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  • Matt Fennemore

Yoga Off The Mat - Living With Non-Violence

Ahimsa means non-harming or non-violence in Sanskrit. Ahimsa Yoga is founded on the principle that yoga should be safe, accessible, inclusive, and engaging for all students — regardless of physical condition, level of experience, or reasons for being interested in yoga.


Today, is the eve of the January lockdown and what better time is there to riff on Truthpie's new year theme of 'repair,restore and refocus?”


I am going to meditate on the philosophy of 'Ahimsa', (or non-violence in Sanskrit) from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, written about 500 BCE, the first of the 'yamas', the moral 'don'ts of yoga. The definition of ahimsa is a religious philosophy that all life, including animals, is sacred. An example of ahimsa is being a vegetarian because of the importance of animals' lives. You can get as deep into the philosophy of yoga as you would like, but I am always interested in how ancient texts take on new meaning and be adapted for the NOW. How do we live our lives off the yoga mat?


I came across the term 'ahimsa' or non-violence during a yoga class a few years ago.

When I first started yoga I have to say I competed not only with other people in the room, but quite a lot with myself. I remember the teacher talking about non-violence, not only in the sense of not causing harm to all living creatures but also self-harm in all its forms.

A very obvious example of this would be when we push ourselves into shapes without thinking about the journey off getting there, and only about the end result and what it should 'look' like rather than 'feel' like. This is the point where I began to learn that time on the mat or exercise is a microcosm of time off it. It doesn't make me a better person just because I can put my legs behind my head. I can't (yet).


As a sports and clinical massage therapist, I obviously see a lot of injuries where people haven't taken as much care of themselves as they should. I hear things such as “I was running well and decided to sprint that last part of my run, and injured my hamstring”. Or “ I lifted too many weights too quickly”, or “ I didn't take care of my neck when I did a Plough in yoga, heard a crack and now I'm in excruciating pain – in other words people didn't listen to their bodies, over zealousness for a practise or sport that is supposed to be good for your health and wellbeing!


Our bodies need to be warm, strong and open. We need to listen to our body intelligence and feedback. We do not start in the same place each time, we sometimes ned to let go of our previous goals and not try to out do outdo it every time. Safe, incremental, same as goes for rehabilitating injuries. You are not in the same place every day - slow down, and adapt and don't resist the safety warning. Pushing the body beyond it limits, not resting enough, self care ( injuries tend to be from overuse, poor technique) listening to the body when it whispers not when it screams!


Another aspect of non-violence is being aware of always comparing ourselves to other people which is increasing exponentially in a networked world of social media. This feeds our anxieties of 'not being good' enough;that voice that says we are lazy – the monkey mind that causes mental and physical injury. Check that nagging voice. You are enough.


If you are constantly critical of yourself you are likely to be critical of others. In 'Greed Sex and Intention' Hannah Whittingham and Marcus Veda talk of opinion expertly masquerading as fact, usually from conclusions you have drawn from repeated patterns in your life, both positive and negative, the way people have treated you, reacted to you, or the way you have reacted In the past to the world. These are beliefs and assumptions, not facts and buried deep in our subconsciousness that we can't tell the difference. We must try to not always want to be in control and predict the ending.


Judith Lasater in 'Living your Yoga' says the most effective way to practice ahimsa is to pay meticulous attention to our angry and violent thoughts, or negative thoughts about yourself. This is especially challenging in Covid-19 times, but when we pay attention we have a greater chance of separating from it, something Lasater calls 'dis-identification' We may continue to have the thought, but realise it is just a neurological-biochemical event: It is not who we are.


The questions of how of choices may harm others is a complicated one. Another example of Ahimsa is perhaps about buying as ethically and humanely as possible in the modern world. For example, at TruthPie we only use vegan oils and waxes. How do we know how much suffering has gone into those cheap clothes made in a sweatshop in Leicester, where workers were paid less than £1 an hour, let alone some distant country.


So, as we head into another lockdown show compassion to yourself and others. Top up on your sleep, eat some healthy meals, disconnect and detox from social media, listen to your body and check your thoughts. As we begin to live Ahimsa, others around is give up their hostility. We can be non-violent, but we mustn't forget to hiss once in a while.


Repair, restore and refocus this January.





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