Tag Archives: Ahimsa

Full Disclosure

I’ve been thinking a lot about how many of the causes of suffering in my life and in the life of those around me are rooted in communication…what we communicate, how we do it, and where we direct it. It seems that so much of what we convey to others passes through a complex system of filters before it pours out into the space we reserve for communication, but many times, it doesn’t even make it that far. That filtering of information happens when we analyze what we have to share, who we’re sharing it with, and a) what our feelings toward that person are, and b) what that person is dealing with in their daily life. When we have incredibly joyous news to share, we often suppress the degree of that joy if we’re dealing with someone who tends to be pessimistic or sarcastic, and conversely, when we have news that isn’t happy, we tend to keep it to ourselves for fear of imposing on others, afraid that we’ll “bring them down”  once the news or information has been shared.

The second Yama in Patanjali’s 8 Yogic Limbs is Satya, which loosely translates to “truth”. Taken from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sutra 2.36 states, “For one who increasingly practices honesty or truthfulness in actions, speech, and thoughts, his or her will is naturally fulfilled.” Very often, this sutra is applied to how we interact with others (the Yamas are intended to provide restrictions in how we treat others to live a more balanced, peaceful life), but I firmly believe that if we are not applying these practices to ourselves, we won’t have the necessary tools to apply them to others. “As within, so without” sums this up perfectly. We are also taught that if the truth of our words can potentially hurt someone, we should practice discretion, whereby adhering to the first Yama, Ahimsa. I know that in my own life, growing up dealing with my homosexuality taught me that it was normal to keep secrets and to not impose my troubles on others, and I see that same approach being used by countless people around me, regardless of their sexual orientations, genders, races, and religions. We are so conditioned to buy into the processes of discrimination and categorization that naturally occur in our minds that before we know it, we have become our own censors and end up withholding our own truths.

What I’m trying to get to is this: despite our best intentions in trying to transform who we are, what we experience, and what we have to communicate so that it becomes more palatable for others, we end up doing everyone a disservice. When we keep secrets, when we hold back the truth, we create our own obstacles from letting people know who we are, which in turn prevents us from knowing them. We are ALL guilty of filtering information, of white lies, of bending the truth. What we need to recognize is that in the same way that nothing ever ends up being what we thought it would be, people will most often react to us in ways we never would have anticipated. We create stories in our minds about how events will unfold based on how and if communicate, but ultimately, we need to let go of the illusion that we are writing the script and just surrender to the fact that we know very little in relation to what we think of ourselves, and that the people around us, those that we love and who love us, WANT to know the truth. Whether it be good, bad or horrific, those in our inner circles want to be included in everything that happens in our lives, because being privy to it differentiates them from everyone else. It allows them to step up and be our friends, our confidants, the shoulders to cry on and the cheerleaders to cheer us on. It gives them access to us, the same way we’d want access to them.

So this is my challenge to you: what have you not been honest about? And to whom? What information needs to be conveyed in order for you to feel free and light and liberated? Everyone’s got something…this is your cue to do some real spiritual work. Forget about the left-brain chatter that is feeding you stories about what the possible repercussions may be of full disclosure. Silence it….and start talking. It will make all the difference.

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The Weight of Inversions

One of the funniest things I hear from students on a semi-regular basis is that they really want to “do the fun poses.” I’ve stopped asking them to define “fun” for me as the answers are always the same: headstand, handstand, crow, etc…The balancing postures, especially the inversions, hold a shiny allure for newcomers and experienced yogis alike. I am no exception, as one of the postures that encouraged me to explore yoga as a physical practice was Sirsasana. Standing on my head was a commonplace occurrence when I was a child, so when I discovered that there was a spiritual practice that incorporated what I already was familiar with, I began to dig deeper.

Having the “fun” postures bring people to yoga is a definite asset as a yoga teacher. Whatever draws us closer to the truth, closer to a place where we can begin to ask questions and move closer to reconnecting with the source of everything within and around us, innately ends up proving its worth. What starts as an ego-driven desire to succeed and accomplish leads us to a place where we learn to strip ourselves of the ego and get drawn to a place where we find liberation from Samsara. Where my role as a responsible yoga teacher enters into the equation is when I have to determine when the “fun” postures aren’t appropriate for some students. And I hate being the bad guy, the bearer of bad news…

On a physical level, I continually bring my students’ awareness back to the structure of their frames, mainly to the spinal column as their vertical axis and the pelvis as the horizontal axis. As all of our bodies and physical capabilities are different, I also encourage students to take my instruction as a guideline, while tapping into their own intuition and listening to what their bodies are telling them throughout the practice. What’s right for one student will be antithetical to another’s development, and my main objective is to guide them all towards the mind-body connection where their awareness is in the body, conscious of the subtle movements that open up energy channels and those that block them off. Often, weight-bearing inversions can put an unnecessary (and sometimes dangerous) amount of strain on the body’s frame, which after years of practice can result in life-long injuries and ailments.

