alignment in “your pose”, content with the fact that the asana outline may look different than the student across the room. Ahimsa in an asana may be finding a content breath or taking a break from a pose altogether. It may just be receiving the light touch of a partner, feeling compassion for oneself and being still.
The mantra “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu” means: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my thoughts and my actions somehow contribute to that freedom for all.