Part 2: Ahimsa
Let's get right to it. Hi, my name is Tara. I'm a yoga teacher, and I take Cymbalta. Surprised, confused, disappointed? You're probably not alone. People often come to yoga because they believe that yoga can "fix" what it is they believe needs fixing. This is a pretty common misconception, perpetuated perhaps, when yoga teachers do not explain how vast the practice of yoga actually is. I fully believe yoga can assist in healing everything from physical to emotional wounds. I also believe, however, that it is important to recognize that asana practice is only one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Failure to acknowledge that fact results in the failure to practice yoga in its entirety.
Last week my post focused on Satya or truth. The practice of Satya is included within the first Limb of Yoga known as the Yamas or "ethical standards." Ahimsa or non-violence is also included in the First Limb of Yoga. Non-violence seems as though it would be a pretty straight forward practice. More often than not, I am much better at practicing non-violence toward others. Practicing personal non-violence, however, is where things become challenging. I believe this is something many yoga teachers and Type A personalities struggle with.
I first began to struggle with the idea of Ahimsa when I was struggling with my Satya, specifically the truth that I live with chronic pain. I, like most people, came to yoga - or more accurately asana practice - because I believed it would heal years of injuries. When I learned that yoga was more than just asana practice, I made the commitment to practice those aspects as well. I must admit, most of the time I thought I was doing a good job of living up to my aspirations of leading a yogic life.
I believed that if I took more asana classes, my body would heal. I believed that if I focused on pranayama practice, my mind would rest in a "glass-half-full" perspective. If I could just link postures and breath together for 60 minutes at a time, I wouldn't need anything else. If I just tried harder, I would feel better. Yoga would be all I needed to be healthy, to be okay. Turns out I, too, was practicing the widely held misconception that yoga fixes all.
I tried so hard for so long to breathe and pose my way to health. But I was struggling. The weight of trying to keep up with everyday "adulting" while coping with chronic pain began to take a major toll on my mental and emotional health. It wasn't until I acknowledged my Satya (the truth that I was in over my head) that I was able to truly practice Ahimsa. Ahimsa for me came in a way that I previously thought was Himsa, or violent. I decided to take an antidepressant. This was a decision that I did not make lightly.
Some believe that yogis should not need medication, and if you do need medication, you are less of a yogi. The use of pharmaceuticals for mental, emotional, and physical health is often taboo not just in the yoga community, but in society at large. The stigma that accompanies issues such as mental health, for example, have helped create a society where those who need it most are reluctant to get the medical attention they need.
The effects that chronic pain has on the brain physically and chemically are astounding. This is true not just for chronic pain, but for other chronic conditions as well. To think that anyone could overcome these conditions with asana, pranayama, and simply trying harder is foolish. That type of thinking isn't only foolish, but can create unnecessary pain and violence in one's life. Make no mistake, I think asana and pranayama are immensely beneficial. For me, however, I could not practice asana or pranayama without some help. Before taking medication, the path to pranayama, for example, was similar to climbing a steep ice-covered mountain face without crampons. Talk about foolish! I was bound to suffer a violent fall down a gnarly crevasse.
Self-harm comes in many forms. Some obvious, some not so much. For me the practice of Ahimsa began with reflecting on what it truly means to practice non-violence. I do not believe that medication should be abused, and the decision to take it not made lightly. But, if taking medication is how you can practice Ahimsa, then do it - and don't be ashamed. Taking Cymbalta is how I practice Ahimsa. I am able to breathe easier, find some relief from chronic pain, and maintain a positive outlook on life.
Your turn! How are you practicing Ahimsa? Is there a non-violent decision you are struggling to make? Is that decision difficult to make because of misconceptions or a fear of judgement? How can you be kinder to yourself?