Ahimsa in Asana

 

“If the practice of today damages the practice of tomorrow it is not correct practice.”  BKS Iyengar, Page 50, Light on Life

Early in my practice I injured my hamstring at the attachment by over-stretching. Although I was able to do the asana (from the outside) to some extent, my sensitivity and awareness had not yet been developed. My ego wanted to attain the pose and overpowered sensitivity, awareness and discernment and thus created injury.  There was an element of grasping, or wanting to possess, parigraha, and himsa, violence which went against the fundamentals of yoga. After that, I had to live with a torn hamstring attachment for two years. 

“The challenge of yoga is to go beyond our limits – within reason. Page 50 Light on Life

Now I am aware that there are many ways to practice. Some days I approach practice and work to go beyond certain limitations, whether physical or psychological. Sensing the integration between mind, body and breath is essential. If I am to break through limitations, it must be done with compassion and persistence rather than violence.

I aim to practice with both the long view of the path, that practice is progressive and “progress” happens in steps (not always in a linear way) and with the view that transformation can happen here and now, instantaneously, as our true nature is nothing but awake and aware.  While practicing asana, I work to feel the actions within asana which give life, as one of my teachers puts it, and avoid actions which cause pain, avoiding himsa or violence such as insensitively, hardness or doing by rote.

“We do not do yoga for just enjoyment; we must do it for ultimate emancipation.” p. 52 Light on Life

The above quotation is key. Yoga done with awareness leads to transformation. When I  look outward for enjoyment and gratification through the senses, such as doing the “perfect” pose on the outside, or curating the perfect conditions for myself, the enjoyment is short lasting and often leads more distraction and suffering. Yoga done for ultimate emancipation is yoga done with awareness, and life lived with awareness.

“Even the deepest rooted afflictions (klesa) can be mastered through observation in asana.” p.256, Light on Life

Learning to teach, especially beginners, I have felt it important to understand the the klesas (the obstacles in practices). We all have some dominate affliction that causes us pain. Getting to the root cause of our pain individually and collectively is, to me, what this practice is about. The klesas are ignorance, ego, desire, aversion, and fear (of death).

Observation in asana is a gate inward leading to self study. Ignorance, being the root of all the klesas means perceiving reality in a distorted way that leads to suffering. Basically it means holding on to things that are limiting and thinking in a self-centered way. When I start observing myself in asana those limitations start to break down, especially when new possibilities of “who I am” and “what is possible” and “what is really happening” present themselves.

Often fear will hold people back from fully taking action or expressing themselves. Therefore, from the beginning it is important that students feel safe, seen, protected and guided: in a realm of ahimsa, non-violence. When there is a foundation of non-violence, students can begin to be guided to move beyond their limitations and to know themselves in a fuller sense. Over time, with the development of discernment, they can learn to be their own teacher and guide themselves in a positive direction, and ultimately work out and transform deep seated afflictions.  

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