ahimsa

Spring Cleaning, aka releasing that which no longer serves you

by Stephanie Estice

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you begin to lean into a more expansive way of being in life. As you listen to your soul’s calling and learn new things and feel things that you haven’t experienced before, you run into your old limits. Or, to put it another way, you reveal deeper layers of your old patterns.

The theme for the month of March at Yoga on High is to release that which no longer serves us. When you go to the High Street location of the studio, in the back hall, there is a display of beautiful photos. Just above this wall of images there are slips of paper where you can write what you want to release and then tie the paper wish to a branch on the wall. It made my heart feel warm to find this display. It speaks to me on many levels: it is aesthetically pleasing and reminds me of the papers that I saw people tie to tree branches in shrines and temples when I was in Japan – the papers containing bad fortunes that they wished to release. Read More…

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Harmony, Compassion and Ahimsa

This is one in a series of articles on living with the Yoga Sutras that will appear on this blog over the next  year. Learn about how and why we explore this philosophical yogic text and how you can participate.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali list the yamas, restraints or “don’ts”. The first Yama is Ahimsa, often translated as non-violence or non-harming. Ahimsa is asking us not to be violent in our thoughts, words, and actions. Many of you have often heard me speak about oneness in my yoga classes. If we are dedicated to the oneness or wholeness of life and the interconnectedness of all living things we are naturally supporting living a life of ahimsa. It is the ideal of living a life in harmony with all living things.

Screech! Stop the record! This sounds beautiful but I have found that living ahimsa is a mindful struggle to overcome negative (violent and harming) thoughts. This struggle can be born of  anger, fear and a myriad of other negative emotions. Violence in any form often causes pain and suffering and this is something we all share. Once we realize we are all in this together it allows us to have empathy and operate more freely from a place of compassion and love! Read More…

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Savasana Armor

by Michele Vinbury

Every week in savasana, I ask students to allow me the privilege of helping them find comfort and to trust me, and the space we’ve created, as they close their eyes and begin to release tension in their bodies.  I stand watch, holding space, as they beautifully surrender to gravity and soften their physical armor.

I, on the other hand, am that student every restorative teacher knows, who would rather remain excruciatingly still while a blanket corner digs into my ribs than raise my hand to ask for help. This raised hand, a seemingly simple gesture, signals to me a vulnerability I needn’t expose. I admit that it is irrational – seen in my mind’s eye not as a form of self-care, but instead as a white flag of surrender, a signal of defeat. I need something because I can’t do it myself. I have no such judgments about my students though.  I often think the opposite, that it is the student with the more advanced practice that can accept and allow for comfort and ease. Read More…

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Shining Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

by Jasmine Astra-Elle Grace

Do you hear teachers talking about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in class and wonder what they are rambling about? Well, over the next few months, I have been asked to share with you all some of the key concepts found in this important philosophical yogic book.  I welcome you to join in on the journey!  Some even say that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali text is as important as the yoga mat itself…I will leave that for you to decide.

Invariably, “success” in yoga is through practice (sadhana). This idea of practice and experience for yourself is not only for asanas on the yoga mat; but, for all 8 limbs of yoga outlined in the philosophical text of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. While we may be able to memorize the words and intellectually understand the concepts, it is not until we have internalized the teachings and stayed with them for a period of time that we can truly be anchored in our own experience of the teachings.  Anchored in a knowing that exist in the silence and space between the words. Exploration of the sutras is essentially a method of self-inquiry.

If you are new to yoga or the philosophy of yoga here is the basic overview of the 8 limbs of yoga.

1. Yama -- the five restraints

Ahimsa -- Non-violence, non-harming, compassion for self and others.

Satya – Truthfulness in thought, word, and action.
Brahmacharya -- Control of the senses and energy conservation.

Asteya -- Non-stealing

Aparigraha – Non-grasping, non-attachment, non-hoarding.

2. Niyama -- the five observances

Saucha -- Purity, cleanliness of one’s body, surroundings and mind.

Santosha -- Contentment

Tapas -- Austerity

Swadhyaya -- Self-study, study of scriptures.

Ishwara Pranidhana -- Surrender to the fullness of self, surrender to God.

3. Asana -- Steady posture or seat

4. Pranayama -- Control of prana or life force

5. Pratyahara -- Withdrawal of the senses or to turn awareness inwards.

6. Dharana -- Concentration

7. Dhyana -- Meditation

8. Samadhi -- Total absorption, bliss, to hold the realization of unity.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the 8 limbs of yoga are very familiar to our Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute teacher trainees and graduates. In our 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training program, every graduating student has to choose a single sutra to contemplate over a month. The student journals about it daily for that month and has a first hand record of how the sutra shows up for them in their life. Their chosen sutra becomes a self-inquiry and a direct experience of living yoga.

In honor of the theme of the month, love, I was asked to share a blog on the first, and perhaps, most important Yama, Ahimsa. I have spent the last month refreshing my understanding of the concept, contemplating it, observing what rises within, looking at my level of harmony in relationships with all living beings, and doing simple meditations on love (which I will share with you) to raise my personal energetic vibrations. I have to admit I had a blindfold on and thought I was a “good” yogi living Ahimsa the majority of the time. However, as soon I brought my attention to contemplating Ahimsa it kindly showed me I have much work to do.

