Ahimsa: A Call for Love in Action

by Tina Tidwell Bedore, E-RYT 500, an owner at Bella Prana Yoga and Meditation in Tampa, FL

There is no denying the amount of pain and suffering happening in the world right now. Especially as a new mother, it weighs on my heart and can leave me feeling powerless and small at times. In times as these, we have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to practice self study (svadhyaya) and non-violence (ahimsa). As perhaps one of the most important of the five yamas in yoga (yamas = ethical guidelines of how to exist in society with others), ahimsa, when directly translated from Sanskrit to English, means “non- violence”. This literal translation can sound a bit negative or aggressive which is unfortunate for such a beautiful embodiment. Another meaning (thanks, Google), “love in action”, captures more of the essence of the word. When we practice ahimsa, the most obvious principle is not to harm other living things (like people, animals) through action, but it also calls us to love and have compassion for ourselves, our bodies and others through thought. 

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the leaders of the non-violence movement, says “If one does not practice nonviolence in one’s personal relationships with others, one is vastly mistaken. Nonviolence, like charity, must begin at home.” 

It starts with each of us. Especially with so much violence, ego, pain and uncertainty in the world today, we have a call to action: Cultivate love and kindness for ourselves, our families, our neighbors, those on the mats next to us in class, those voting differently than us, those sharing our little corner of the world and all beings sharing this life with us. My intention is ahimsa or “love in action” and I invite you to share the same intention or set one of your own. 

 

Become the Observer

Just like any other negative thought pattern, step one is observing when harmful thoughts arise. When we become the observer and put some space between the thought and the response, we allow space for us to grow personally instead of going along mindlessly just as we’ve always done. When we take a moment to create space before we respond, we have the opportunity to question “where is this coming from?”, “why am I conditioned to react in this way?”, “what am I afraid of?”, “what response would bring love and kindness?”.  Acknowledge when those unpleasant thoughts or feelings arise and have the courage to take an honest look at them. 

My homegirl (meaning I have deep love and respect for this spiritual thought leader), Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, says “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” 

 

Svadhyaya- Self Reflection

In order to become the observer, we need to practice the fourth niyama (guidelines for our personal growth), svadhyaya. Give yourself permission to look inward and really see what’s there. Iyengar said that “Yoga is a mirror to look at ourselves from within.” The “from within” part is key. I come from a dance background (danced my entire life, was a dance major in college and dance professionally) so, when I think of the word “mirror”, my mind immediately goes to the external to perfection to judgment to an outside influence. This is a huge reason why at our yoga studio, Bella Prana, we cover the mirrors for most classes so students have the opportunity to go within- but I digress. Here, we are talking about a mirror in the sense of “self- reflection” or in the sanskrit word svadhyaya which means “self study” or “one’s own reading”. How we interact with ourselves on the mat is usually a reflection of how we show up in our own lives. In the stillness of our yoga practice, when we are free from the distractions of modern life (the constant pressure to respond immediately, the constant contact of email, texting, social media, news stories, etc.) and even other humans, we have the opportunity to study our thought patterns, our habits, our tendencies and our coping mechanisms. At first, it may be overwhelming because we will most likely notice behaviors that are quite far from perfect- which can be very hard for the ego. (Poor ego. I promise you will be ok). So, observe when you want to run away, distract yourself or make up stories and excuses when studying the self. Then, invite space. When we invite space and take a step back to question why we are doing something, then we have the space to grow and change. 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl

 

How can I create space, you ask? By pausing before reacting. Pay attention to what’s happening within. How is the breath? The breath tells us how we are in each moment (relaxed, anxious, rushed, calm). By taking a few deep, conscious breaths. Let’s do that right now, all together. Really, I mean it. Now. Don’t put three breaths on your To Do list for later. Stop what you’re doing. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose. Do that again on your own three more times. By moving, we can open literal space in the body. How does the body feel? What is happening within? Is there anything in the body you are over activating or under activating? By observing the thoughts. What about the thoughts? What do you observe? Do you notice habitual patterns or recurrent themes? Again, create space somewhere with the breath or in the body. 

 

Ok, welcome back. Good job, you.

 

Even though Instagram may tell us otherwise, yoga isn’t about mastering some pose for the physical look of it or to gain personal praise. It is about using the postures to learn something about ourselves, challenge ourselves to keep going and keep breathing even when something is uncomfortable or new, to commit to being in it when we’d rather run away or hide or fight back, to create new patterns in our bodies which in turn creates new patterns in our brains- all the while observing how we handle it. Pay attention to what is happening- try not to look away or not see what is actually there (here). Observe with compassion just like we would observe a child learning something new. My daughter, Charlotte Rose, is working really hard on walking right now. How cruel and insensitive would it be for me to expect her to be able to walk the first time she ever tried? It’s the same idea when we are learning how to undo old ingrained patterns of thinking or new ways of moving our bodies. Give yourself the same compassion to try, fail and try over and over again. It will probably be messy, but that probably means you are growing and going in a direction you’ve never explored before.

