AHIMSA: LOVE & COMPASSION FOR ALL
Did you know that Asana (Yoga postures) are only one part of the eight limbs of Yoga? Yamas are the first limb and are the moral, ethical and societal guidelines that make our relationships easier, happier and healthier. The first of the five Yamas is Ahimsa meaning non-violence or non-harming, so to practice non-violence we embrace love, kindness & compassion.
Physical non-violence is pretty obvious: it's extrememly frowned up to go around knocking people out. Many Yogis also extend this love & compassion to all beings including animals and the planet. You could try things like adding more vegetarian meals to your diet and limit single use plastics by using reusable bags & cups.
In your Asana practice when you come to a difficult pose don't take it personally but use it as a teaching moment to yourself. It's not about performing in the posture but instead being kind to yourself and recognise your limitations with an open heart. Maybe in the pose you could just sit and observe, maybe you can find a variation which works for your body, or maybe you can try but smile if you fall!
Now, we can also be violent in our thoughts and our words. Listen to the inner dialogue that is going on. Is it kind? If not, why are we saying it? When we start to recognise what we're saying and understand where it's coming from that's when change begins to happen. Down below are two exercises which cultivate this dialogue of love, kindness and compassion.
You know when a friend is down or upset and we say all of these kind & loving things to remind them how wonderful they are? Things like 'YOU ARE AMAZING' and 'BABE, DON'T WORRY - YOU'VE TOTALLY GOT THIS'. How often do we say these kind & loving to ourselves? YOU, out of anybody in the entire universe deserve YOUR love & affection. So get comfy, make a hot cup of tea and spend 5 minutes writing a love letter to yourself.
In your letter you could write:
- things that you are proud of that you've accomplished
- words of encouragement for those times you are doubting yourself
- things you love about yourself physically (hi cute freckles!)
- things that you love about your personality or nature
- things that you are grateful for which have brought you to where you are now
Whenever you're feeling less than magic pull out this letter and remind yourself how amazing and loved you truly are.
LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
To practice loving-kindness meditation, sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long and complete exhalations. Let go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest - in the area of your heart.
Metta is first practiced toward oneself, since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves. Sitting quietly, mentally repeat, slowly and steadily, the following or similar phrases:
May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.
While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, friendliness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases. As an aid to the meditation, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind's eye. This helps reinforce the intentions expressed in the phrases.
After a period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:
May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.
As you say these phrases, again sink into their intention or heartfelt meaning. And, if any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.
As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty. You can either use the same phrases, repeating them again and again, or make up phrases that better represent the loving-kindness you feel toward these beings. In addition to simple and perhaps personal and creative forms of metta practice, there is a classic and systematic approach to metta as an intensive meditation practice. Because the classic meditation is fairly elaborate, it is usually undertaken during periods of intensive metta practice on retreat.
Sometimes during loving-kindness meditation, seemingly opposite feelings such as anger, grief, or sadness may arise. Take these to be signs that your heart is softening, revealing what is held there. You can either shift to mindfulness practice or you can—with whatever patience, acceptance, and kindness you can muster for such feelings—direct loving-kindness toward them. Above all, remember that there is no need to judge yourself for having these feelings.