Release stress and unwind through this 30 minute full body stretch led by Casey. Expect to lengthen, soften, breathe, spiral and roll. Bring a tennis ball or something similar to roll out tight muscles and find some love!
“No bigger than your baby fingernail.” That’s how one of my yoga teachers taught me about the depth and breadth of yoga as I began training to become a yoga teacher. She was saying that if the full practice of yoga was the size of your hand, the physical yoga postures, or asanas, would be no bigger than your baby fingernail. She was gently guiding me to greater awareness of the rich and vast history of yoga and how it is often oversimplified in Western practice. Fingers and fingernails are important, but how motivating it is to know there is so much to learn and experience in yoga.
But, what? The full hand would take more than a blog. More like multiple lifetimes. This hand would include chakras, koshas, mudras and meditations. And, more. There are 8 limbs of yoga – it already feels bigger than my hand! The limbs of yoga include Asana (the postures we often equate to yoga practice), Pranayama (life force energy or breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal or drawing the senses inward), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union or unity). That was six, the remaining two are the ethical practices of yoga, the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances), with five of each. No wonder we need to go to our mats to let go of our thoughts.
I love all the practices of yoga that I’ve engaged with so far. I’m drawn to practice the postures, breathing and meditations as the most frequently offered and available practices in our culture. Yet, the ethical practices intrigue me as well, calling me to examine who I am and question who and how I want to be. They add to the value of asanas, or yoga poses; they’re the meaning behind the poses. The first Yama, Ahimsa or non-violence, is well known and for good reason: it is claimed that all ethical practices rest on it. One could spend an entire life-time considering, contemplating and seeking to practice non-violence. These are just a few thoughts on it, kind of like the tip of a baby finger on non-violence.
As we think of Ahimsa, or non-violence, we are drawn to consider ways we may experience violence ourselves and how we might be expressing violence to others. This can include overt, physical displays of violence but also subtler forms of violence where we hurt ourselves or others through words or neglect. Through Ahimsa, or non-violence, we learn to live in harmony with others and with nature, to ‘do no harm.’
Practicing Ahimsa, or non-violence, begins with ourselves. For me, this involves being gentle with myself as I practice and learn yoga. Trying to let go of my Western mind and approaches which, yes, I must admit, lead me to want to learn things and be good at them. Learning that practicing yoga is not about ‘being good at it’ or doing a posture ‘well,’ but involves learning, growing, changing and simply being. It brings us to seek and learn things beyond ourselves and outside of our worldview as we practice all limbs of yoga. It’s about the practice. The presence. Just showing up for ourselves. For me, this includes allowing myself to be present as I breathe and practice postures and as I seek to open my mind to experience yoga.
We can practice non-violence through compassion with ourselves and with others. It’s about how we view and treat ourselves and others in the world. Listening to ourselves and others, trusting ourselves and others, and stepping back as others hold space.
I started a personal yoga blog when Covid-19 hit the world last year. It was a way for me to work with myself on my feelings and experiences during this pandemic which seemed to be unexpected and unprecedented. I felt yoga, in more forms than its postures and breath, could help me through it. I began with the reflections on Ahimsa, or non-violence, writing the thoughts shown below.
"Ahimsa: The first and most significant Yama. All yoga is based on non-violence, starting with non-violence towards ourselves. The most pervasive kinds of violence can be hidden behind acts of seeming kindness. One can think of systemic violence and micro-aggressions here. While we may not view ourselves as being violent, hurtful or neglectful; our practices of this are often deeply hidden, and they are hardy shrubs.
At a time when the world is erupting in violence after the horrific public police murder of George Floyd, I ask myself how I am somehow supporting acts like these. How do they come to be and how many times do such acts take place in dark places, away from cameras and scrutiny? I abhor racialized violence by militarized police and share the outrage against such violence. But, in what ways do the overt, and hidden, violence of white supremacy benefit me? In what ways are my privileges, my education, jobs, housing, security, and safety held in place by deeply embedded beliefs and actions that support and reward whiteness? In what ways can I learn to practice non-violence as I seek to support groups like Black Lives Matter and other activism against such brutality? How can I take non-violence into my yoga practice and into my life, to stick with and stay with change even as it takes me out of my comfort zones?’’
So much to do and not do. The hand and learnings of yoga can guide and lead us to contemplate and act on things that truly matter.
Join me in connecting to Ahimsa, or non-violence, through a Peaceful Stretch class and a brief mudra practice at Salti Yoga Online.
By Casey Ready