The physical practice of yoga captured my attention in 1971 at U.C.S.F. during my final physical therapy year. A progressive instructor introduced it as an exercise modality and I fell in love with sun salutations at the same time I fell in love with anatomy. When I moved to Sacramento after graduation there were no yoga studios, so I started my regular living room practice with Lilias Folan on PBS.
In the ensuing years—marriage, work, travel, children—I dove in and out time and again. Something kept pulling me back. Finally enough spare time and a bounty of intrigue coincided in 2005 to pull me toward the Eastern principles foundational to this ancient practice. I am aware of the conversation around cultural appropriation and, though nobody “owns” yoga, I am acknowledging yoga’s debt to the Hindu faith’s ancient traditions. Yoga—the union of body and mind—is not about a mat or triangle pose or how to breathe. Interestingly enough, those are relatively recent add-ons. I’ve circled back around countless times, exploring the tenets of the complex eight-limbed philosophy.
The first limb, the yamas, are the front door to the practice. Not tree pose. In this charged climate of personal uncertainty and cultural turmoil I find the yamas comforting guidance. A concise map for human responsibility as I move in relationship with others and the global community. And, of course, as I spend time with myself. Wouldn’t you know that the very first of the five principles is kindness? Do no harm.
Life begins somewhere for all of us and I don’t know how yours began. But there was a paucity of kindness in my early years. Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for this first belief, which translates as non-violence. Unfortunately it’s opposite is much easier to spot these days. We don’t have to look very far for alarming examples of cruelty, brutality, creation of mayhem. It’s a bit more challenging to turn that lens inward and catch our own speech and actions. Moments of hostility, cynicism, impatience, vehemence—directed outward as well as inward.
Practice reveals for us over and again that non-violence begins with numero uno. We show up on the dance floor and the mat with all our tendencies. What does it mean to act kindly to our own bodies? To not push? To do no harm? What light does that behavior shed on how I conduct myself with my partner, the clerk at the Co-op, the earth under my feet? It’s super-useful that the second tenet is satya—truth telling. Here we are again with obvious opposites so apparent: little white lies, half truths, exaggeration, misinformation.
As I practice presence with whatever arises, if I pay attention and am willing to be honest, I know my foot hurts, my heart is aching, my mind is utterly confused or distracted or looping. This self-knowledge, this honest assessment supports kindness—to myself, to you, to the world at large. Despite our best intentions we’re pulled every day into behaviors less than optimal. Ancient leashes tether and surprise us with their tenacity. Showing up kind and honest 100% of the time is a beautiful and unrealistic expectation.
I’m on to it right now and actively cultivating the pause. There is a potent moment right before the words emerge or the action manifests. Asking myself to slow down. Take a breath. Maybe silence or stillness is the best response. Maybe there is a way to soften in the beat, in the heat. Maybe it’s time to turn the other cheek. Lucky me—my honor to embody and teach this marriage of ahimsa and satya four days in a row this last week. Next yama? Asteya, which literally translates as not stealing. We’ll see how it shows up Thurday and Friday morning on our mats. Envy, jealousy and greed are the oh-so-human signals that flash red when that yucky pit yawns before us. Wednesday night we’ll dance in honor of the incredible minds that deliver us in and out of these pits. Sunday Sweat? Who knows? Time will tell.
Closing with this Dalai Lama quote:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
I hope we meet on mat or dance floor soon. Until then, let’s be kind and give ourselves the break we deserve. It’s hard out there, loves. Let’s take a breath together right here…..❤️Bella