The Practice of Ahimsa
This is a difficult blog for me to write. Generally, I have been reluctant to get involved in political conversations, and especially to use this platform for that purpose. As a Yoga teacher and studio owner, I have focused on promoting the practice of Yoga and attempted to avoid getting sucked in to mainstream conversations. However, the events of the past year have made that increasingly difficult, and over the past few weeks, I have felt more and more compelled to speak out.
One of the cornerstones of Yoga is the practice of Yamas and Niyamas as a way of living a yogic lifestyle. These are considered the basic precepts of yogic living.
The five Yamas are essentially social restraints that dictate how you live your life. They are:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence or non-harming
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy)
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-grasping
The five Niyamas are personal practices relating to our inner world. These are:
- Saucha: purity
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses
- Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender (to God)
The focus of this blog is on Ahimsa, or “non-harming”, which is the first of the Yamas. I have been thinking of this a lot during the past week, especially in the wake of all the flurry of news about the NFL and players kneeling during the National Anthem. I saw numerous posts on Facebook both for and against this, and found myself getting angrier and angrier at what I perceived to be misconceptions among many people. (Interestingly, after reading a first draft of this blog, my husband sent me a link to an article describing how Russian trolls may have been using the NFL protests to stir up Americans online. Apparently it worked on me… How crazy is that?)
Today, I was contemplating the idea of Ahimsa and asked myself: what actions are harmful and what are not? Here are the questions I asked, and some of the thoughts that came to my mind:
Is it harmful when our government turns its back on young adults that have lived most of their lives in this country and threatens to deport them to their “homeland” which is barely a memory for many of them?
For me, as I have watched the news, and listened to what many of those affected are saying, I would have to say that yes, this is harmful. This is creating a huge amount of stress and anxiety among many, many people (and as a yoga teacher, I know firsthand what stress and anxiety can do to people). So, yes, I believe that this is harmful.
Is it harmful when our president denigrates women, blacks and other minorities?
The concept of Ahimsa covers non –violence in many forms: physical actions, speaking badly of someone, and even thinking harmful thoughts. So, yes, I would say that publicly denigrating anyone verbally is harmful.
Is it harmful when our president calls people who disagree with him “sons of b-s”?
Once again, a verbal assault on someone is considered harmful.
Is it harmful when sports professionals kneel during the National Anthem as a non-violent show of protest against how the country is being run?
This is a peaceful statement of protest against those who are doing things that are eroding the very fabric of our foundation as a country. It is not an insult to the flag, as some have asserted. Rather it is a public way of sending a message to those in control of our country and I fail to see how this is harmful. I am going to go out on a limb here and admit that I am not a huge fan of football (as a native New-Englander, I know this is considered sacrilegious), but there you go. That is my opinion. Is it harmful for me to state that?
Even with that opinion, I truly respect what the NFL players are doing right now and am grateful to them for using their power in a positive way. I saw a woman on the news say that she was very upset with this, because she didn’t want to watch protests. In her words: “I came here to watch football, not protests. If I wanted to watch protests, I would watch the news.” When I heard that, I thought that the attitude of keeping our heads in the sand is what allowed Hitler to come to power, and I realized that it is time for Americans to stand up and speak up for what is right, not for what is easy. And perhaps, that is what is giving me the courage to finally sit down and write this blog. For a long time, I have felt like my voice doesn’t mean much, but like little Jo-Jo in “Horton Hears a Who”, every voice counts, and perhaps mine will be the one to break through the cloud of misperceptions that so many Americans seem to have.
Is it a coincidence that immediately after I wrote the first draft of this blog, I picked up a new book, and on the first page read this quote from Benjamin Franklin?
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”