The following has been very kindly contributed by Patty Kikos, Kundalini yoga teacher and healer. To find out more about Patty go to:pattykikos.com/.
When people find out that I’m a yoga teacher, they often assume that I spend my day focusing on mastering the physical postures that yoga is well known for. And while this was certainly true when I started teaching 10 years ago, it’s much less of a priority for me these days.
I came from a dance background, so initially, some of the more physical postures were relatively easy for my young and supple body. But when you commit to being a yoga teacher, it means that you commit to being a lifelong student, and in the years that followed there were many lessons of value that I would come to learn.
One was in humility – a lesson that came about as I watched how my body’s strength was compromised at having to relearn how to transition a previously effortless flow after I had an accident. The other was the art of being humble, because irrespective of whether I could do the splits or hold myself up in a handstand, I learned that it didn’t necessarily give me a get out of jail free card in other areas of my life. I was still accountable for my words and actions as a person / teacher / daughter / sister / friend. Ultimately, I learned that it was my practice off the mat that impacted my ability to be still when I meditated and to be present in my breath during the more challenging parts of my practice.
As the years went by my initial reaction to my body’s changes was one of anger, of feeling let down and even betrayed by my lack of physical strength. But it turned out to be my greatest lesson that I hope to ultimately share with the world. And that is the message of kindness and compassion – what the yoga world refers to as ahimsa.
Ahimsa means non-harming in thought, word and action. Often people think of this as only referring to physical violence, but it means so much more than this. If we cannot be kind and compassionate towards ourselves, how can we possibly extend this to others? According to the Yajnavalkya Samhita, ahimsa or non-violence is the awareness and practice of non-violence in thought, speech and action. It advocates the practices of compassion, love, understanding, patience, self-love and worthiness.
I have heard Baba Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher, say that he still has not-so-pleasant thoughts occasionally but through practice, those thoughts only last for a split second and then they’re gone. This is a fine example that illustrates that the more you become aware of these types of thoughts, the shorter the time your mind is likely to linger on them so you can move forward more quickly. Eventually, we can get to the stage of being non reactive when a driver cuts us off. All we think is “Ahh hello fellow divine being … thank you for slowing me down and for helping me stay present”.
Our words carry enormous power. Gossiping is a form of harming others through our words and thoughts. So, refraining from talking about others in an unpleasant way is a great step in the direction of peace in our community.
Our actions also symbolize the concept of ahimsa. In this western culture, we constantly push ourselves to meet deadlines, to have a full social calendar, to get fit, to be wealthy. Often we forget to slow down and take proper care of ourselves. Loving and nurturing ourselves is a way to practice ahimsa.
In yoga we also consider eating meat as a form of violence to the animal kingdom, therefore vegetarianism is considered a more pure diet for the body, mind and spirit. By eating a plant-based diet we are also minimizing global warming and world hunger.
In this day and age, we are all connected in a myriad of ways through technology. Our voyeuristic tendencies to peep into another person’s world are facilitated by the recent surge of social media as well as our predisposition to post our highlight reel for the rest of the world to see how well we’re doing. But by doing this, are we staying in touch with nature, the earth, and what it creates? If we no longer cook our meals, purchase packaged foods and eat bananas in winter, are we really connecting to ourselves, each other and to our environment in a conscious and ethical way?
We know how to be kind to the earth intellectually and through the act of buying organic, supporting local farmers markets, recycling, green housing, but the only way to truly embody this practice, is to actually cultivate the practice of ahimsa. When we are kind to all things, we will experience a kinder, more peaceful world.
Patanjali changed the world of yoga as he was the first scholar to translate the Yoga Sutras, and therefore made the teachings accessible to so many more people than ever before. One of the sutras that he shared was:
Ahimsa Pratisthayam Tat Sannidhau Vaira Tyagaha
This can be translated as: Those who become firmly established in non-violence will cease to experience violence and hostility in their lives.
In simple terms, this highlights that the act of practicing kindness means that kindness will invariably be reflected back to you. But I’d like to invite you to delve deeper. Much like Patanjali, who broke many barriers by making teachings that were previously only available to scholars and difficult to understand, suddenly accessible to more people, we too can do the same. To intellectually understand that our thoughts words and actions can have an impact on others is one thing, but to embody this through the messages we consciously choose to share, is what makes the real difference in this world.