Yesterday I witnessed something beautiful: I got to watch a master yoga instructor work his way through a roomful of students who were experiencing different areas of stiffness ("resistance"). He guided each of them to a personal realization of how to heal themselves. Peter Sterios, cofounder of mBody Yoga in San Luis Obispo, California, is a 500-hour registered yoga therapist (RYT), and has been studying, teaching, and practicing for more than 30 years. As a former self-described stiff guy, he's uniquely qualified to teach about compassionately overcoming resistance in the mind-body-spirit complex. I feel privileged to be continuing my own lifelong training with him at his beautiful studio.
Among all that I learned yesterday during Peter's three-hour Yoga Mentoring class, one thing really jumped out at me. Here it is:
The Universe is a violent place. And that's OK.
This information came to light while we were all kneeling with our toes bent back. For a really...really...long...time. (OK, maybe it was a minute or so. You try it and get back to me, tough guy!)
At this precise moment, just as I was calmly (from the outside, anyway) observing myself about to blow a gasket from the intensity of the sensation, Peter brought up the topic of ahimsa.
Ahimsa is a concept in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras that is often translated as "nonviolence." It's become the basis of many a vegetarian and vegan diet, as well as countless personal practices that seek to cause as little pain and suffering in the world as humanly possible. Have you heard of the monks who won't bathe because they might kill microorganisms on their skin or in the water? I think that's beautiful in its earnestness, but then I get a little panicky because I think of the millions of microscopic organisms that I'm breathing—right now—that I just killed. There go some more! Aaaahhhhh!
However, as Peter pointed out, "we live in a predatory universe." Everything living, in order to survive, is required to destroy something else, whether plant, mineral, or animal. Therefore, if we look more closely at the concept of ahimsa, and translate the ancient meaning more accurately, it really means something closer to "restoring balance." In my opinion, avoidance of and guilt over all kinds of "violence," even if it's the kind we use to feed our bodies or defend ourselves, is out of alignment with Nature and the natural order of things.
As an instructor of yoga and fitness and a practitioner of the martial arts, I've often told students, "If it hurts, don't do it." Pain causes a sharp, electrical, stabbing sensation that's the body's way of yelling, "Hey! Knock that s--t off!" But I also believe there's a critical difference between "pain" and "intensity." We don't want pain; we do want intensity. Intensity, whether physical or emotional, is where growth and rebalancing can occur.
So when we work with our bodies to keep them in their natural state of flexible strength; when you tell a coworker or partner that no, it's not OK for them to abuse your good will and generosity yet again; or when we eat (hey, those organic sprouts were loving life, too!), maybe you could see that as a rebalancing of energy, not being violent.
You have a right to thrive, too. And as a human, you have the unique option to do so with wisdom and compassion. So pray for those accidentally squashed bugs! Thank your sautéed chicken with greens as you sit down for lunch. Take back your power from those who mistreat you. Enjoy the intensity of the yoga pose that always frustrates you. Practice ahimsa on your path to becoming a real human being!
Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from you!