Ahimsa (or, Elbowing My Way Toward Enlightenment)

IMG_1111I didn’t want to go to my yoga class last week. I usually look forward to the hour and a half of time spent on me and me alone, but this time I just wasn’t in the mood. This time of year I usually work three days a week, but I was working a full, 40 hour week. The change in my routine had made me crabby, and a night vegging on the couch sounded much more appealing. My right elbow was crabby and sore as well. The idea of doing poses that would challenge its comfort seemed like torture.

“You should go” said Mr. Maid. “You know you’ll feel better if you do.” Even though I suspected he was looking forward to a few hours without my grumpiness, I knew he was right. It seemed that whenever I didn’t want to go to class, I would end up having the most enjoyable practice. So I reluctantly gathered up my bag and drove to class.

During the 20 minute drive across town, I started thinking about my aching elbow. I reminded myself of the concept of Ahimsa that my teachers often mentioned. The term has special significance in several eastern religions (it’s very interesting – you can read about it here), but in very basic terms, it means “non-harming.”

So, as I started my practice, I was particularly mindful of my elbow. I babied it along through class, taking special care with every movement. I limited my planks and skipped the Chaturanga dandasanas altogether.

Chaturanga dandasana - just looking at it makes my elbow hurt!
Chaturanga dandasana – just looking at it makes my elbow throb!

Something really interesting began to happen. I was practicing yoga the way I should always be practicing. My focus was entirely inward, noticing how each muscle and joint was reacting to each pose. I wasn’t paying attention to my classmates. I wasn’t noticing how much deeper into the backbend the person in front of me was going. I wasn’t peeking between my legs at the person behind me and envying how her hamstrings allowed her heels to descend all the way to her mat – something my tight hammies will never let me do.

Look at how her heels touch the floor. My hamstrings just laugh when I suggest it.
Look at how her heels touch the floor. My hamstrings just laugh when I suggest it.

When it was time for Shavasana, (known as corpse pose,) I was able to turn off the usual chatter in my brain and fully relax into my mat. My elbow felt better, and sure enough, it was one of the best classes I’d had in a long time.

On the drive home, I was pondering my experience. Because of my concerns about my elbow, I conducted my practice differently. Rather than just going through the motions of each pose, or letting my ego take over and comparing myself (either favorably or unfavorably) to my classmates, I was truly present. I moved from pose to pose mindfully and carefully, modifying my postures and pushing each stretch only as far as it was meant to go in my body at that time.

Why did it take being in pain to force me to practice yoga the way I always should? Was I doing that in other parts of my life too? I think we all do it to some extent. I remembered that an alternate meaning of Ahimsa is “compassion” – for yourself, for others, and for the world around you.

Do we eat right only after feeling awful from overindulging?

Do we finally slow down and get some rest only after burning the candle at both ends?

Do we treat our partners with extra care only after snapping at them or hurting their feelings?

Do we only pray when things are going wrong and we need help?

I think we can all learn something from my crabby elbow. Instead of just reacting to what happens in our lives, we need to be present and aware of what we do to ourselves and to others; be mindful and careful about our actions and our words.

I only get one body in this life – I need to take care of it. I need to listen to it and do what’s right for it all the time, not just if I’m feeling ill or in pain.

I need to be good and kind to Mr. Maid and everyone else in my life. Think how wonderful it would be to never have to apologize to anyone again for being hurtful, rude, or impatient!

Most of all, I need to practice gratitude every day. Gratitude for this healthy, strong body, and for this (reasonably) sound mind. Gratitude for Mr. Maid and for my family and friends. And gratitude for the ability to learn lessons every day that will help me be a better person. God – or whomever or whatever you believe in – has given us all the tools we need. It’s up to us to use them.

Namaste, y’all.namaste-yall

11 thoughts on “Ahimsa (or, Elbowing My Way Toward Enlightenment)

  1. Namaste indeed!! Thank you so much for sharing this enlightening and grounding experience with us all. I wonder if you know about themindfulnesssummit.com? It’s a month-long, free online event this month, with interviews and materials from the foremost teachers in mindfulness today. You might enjoy it! Peace!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Namaste Rita 🙂

    This is such a reflective post!

    I feel usually I see you in your head.

    In this post I see you in heart, feeling, reflecting and sensing 🙂

    You have spoken some things which are of utmost importance for our true happiness.

    This is a very introspective post.

    Thanks for sharing it. I have shared it on the social media for benefit of others 🙂

    Do you know, when mystic fire starts working inside you, there are spontaneous body postures!

    I mean the Asanas we do–some of them and mudras happen on their own as energy works on various centres 🙂

    Love and light ❤

    Anand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anand! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was, indeed, feeling very introspective when I wrote it. 🙂
      On a few occasions I think I have felt that spontaneous energy you mention – it’s a magical feeling, and keeps me practicing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kudos to your wise and crabby elbow! I have been wanting to get back into the yoga “game” but conveniently seem to have a reason to put it off for one more week (for the last 14 months!). I am also guilty of comparing myself to others during class. Your post is a lovely reminder of how beneficial it is to look inward! xo Whitney

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Namaste to you too! Thank you for an enlightening read! You have asked some very good questions, but the one that hit right at home for me was “Do we finally slow down and get some rest only after burning the candle at both ends?” Remembering to slow down is something I should do too! I am so focused on finding success that I tend to over-work myself….not good!
    Reading this helped me realize that and much more….maybe I should start practicing yoga too,,,my mom always tells me how good it is (She practices yoga)…!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a beautiful friend who writes a wonderful blog. It’s been way too long since I took the time to read it! This blog is a great reminder to take care of myself and connect with my friends! Thank you for sharing your talent and your insight!!


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