By Mara Carrico © 2021
I’ve chosen ahimsa – nonviolence – as February’s theme. Usually I let my theme come to me spontaneously on the first day of each month, but the seed was planted far earlier this time, January 6th, to be exact. Need I say more? Not really, but I will…
Only a few days into the new year with connectivity as January’s theme, I held my breath that day with fear and anxiety and have done so many times since. Wow! How connected we all were to the violence and destruction taking place in real time before our very eyes. The events of that day have continued to replay over and over across all media platforms. Each time these images are shown – although I limit my exposure to the news – and negative emotions rise up, I remind myself to breathe freely and exhale fully – letting go of all negativity, replacing that void with virtuous thoughts and images with each successive in-breath. Instantly, I feel better. My blood pressure is lowered; my vision is clearer. This is why I love words, themes and spiritual engagement. In this paradigm, we are supported on a higher plane, or vibratory level – positivity is energizing, healing and protective – scientifically proven!
“If one does not practice nonviolence in his personal relationships with others, he is vastly mistaken. Nonviolence, like charity, must begin at home.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
In the yoga tradition, ahimsa is the first of the yamas – guidelines for good behavior. The yamas – tenets of moral integrity, followed by the second limb, niyamas – self-care and personal observances, have been handed down for millennia. Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of the tree of yoga.
“Do no harm” is first because it’s the premise for all of the other behaviors. If we come from a place of compassion, understanding and forgiveness, we are far more equipped to create change and reconciliation (my yearly theme, ha!) in ourselves and our relationships. Ultimately this extends into our communities and beyond. As with all spiritual practices, it takes practice – being mindful and continually witnessing our own self-treatment, setting the stage for how we treat others.
“At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
These guidelines are reflected in all religions and spiritual lineages. We can see this commonality in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha, the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars of Islam, in all traditions. This emboldens my personal faith, which is an eclectic and all-embracing one. Although a baptized Catholic and schooled in that faith in my formative years, I was drawn to metaphysics, yoga the Kabbalah – the mystical limb of Judaism – in my teens. Growing up in a turbulent atmosphere – my father had a violent temper – I sought solace through my understanding of what God was, in any form. This is what brought me to yoga, learning ways to cope with my fears and angst.
“If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection and nonviolence, we can transform them into a kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us. By the work of mindful observation, our unpleasant feelings can illuminate so much for us, offering us insight and understanding into ourselves and society.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Initially I was most attracted to asana – Hatha Yoga – the third limb of the tree of yoga, which addresses the care of the body, as a vehicle for spirit – temporary, but important as it houses our soul. Being an aspiring ballerina – although severely challenged by a bout with polio as a child – I instantly connected with the poses – their meaning and purpose — and how I felt doing them. Now over fifty years later, my hatha yoga practice, in the Iyengar tradition – is just as important to both my physical and mental well-being. Yet in the past decade – as my body is exhibiting the challenges of maturity – I avoid that limiting word which begins with an “o” – I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to deepen my understanding and practice of the other limbs of yoga’s tree. Pranayama (breathing techniques to harness the life force) and dhyana (meditation) have become just as important as “keeping fit.” As I deepen my understanding of these inner practices, I’m experiencing greater peace and acceptance of “what is” in my life, while feeling more equipped to meet the challenges of today’s world. I hope that whatever I may contribute to my students from this deepening engagement, may in turn bring at least a glimmer of light and hope in the face of extreme adversity.
Blessings All and God bless!!!