The benefits of inversions are many: fresh, oxygenated blood gets directed to the brain through a facilitation of the veins’ low-pressure pumping of blood back up to the carotid arteries in the neck…with the increase of this blood, the receptors that regulate the flow of blood to the brain detect the increased amount and then slow down the flow, which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure; the body’s lymphatic system (which works to remove waste from the body as well as maintain proper immune system levels and fluid levels) gets stimulated; the slight pressure of the top of the head on the ground in Sirsasana is thought to promote elasticity in the bones of the cranium, which in turn stimulates the cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain (the cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid of the central nervous system which runs down the spinal cord)…and the list goes on and on. There’s nothing like scientific proof to justify our desire to push ourselves into a posture that is deemed “fun.” What is less often discussed, however, are the possible harmful effects that we can be inviting into the equation when we ignore our bodies’ parameters and limits and simply feed the ego.

Upper spine injuries due to misalignment or pre-existing weaknesses in the cervical spine are becoming more and more common in yoga practitioners. These injuries can affect everything from neck mobility to the functionality of the arms and hands, even the overall mobility of the entire body. When the real compressive force of inversions is not properly conveyed to those practising, and the proper amount of upper body strength is not used to take the weight out of the head and the spine, then injuries can appear within weeks, even days, especially for those practising these postures once or twice a week.

All this information exists so that we can make the proper adjustments to our practice to ensure we reap the multitude of benefits while eliminating the possibility of hurting ourselves. I encourage everyone to move towards inversions carefully and responsibly, staying alert and attentive in the presence of a trustworthy teacher, all the while staying completely tuned into what their bodies’ are telling them. Let’s be real about it – Ahimsa may be a restriction in how we treat others, but if we’re not treating ourselves with non-aggression and non-harming, then how can we genuinely treat others that way?

Only The Best

As most of you already know by now, the past year has been monumental for me in terms of the changes I made in my career and where it has brought me since. I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years now, and only after 9 of those years did I realize that yoga was where I wanted to build my career, for so many reasons: primarily to help people grow (physically, mentally, spiritually), but also to see what I was capable of…to “deepen my practice” and see how it affected the rest of my life. I’m so grateful that I have the support network around me that enabled me to jump beyond myself only to find that the boundaries of my capabilities had monumentally shifted and I was so much more than I had ever believed possible. Yet while I find myself more “myself” than I have ever been, there are some things I’ve observed in my community that I still have mixed feelings about…

One of the foundations of leading a yogic lifestyle is practicing Ahimsa, or non-harming. Ahimsa most often gets applied towards the killing of animals for human consumption. I have always been a meat eater. I’m pretty sure that my family falls not far on the evolutionary ladder from the Flintstones (if any of you have ever sat down to a meal with my family, you know what I mean – my partner jokes that after a dinner with my parents all that’s left on the plate is a perfectly and partially intact skeleton). I’m not particularly in love with the idea of eating meat, but whenever I get on a vegetarian kick and try to eradicate meat from my diet, I find my body physically craving it within a couple of days. I try to have at least one vegetarian or vegan meal a day, and I’m doing my best, which is all I can ask of myself or my students when they’re in my yoga class. One’s best is all we need to drum up. And one’s best will change from day to day, even from hour to hour, depending on how rested we are, how hydrated (or dehydrated) we are, how much stress we’re handling, etc…

I am, however, finding my defenses going up sporadically when the issue of meat-eating comes up with fellow yogis or other teachers. It has often been insinuated, and even declared to me. that eating meat completely negates a yogic lifestyle and that to eat meat is to walk around with blood on my hands. I understand the concept, however extreme it may have been conveyed, and I do my best to walk the walk, but at a certain point, I take issue with the whole thing. Living a yogic lifestyle, as far as I’m concerned and as far as I have been able to interpret from my teachings, involves being the best person one can be, with an abundance of love and compassion for oneself and all others, to see the source of all energy in everyone and everything that surrounds us. To be able to bring people to a higher consciousness, and to aid them in discovering the meaning of their lives and to tap into the energy source that we all draw from and carry around with us. Whether I eat meat or not shouldn’t be a source of shame, and anyone in the yogic world who would willingly bring shame onto someone else for their dietary habits (or for any other reason) should reconsider what they’re trying to accomplish with their efforts. I can do my best at practicing Ahimsa by eating less meat, or I can choose to eat meat all the time…either way, it’s not for anyone to judge. My journey through this life is between where I believe my energy source lies and my being, and I haven’t heard any complaints yet 🙂

I believe that in expressing my opinions, especially when they may be slightly controversial considering the environment I find myself in, I am opening the door to an exchange of points of view and beliefs, all of which are valid and have merit. I just want people to know that we’re not all robots walking around stretching and preaching to others about how superior we are because we practice yoga. We are all the same, yet we’re undeniably different, and it’s this play of opposites that fascinates me and encourages me to delve deeper into my studies and my practice. For those of you who have always been intrigued by yoga but thought it was too cultish or unpalatable, I hope this blog entry speaks to you. My aim is to show that practicing yoga is more a state of mind than it is a way of life, and yet in that shift of one’s state of mind comes the desire to make changes in one’s life that makes us feel better about ourselves and the world we surround ourselves with. And all we can ask of ourselves is the best. And that’s all we can wish for others…

Let me know what you think 🙂