How can Yoga be so transformative? Yoga truly changed my life for the better. The first thing we need to understand about yoga is what it is and what it isn’t! Yoga is not all about impressive postures or what brand of leggings or mat your using. Yoga is an ancient science that sprang out of Sanatana Dharma meaning the eternal timeless truth rooted in the Hindu culture and later on its scriptures. Yoga was always an oral tradition passed down from master to student or Guru to Chela. This is why nobody really knows how old Yoga actually is, but as the power of our memory faded and declined as we passed through each yuga (the Hindu time system) and our lifestyles became less pure and the air we breath more polluted, our minds more distracted we needed some reminders. At this point Maharishi Patanjali codified the Yoga Sutras so that some of us seekers could find some keys to unlock the inner truths held within each sutra or verse.
To me the very first Sutra says it all in some ways ‘Atha yoga anusasanum’ – here is the discipline of Yoga. Note the word DISCIPLINE. This is not a negative connotation as so many positive words have been turned into negatives in our modern era. Discipline of our actions, words, choices, thoughts. Yoga gives us a safe structure to work within to evolve ourselves spiritually, without creating more trouble for ourselves! Why? Because the Yoga Sutras tell us how to restrain our animal or lower nature and what to do to evolve into our humane or higher nature. These are the Yamas and Niyamas and if these are followed alone we really require nothing else. That is to say they also encompass everything we need to live a spiritual life, to become happy healthy and live life consciously.
Let’s start with with first step of our Yamas which is Ahimsa, meaning non-harm. Non harm doesn’t mean well I managed not to punch someone in the face today I can tick that box. No it’s a little more refined than that Ammaji Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani used to talk about three aspects of non-harm we need to consider:
Non-harm to others (feels obvious)
Non-harm to ourselves (oh ok!)
Non-harm by not allowing others to harm us (oooh there’s a new perspective)
In addition to this we think about all these aspects in 3 more aspects! In thought, word and deed! In other words we need to refine ourselves so much that not only our actions reflect Ahimsa, but so do out words and even thoughts. In the Yoga sutras it says that when someone has perfected this Yama then no harm can take place in their presence. So there you go, there is even a way to measure your accomplishments!
Let’s think about ways we can harm our own self. There are of-course severe ways to go about this, but honestly I was taught that we need to be at a certain point in our evolution to be well over seriously destructive behavior patterns before we can really walk such a serious (doesn’t mean it can’t be fun) and disciplined path. The yoga path is not for the weak and still traumatised and processing healing people. We must have passed this point. All the hatha yoga practices can help with the healing of-course but this is not at all their purpose. Yoga is for the grounded and centered warriors of this world who have moved beyond their trauma. We all have had trauma of one kind or another, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who hasn’t! We can’t get stuck there, we shouldn’t let it win. This in itself is a type of self harm. My Guru always impressed upon us that health and happiness is the by product of yoga, but it is not the goal, we cannot and should not stop there!
There is a story about this.
Two celibate monks were walking through the forest. Along the way they met a woman who was trying to cross the stream, she couldn’t manage it and asked the monks if they can carry her across. The one monk said absolutely not we are not to touch a woman. The other monk felt she was in a problem if she didn’t manage to cross over so he picked her up and carried her across the river. The two monks then continued walking through the forest. After some time the first monk said I cannot understand why you did that my brother, I am feeling so angry and confused! The monk replied my dear brother I dropped that woman back at the river hours ago and you my friend are still carrying her.
So you see things happen and we can either choose to hold them, or choose to let them go. Science tells us every 7 years not one single cell in the body will be the same, everything has changed. So why then are we the same? Because we carry our memories across, we carry our pain and often do not want to let go.
I can tell you another story of a student who got so rehabilitated through our yoga classes what when it was time for this persons benefits review they were no longer eligible for the sickness benefit. This was taken very negatively however due to the attachment to the income being sick gave. Being sick brings many positives to a person on some levels. So it can become addictive. The attention, the love the sympathy etc. There are so many examples of people who have been in shockingly depraved, mental or physical pain, abuse, disabilities and have made huge transformations. These people will always be in a very minute number of-course because it is such a huge huge DISCIPLINE, of the mind, emotions and body. Nobody wants to put the time and effort in, its just too hard and requires too much sacrifice.
My Guru Swami Gitananda Giri was a heart surgeon for some part of his life. He said that this work was mostly a waste of time as he would operate on someone and they would feel great with a new lease of life, yet 1 year later they would be back on the operating table as they had not adjusted their lifestyle in the slightest!
So going back to Ahimsa, non harm it means we need to address the toxicity in our life. It may mean clearing some people out of our life, or creating stronger boundaries or putting yourself before others. Of course we will always be working within some limits, if you have dependent children you can’t abandon them or create a harmful situation for them, but if you need a break you can without guilt try to organize a break away to come back with more energy for them for example.
So what about not allowing others to harm us? Here is another popular story set in ancient India there was a snake living under a tree on the edge of a village. One day a sage came there and started a satsang (Spiritual discourse) for the local people. They all sat around the the Sage and listened as he talked about Ahimsa. The snake too listened and was so inspired by this talk he decided he ,must also try to follow Ahimsa now. Before the sage left the snake asked the sage to bless him and that he will try to follow Ahimsa now. After some days the village kids began to play around the tree, they realized the snake had become passive and they started to throw rocks at the snake and hurt him every day. After some weeks the sage came back through the village and found the snake almost dead at the tree. The snake told the sage about the children of the village. The sage became very angry with the snake and said you stupid snake I told you not to harm but I did not tell you that you cannot hiss and scare people!
Yogacharini Deepika Giri