< Back to all posts
  • Word of the Month - Bringing Ahimsa to Life

    Whew! The May Edition of Word of the Month is out, and just under the wire:). The reason for the late arrival is that this was a challenging one for me to write. My disclaimer, the following is a bit intense......

    The month of May is always quite special for me as it holds many important days:

    May the Fourth Be With You (Star Wars marathon with my hubby)

    Cinco de Mayo In addition to guacamole and margaritas galore, this day also happens to be my teaching anniversary

    Revenge of the Sixth (another excuse to watch Star Wars)

    National Geek Day (the anniversary of the release of Star Wars on the 25th) a celebration of all things Geekdom: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, Dr Who and so on and so on......

    My Birthday (I turned 38 on the 26th)

    My Anniversary of Moving to New Orleans (12 years on the 28th)

    Memorial Day A day to appreciate sacrifice

    You may have noticed a more widely celebrated holiday that I left off that list, Mother's Day. While I do celebrate my mother on this day, for my own sanity, I skirt the holiday with great caution. In the first few years of my marriage, my dogs (aka my husband) would adorn me with snuggles, flowers, cards, and even gifts for Mother's Day. I joyfully owned the title of "Doggie Mama Extraordinaire" (in fact, my first business cards included this designation on them), but as the years have progressed and the name "mom" has evaded me, I have turned away from celebrating this day.

    Fast forward to the night of the 25th. All seemed to be going well. I was out to dinner with my husband, sitting on a balcony over Magazine Street, enjoying the weather, when without warning, a wave of sorrow engulfed me. For the first time in my life, my approaching birthday was not a marker for celebration or a time to dream up the year to come, but rather a painful reminder of what I long for. And at that moment, I disengaged from my husband and the moment.

    I looked away.

    I stopped talking.

    I shut down.

    I turned into the sorrow.

    I felt betrayed by myself.

    I am not one to run from pain. Life and Yoga have reminded me time and time again that true peace and contentment are achieved when we see ourselves and the world for what they truly are and we find acceptance. However, at that moment, the pain was too intense to see the situation clearly, and that is where my true Yoga practice began: Ahimsa.

    The practices of yoga are vast and at its foundation are lifestyle observances and restraints (Yamas and Niyamas) that are to be practiced continuously. The first of these is Ahimsa.

    Often translated as non-violence, this observance asks that we engage our selves in peaceful thoughts, speech, and deeds that promote goodwill and loving kindness in the world. As stated in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras,

    ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidhau vaira-tyagah

    or as translated by BKS Iyengar in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

    "When non-violence [in speech, thought, and action] is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence."

    In other words, the outcome of practicing ahimsa is peace. For most of us, this is obvious. We are raised with the instruction not to hit our siblings out of frustration or to name call on the playground. Its clear, violence to others is wrong.

    But how do these guidelines apply to us in our treatment of our own person? Violence invokes the imagery of extreme reaction. As long as one doesn't attack, is that the embodiment of Ahimsa? This is where I find looking at the etymology of the word helpful.

    himsa - injury, harm; a - not;

    ahimsa - to not injure, to not harm.

    Behind deeds and words are thought. As life presents painful circumstances, the mind attempts to justify reality and provide a sense of reason. While knowledge and information are key ingredients to a grounded experience, the mind alone cannot deliver us from the burdens of disappointment and self-loathing.

    Yamas are wise characteristics that are said to be our true nature, meaning we practice these observances in order to reveal that these virtues already lie within us. Beyond the endeavor to both abstain from behaviors and thoughts that enhance harm the practice of Ahimsa is a commitment to see the peace of the heart. As we find ourselves in volatile dialog (with ourselves or others), the first step in the practice of Ahimsa is a willingness to observe such tendencies and then we actively commit to thoughts, words, and actions of kindness and compassion. When we feel the pang of anger or the grip of rage the practice of yoga requires that we choose a softer stance. Yoga (both the practice and the outcome) cannot solely be achieved by the control of the mind, but through the integration of the heart.

    So, the night before my birthday, I returned home from dinner and cried myself to sleep. The pain in my heart didn't last too long, because by the grace of practice, actively offering myself compassion, I realized I had a choice. I could focus on what is absent in my life, or I could choose to celebrate what I do have, a wonderful life, in a beautiful city, with loving husband, and vibrant friends. I chose the latter.