Practicing Ahimsa with Ourselves

Sitting in my car is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

Let me explain.

First off, what is Ahimsa and why do we want to practice it?

What is Ahimsa?

Simply put, Ahimsa means non-harming (doing no harm) and non-violence. Living with the intention of not harming a single living being – both physically, and through our words.

Where does it come from?

Ahimsa is part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. You may have heard that yoga is more than just Asana, or movement. In fact, Asana is merely one branch of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Two of the other limbs are Yama and Niyama (moral and ethical restraints and observances), and this is where Ahimsa lives. The Yamas and Niyamas are often considered the “right way” of living.

Roughly speaking, the Yamas tend to deal with how we interact with the world around us, and include things we shouldn’t be doing—stealing, harming etc. The Niyamas are guides of habits for healthy body and spiritual living—including cleanliness and contentment.

And today, we’re looking at the idea of practicing Ahimsa with ourselves.

Practicing Ahimsa with the World

Most of us try to be kind and nice to others, and we may do things that reflect that desire. Maybe we are vegetarians or vegans. Maybe we silently wish people “well” when we pass them on the street. Maybe we volunteer or partake in any of the other countless ways to practice Ahimsa when dealing with others.

But how well do we do when it comes to practicing Ahimsa with ourselves?

Practicing Ahimsa with ourselves

This brings me back to sitting in my car, and why this is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. I’m in my car a lot. I consider myself very fortunate to have a car and the ability to chauffer the people I love—my girls to trombone lessons and cheer practice, and elderly parents to food stores and doctor appointments—to name a few.

As any mom can tell you, rather than driving back and forth, it’s often a better use of time to park outside these activities and get work done. However, I have learned that repeatedly sitting for hours while I wait, is not practicing Ahimsa with myself.

Leaning over in a cramped car, pushing to finish work while I’m hungry or frustrated is not practicing non-harming of myself. My body gets tight and sore, and a headache inevitably begins. Then the internal monologue starts: “I’ll never get this done. This isn’t good enough. Why can’t I just get this finished? What’s wrong with me?” And it’s a downward spiral from there.

Sound familiar?

Do you practice Ahimsa with yourself?

Or do you spend countless hours every day beating yourself up, comparing yourself to others, and forgetting to love yourself?

How to Practice Ahimsa with Yourself

It’s different for everyone, of course. But for me, getting out of the car and taking a walk makes a huge difference. In this way, I’m caring for my body and giving my brain a break.

Stop the negative rhetoric. Every time you think, “I can’t… I’m not… I’m____ (stupid, incompetent, ugly, etc)” close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let that thought go. Follow it with a positive thought and be specific. Instead of, “I’m the worst. I haven’t spent enough time with my kids today,” try, “I accomplished so much at work today and that will give me more time to spend with my kids tomorrow.” It’s about balance.

You need to show yourself loving kindness in order to show it to anyone else.

I know. We all think we can put ourselves last and this somehow makes us better people. What this really does is make us tired, rundown, grouchy, overwhelmed, and exhausted. We grow sad and irritable.

It may not be reasonable for you to go to the yoga studio every day. That’s true for most of us. But can you take 15 minutes for a walk, a warm bath, or to read a book? 10 minutes to journal? Or 5 minutes to meditate?

Putting yourself first – even for a few minutes a day – will help you to develop Ahimsa with yourself.

Taking the time to recognize that you are a person who matters—just as much as anyone else—will help you build a more positive journey with yourself.

It’s not easy. On my Crunchy Granola Yoga Journey I’m realizing it takes a lot of shifting or even tossing the old to make room for the new.

But when we talk about practicing Ahimsa with ourselves, the outcome is so worth it.

Finding Your Dharma

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In my Hatha class this week, we focused on finding our dharma.

This is a large subject for one Sunday morning class, but it’s one I like to teach because so many of us really don’t know what our dharma is, or how to find it.

