Mindful awareness

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Practicing Non Violence

My theme this week has been peaceful non violence in an effort to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. His message was an important one, though certainly not easy to implement. Committing to peaceful non violence in an effort to seek civil rights equality for all seems exceedingly difficult. Passion for a cause often creates excess energy, making it difficult to ground oneself in mindful awareness while protesting. I admire what I imagine King’s level of self caring must have been. In an age when norms and even laws defined him as a second-class citizen, he refused to believe the overt messages. He honored what he knew himself – that he was as loved and special as anyone of the majority race and he deserved the same rights and respect. His own self respect fueled his protest. I imagine it would have been difficult to adhere to non-violent approaches to change living in the social environment he did.

Yoga provides opportunity to practice peaceful non violence to ourselves, thus helping to make the world around us a better place. The scale is not nearly as comprehensive as the Civil Rights Movement, but I acknowledge that adhering to peaceful non violence to oneself creates a better world for everyone around us. Practicing non violence is a way to make yoga practice serve ourselves and the world around us. Self speak, telling ourselves we aren’t good enough on or off the yoga mat, leads to violence and harmful actions. Many people in dysfunctional relationships might hear these messages from others in their lives as well. These messages can be played out on the mat in many different manifestations. It might be the superficial self put downs (I’m not good enough to get into pincha mayurasana – forearm stand pose) that are extensions of telling ourselves that overall we aren’t good enough even off the mat. It might manifest as impatience getting into a deep forward fold, leading to a lumbar spine injury as a yogi pulls into paschimottanasana (seated forward fold pose). In reality, our poses certainly do not reflect how “good” we are at anything. My hope for these practitioners is that their practice creates a sense of peace and ease, not struggle and failure.

Practicing non violence on the mat protects us from getting into expressions of poses that are not yet physically available to us. It keeps us from experiencing neck injuries sustained in sirsasana (head stand pose) when the shoulders are not strong enough to hold weight, causing the yogi to collapse and harm himself. Collapsing at the neck this way is a violent act. Yoga should never be violent. Yet it happens often. I hope for these practitioners to one day experience the same level of self respect King had, keeping them from pushing beyond their limitations. Dolphin pose is a perfect alternative inversion to help honor one’s body while developing strength to potentially go into advanced inversions another time.

Practicing non violence on the mat means practicing yoga in a comfortable environment. Yoga is most often a physical practice. This means that the body will generate heat during a yoga class. The body is designed to maintain a healthy core temperature by dissipating heat through sweating. The sweat cools the body when it evaporates from the skin. Practicing in a room set higher than body temperature is violent. The body is doing its job trying to dissipate heat but it cannot because the room is too hot for the sweat to evaporate from the skin. This is violent, harming the body rather than respecting it. I hope the hot yoga fad will go away tomorrow. In the meantime I hope that the practitioners seeking these classes come to love their bodies enough to appreciate the amazing thermoregulation process and to treat their bodies with loving kindness.

Practicing asanas (poses) too quickly to maintain correct alignment is another violent way to practice. Asana practice is intended to move with the breath, not so quickly that the motions get sloppy. Practicing without attention to alignment principles is violent to joints and soft tissues that are more likely to be injured with repetitive practice this way. But choosing this pose means dampening one’s passion to practice hard, suppressing that excess energy, and grounding in mindful, peaceful awareness.

Mistreating our bodies equates to practicing self violence. When we push too hard, eat too much, drink too much, and perform other self-destructive behaviors we end up cranky. And being cranky only makes life more difficult for people around us. Practicing peaceful non violence on and off the mat better serves us and the world around us. Martin Luther King was able to do this even in the most difficult of social situations. My hope is that all people everywhere can be safe, happy, healthy, and at peace and that in yogis this peace is manifested in mindful, non-violent practice on and off the mat.

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