Our bodies are vehicles that allow us to move freely, explore the earth, and get from A to B. However, we rarely listen to them. I fell in love with yoga history and philosophy during yoga teacher training, because its leaders advocated for people to tune into their bodies, respect them and condition them. Part of a text written by Patanjali in 400 CE, looking at the 8 Limbs of Yoga, explains the practice of Ahimsa-or non-violence towards the self and others and all living beings. The Sanskrit word describes a state in which we are in harmony with ourselves and our environment. I see quite the opposite of Ahimsa when I teach yoga sometimes. I see my students wincing in pain as they push their bodies beyond their limits—as they forget to listen to their bodies and move with compassion.
To me, yoga is about cleansing, strengthening and releasing tension, it’s not about injuring yourself so you can look like Yolanda the Yoga Star in the front row. It’s about letting your body guide your movements, and flowing intuitively with both effort and ease. If that means you modify 80% of the poses—perfect. If that means you have to rest in child’s pose during the standing series—go for it. If listening to your body shows up as you being in full self-expression, being able to do backbends galore—follow that lead. As Ahimsa suggests, be kind to others and yourself. Don’t harm or act violently toward your body to satisfy your ego on your mat. In my eyes, the yoga practice is about love, compassion and empowerment, not punishment, comparison and pain.
I used to push by body too hard when I practiced, and that is why I see the same struggle in others, now as a teacher. It would seem impossible for me to catch my breath or to flow with any joy at all. I’d have a constant furrow in my brow and would think terrible things about my instructor—who, in my mind, was holding us all too long in the pose. I came to my mat to punish myself, because at that time I lacked a lot of self-love. I used to struggled, and still do at times, with loving and respecting my body. So, my mat became my punishment pad, where I’d pay for not exercising more that week or eating a chunk of cheesecake. I’d push myself beyond the point of challenge, on the way to injury. When the fun and excitement was taken out of my practice, I knew something had to change. I was no longer looking forward to yoga, I was dreading it because I felt I had to do it.
All that shifted for me was a big injection of self-love, attention and compassion. I started focusing more on my breath as I practiced, which allowed me to be more silent and tune into what my body needed right then. I started to really appreciate my body for working the way it did and allowing me to move it in just the right ways. I started to enjoy my practice again! I started to crave my mat and the heat. I started to come into full self-expression, without agony or strife. All because I let my body guide my movements, and dropped the violent attitudes I previously had towards it. Now that I know that kind of peace and ease is possible in yoga, I want nothing more than for my students to realize the same truth. I believe I’m part of the healing process, guiding them to tune inward, and move with breath and love. So, I say this as a gentle reminder that we can all apply a little Ahimsa to our lives. We can all begin to treat ourselves and all beings with kindness, love and respect. It changed my yoga practice– imagine how it could change the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eryl McCaffrey is a Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher and Freelance Writer based in Toronto, Ontario. She believes that yoga has the ability to heal, empower and change the world. Eryl is passionate about health and wellness, connection, writing, hiking and music. Check out her blog Two Feet and a Heart Beat at twofeetheartbeat.wordpress.com.