 

Metta- Loving Kindness or Compassion

Switch to becoming the observer (not the doer or the reactor) of our thoughts and actions, then put some space between them (a few breaths, some time). Next, see if you can let them pass as gently as they floated in and shift your focus to thoughts of love and kindness or “metta”. The word metta comes from the Pali language and means loving kindness, good will or compassion. 

 

An antidote to negative or harmful thoughts is to cultivate feelings of metta in a loving kindness or compassion meditation. This is a mantra meditation I learned from one of my teachers in Asheville, NC- Michael Johnson (please check him out, he is amazing). It is one that we say with my 1 year old daughter every night before she goes to bed…

You are welcome to use the repeated phrase listed below or you can create one of your own. 

1. First, choose a mental image of something in which it is easy to cultivate feelings of love and kindness towards- like a loved one, a child or pet. Once those feelings of love and kindness arise, try to amplify them and then wish that upon yourself perhaps by repeating silently (and simply notice the ways your mind may attempt to stop you from doing so): 

May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I be joyful, may I be free. (repeat the phrase to yourself three times) 

2. After a while, begin bringing in mental images of those whom it is easy to offer feelings of love and kindness towards (family members, loved ones, a child pet), repeating silently (and simply notice the ways your mind may attempt to stop you from doing so): 

May we be safe, may we be healthy, may we be joyful, may we be free. (repeat the phrase to yourself three times) 

3. After a while, begin bringing in mental images of those whom you might not otherwise notice (those in line with you getting coffee, in cars next to you, acquaintances, those in class with you), again silently repeating (and noticing the ways your mind may attempt to stop you from doing so): 

May we be safe, may we be healthy, may we be joyful, may we be free. (repeat the phrase to yourself three times) 

4. After a while, begin bringing in mental images of those whom it is difficult to offer love and kindness towards (people who have hurt you, those who have taken you for granted, made you feel embarrassed, bullied or betrayed), Again silently repeating (and noticing the ways your mind may attempt to stop you from doing so): 

May we be safe, may we be healthy, may we be joyful, may we be free. (repeat the phrase to yourself three times) 

5. After a while, allow this to expand to all beings and processes (governments, other countries, other species, the environment, future generations): 

May we be safe, may we be healthy, may we be joyful, may we be free. (repeat the phrase to yourself three times) 

You may let go of this repeated phrase and rest in feelings of love and kindness for a few moments. After a while, return back to the breath, return back to this space. 

 

It starts with you.

It starts with each of us and it is up to each of us. Self study and reflection is crucial, but that isn’t enough. We have to put it into practice. We have a call to action: To bring love in action to ourselves, to our little corner of the world and to the world as a whole. This small shift makes a big difference. Like a tiny pebble thrown into a giant body of water, small movements create big waves. We owe it to ourselves, to all beings sharing this experience with us right now and to our future generations. 

 

I’ll leave you with my favorite mantra: 

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu 

Loosely translated to mean “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

 

Cheers and Namaste, 

Tina Tidwell Bedore, 500 E-RYT– an owner of Bella Prana Yoga and Meditation, professional dancer and director of Amour Movement, graduated from USF with a degree in Dance and Psychology (focus in Body Image), has performed in France, Florida, Ohio, LA and NYC and was awarded the Arts Council of Hillsborough County’s Individual Artist Grant in 2013. She fell in love with yoga, through dance, after studying with Michelle Jacobi at the Centre de Yoga du Marais in Paris, France. Tina received her 200 RYT (Ashtanga) at Yoga on High (OH) with Martha Malcom, Tim Miller and Maty Ezraty; received her 500 RYT through Asheville Yoga Center earning certifications in Meditation, Bhakti Vinyasa Flow, Prenatal, Yin, Seniors, Yoga as Therapy, Yoga and Ayurveda, Restorative and Kids yoga while studying under Michael Johnson, Scott Blossom, Libby Hinsley, David Keil, Doug Keller and Stephanie Keach. She has worked with professional athletes as well as dancers, taught Yoga for Performing Artists at PAMA, for USF’s Piano Symposium, USF Music’s Fit to Play, USF Dance and America Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive. Tina currently resides in Tampa, FL leading group yoga and meditation classes, private lessons, yoga teacher trainings and yoga retreats. Her classes challenge the body in mindful and creative movement while using the breath as the musical cue. She is grateful for the unconditional love and support of her husband David, their daughter Charlotte Rose, golden retriever Hank and big orange cat Cody.