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The practice of ahimsa on the yoga ...

David Schouela

yogi with curled toes Ahimsa is derived from the sanskrit word hims which means to strike - himsa is injury or harm. The "a" in ahimsa turns himsa into its opposite therefore ahimsa means non-violence or non-harm.

What does it mean to practice ahimsa on our yoga mats? For many of us it means learning to let go of the competitive ego mind.

My yoga teacher, Chip Hartranft, reminds us over and over again to see the judging and competitive mind arise, see the suffering in it and let it go. Chip reminds us that each one of us is unique. The same way that no two faces are alike, no two bodies are alike. He likes to say that we can thank our parents for our anatomy. Our flexibility is largely due to our anatomical structure, a product of the genes that were passed on to us by our parents and the preceding generations.

To drive this teaching home he has us curl our toes while sitting back on our heals with the full weight of our bodies. For some yogis like myself that is no big deal. I actually enjoy it and look forward to practicing this stretch as often as I can. However some yogis find this stretch to be very challenging and often excrutiatingly painful. They have to gently ease their way into the posture by first moving some of their weight onto their hands while ever so slowly moving back onto their heals. Chip reminds us that our ability to do this pose is not because we were born with some special kind of yogic talent. To think otherwise is to be caught by the ego and its endless need for self-gratification.

Some people are born with more flexible toe joints. Its just the way things are. We don't have to take it personally. Thats not to say that an inflexible person will never be flexible. If you practice this pose every day for one month, you will get more flexible.

When we compare ourselves to those in the room who are more flexible we experience endless suffering and self-recrimination. Practicing ahimsa on our yoga mat means letting go of the competitive ego mind while practicing self-compassion. It means listening to our body and working at our own pace. This is the true practice of yoga.


  • CLAUDIA 7 years ago

    So true! Yoga is so much more satisfying if you work through your own challanges rather than 'challanging' other people...

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