I look forward to sharing this most personal experience – the humanness, the self-inquiry, the practices, and the insights!

Shanti,
Jasmine Astra-Elle Grace

If you are interested in living the sutras with Jasmine Grace she recommends the following texts:

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- Sri Swami Satchinanda

Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- B.K.S Iyengar

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali -- Edwin F. Bryant

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Radical Vulnerability

by Jill Nielsen-Farrell

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
-- Muriel Rukeyser

Recently, my 14-year old son and I were talking about a challenge he was facing. During the conversation it was apparent that he clearly prides himself on his ability to not “whine or complain.”

As he was talking, a part of me thought, “This is good, right? Who wants to raise a whiner and a complainer? Not me! I’m happy I’m raising a kid who is strong and un-whiny!”

Almost immediately, however, I realized, “Oh my. I can’t help him unless he’s totally honest with me…and, more importantly, he can’t help himself either.” Read More…

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Ocean City

by Angie Hay

I have a picture of myself at age 18 flying a kite on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland.  I am wearing one of my favorite shirts of all time, the same shirt I had my senior pictures taken in, a long sleeve black turtleneck sized 3XLT.  I imagined that I had this kind of flowy bohemian poet thing going on, but what you see in the picture is a tiny girl wearing a giant square.  The beach-goers around me are comfortable in tank tops and board shorts, but I am basically a head floating above a censor box of my own creation.

I should warn you in advance: this is not the before and after story you may already be imagining.  I was fat on the beach and I’m fat now.  I’ve been thinner than now twice in my adult life, each time the result of a crushing nervous breakdown during which eating slipped outside of the realm of concern or, really, possibility.  I lose weight when I spend lots of time crying; when I’m happy, I’m fat.  So I won’t be telling you I lost 75 pounds and finally wore that bikini.  This isn’t that kind of journey. Read More…

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Ahimsa—The state of the heart that is free of enemies.

By Marcia Miller

Ahimsa, often translated as nonviolence, is the first Yama (ethical guideline or precept) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is one of the foundations of yoga and something I have practiced and thought about for many years.
At a recent retreat a Nonviolent Communication trainer, Francois Beausoleil, translated ahimsa as “the state of the heart that is free of enemies.”. Somehow my whole body knew that this translation offered me some keys to deepening my practice of ahimsa. In his presentation Francois taught a skill called “Dissolving Enemy Images” that was simple, effective and very powerful. I immediately re-committed myself to this practice which I had learned previously but had let go. I felt absolutely buoyant and excited about the possibility of more peace in my own heart.
And as is so often the case when I commit to a new practice, within a day a situation arose in my life that gave me the opportunity to test my commitment and hone my skills. This was not a tiny misunderstanding but something that was extremely painful for each of us involved. When I looked at what was true for me in the situation I felt feelings of anger, confusion, disappointment, annoyance, concern and a very deep sadness. I was longing for connection, trust, consideration, respect and communication that might lead to a true understanding between us.
The funny thing is that when I tried to see the situation from her side I imagined that she shared these exact same feelings and longings with me! What I know for sure is that when I am in conflict with another and I have a sense of blame, my whole body, especially my heart, feels hard, tiny and cold. This is NOT a feeling I enjoy, even if there is the momentary thrill of feeling righteous. I want to use the skills that will help me feel more curious, open, accepting and compassionate. This is not easy and it requires a deep personal honesty and an attentiveness to all parties involved. I am invited to notice the moment my mind goes to a negative judgment about someone or I have the feeling of being “right.” But “being right” means having a heart that is hard instead of loving, so I’ll pick up my righteousness and trade it in for compassion as often as I can. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous to write this publicly because I fail at this so often. And yet, I am longing for a community of seekers who can support each other in a powerful commitment to ahimsa.
One of my absolute favorite feelings in the world is that moment when something shifts in my understanding that allows an “enemy” to become the “beloved.” It is such a relief and my cold heart floods with the warmth of compassion, love and gratitude. Ahhhh.
Some of you know my favorite yoga text these days is the Vijnana Bhairava translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras. Because I couldn’t find a sutra that exactly talks about my experience I decided to write my own.
Your heart is stone and
Your mind is full of outrage.
Your whole body is ELECTRIC—buzzing with righteousness,
You have been wronged!
There is power in this righteous stance but also pain.
The hardness carries a price—
The pain of disconnection with another.
Right here
The moment of transformation.
Breathe, ahhhhh
Remember, all is not what it seems.
Now, see under the waves of distress
You have strong feelings and deep needs—
Go slowly, name them, pause, feel them, pause and rest here.
This is the gift of anger—to know what you most care about.
The other also has strong feelings and deep needs—
Name them, feel them, rest here. ahhh
The moment of softening the heart toward an “enemy”
is as sweet as a kiss on a baby’s fuzzy head.

Marcia has created a class for the fall to share some of the skills involved in practicing ahimsa. Please visit Ahimsa Yoga if you would like more details.

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