I’m one of those people.

However, I have begun to listen to my inner voice—and although I can’t see the big picture yet, I can sense when I’m on the right track, and when I’m not. How about you? Interested in discovering your dharma?

Read on.

Why we care about our dharma:

Many of us believe we are here for a reason, and well, we’d like to know what that reason is.

That’s one of the million reasons that I decided on this rather voluminous subject to explore this week.

Another is because of this quote I came across in Tiny Buddha:

“And the dandelion does not stop growing because it is told it’s a weed. The dandelion does not care what others see. It says, ‘One day, they’ll be making wishes upon me’.”

This quote got me thinking about one of the reasons so many of us don’t know what our dharma is—because we care too much about what others think, and let their perceptions of us shape our reality.

Imagine if the dandelion listened to those who called it a weed?

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What is dharma?

It’s said that dharma has no exact English translation, but we understand it to mean, “Living in your life’s purpose.” When we look for our dharma, we look for our life’s purpose.

We know when we’re in our dharma because we experience effortlessness and ease, and we find a sense of deep-seated contentment—or Santosha. (We’ll talk about Santosha in the Yoga Sutras at another time.)

Dharma was explained to me as living in your right life—for example, it is a bee’s dharma to make honey. Dharma is the most important of the Four Aims of the Hindu religion.

What are the Four Aims?

The Four Aims:

ARTHA: Financial and material success

KAMA: Enjoyment of life – life’s pleasures like art and sex

DHARMA: Right way of living – your essence – like a bee to honey

MOKSHA: Release from Samsara. Breaking the cycle of birth and rebirth

The most important of these aims is dharma. All other aims flourish when we are living in our dharma.

It’s difficult to know what our dharma is, but fairly easy to know when we’re not in it.

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When we’re not in our dharma.

We know we’re not in our dharma when we’re unhappy, our lives feel like a struggle, and deep inside we’re not 100% okay. Simply put, there is something “off.”

The thing that was “off” for me was the requirement to publicize some of my novels. Every author knows you have to publicize–and I’m fine with that—but it was the emptiness I felt when I was doing it that led me to understand I was on the wrong path.  

As I created posts, I was often overcome with a sense of sadness, unhappiness, and even dread. One day I said to my friend, “If I have to post one more picture of a shirtless man to advertise my next book, I’m going to cry.”

And her answer? “Stop posting. Stop writing those types of books if they’re not fulfilling. Make a change.”

So I am. Making. A. Change.

I’m still a prolific ghostwriter, however, personally, I no longer feel the need to write what isn’t calling to me. And I only publicize books in ways that feel right to me. Organically. I’ve stopped pushing myself to be something I’m not, and now I only create in a way that feels truthful. This is the beginning of my exploration of dharma, and it feels a whole heck of a lot better.

How do we know our dharma and our true calling?

By turning inward and listening to our true selves. No doubt there have been times in your life when you have felt that something was “off” with what you were doing, but you persisted anyway.

When you persist although your mind, heart, and body know better, you’ve stopped listening to what’s right and true for you.

We can tap into our dharma by turning inward and listening through yoga, meditation, mindfulness and stillness. Although I can’t see the big picture as to what direction my life will go, I can tell when I’m on the right path. At those times I’m happy, focused, excited to be doing my job, and sometimes, I’m lucky enough to have a little thrill run up and down inside of me.

Here’s the tricky part—sometimes the things that call to me don’t appear to be strategic career moves. I’ve decided to follow them anyway. That’s my right path. The feeling of contentment inside lets me know that I am working in the direction of my dharma. And I trust that the rest will come.

When can you discover your dharma?

You can discover your dharma at any age from your earliest years through your 90s and beyond, and your dharma can change as you go through life.

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Have you discovered your dharma?

Leave a comment below and let me know! When did you know you were on your path to your dharma… or not?

Have you discovered your dharma? Or are you on a journey with me?

We’d love to know!