Inside Yoga 222 (8/1/2017)
Well-being is very popular today, but how good are we at looking after ourselves and importantly how good are we at looking after everything and everyone around us? Our yoga practice starts with our self and extends to everything in our life, including the planet we inhabit… read on.
At the heart of yoga, according to the yoga sutras written by Pantanjali, are the ethical guidelines called yamas and niyamas, which guide the yoga practitioner. The first yama is ahimsa which is often translated as non-violence, not only towards others but ourselves, but the word and the practice describes more than just non-violence. The root word, himsa, in translation means injustice or cruelty, with the word ahimsa being the absence of this.
TKV Desikachar describes ahimsa as meaning “kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things.” He adds “we must always behave with consideration and attention to others”. And importantly these words are also to be used on ourselves. We might be thinking of the welfare of others but this is of little use if we are harming ourselves in any way. Heal ourselves before we heal the world is often taught in this context, yet to be practical it is a good idea to do this simultaneously, work on the welfare of both ourselves and everything around us.
Ahimsa speaks of non-harming of others, but as mentioned above, we can practice yoga in way which is non-harming to ourselves. Ahimsa is applied to all of our activities from physical to mental, with care be given to how we think as well as we act. Our practice is supposed to follow principles of sthira and sukkha which translate as steadiness and sense of ease (happiness). We can do this only if applying awareness and care, as stated above practice with consideration and attention.
Consideration and attention to others is an important factor, because this includes our duties and responsibilities to our family and those around us, not neglecting them just because we need to “sort myself out”. It can seem very complicated but it doesn’t need to be if we see this in the same way as our own yoga practice which we understand takes time and practice to improve but we stay with it and keep it going.
Equally we might not feel responsible for anything around us, but we are all interconnected and part of everything around us. In Buddhism this is called interdependency, which explains that everything is connected, so we are part of everything, which is way of helping all of us to feel more connected and less isolated and therefore feeling better about who we are and what our role in this world is.
We all have our part to play, and this is the important part I wish to write about. There is a micro and macro approach to everything, for example, with the micro looking at ourselves and the macro seeing the bigger picture, and they need to work in harmony. The one area which needs our attention is our relationship with the planet we live on, as the recent BBC series Blue Planet 2 showed in its final episode where David Attenborough explained, his pain and frustration apparent, that it is our use of plastics and other pollutants which are threatening our oceans’ survival – and with this the survival of our planet. It showed how our oceans’ flora and fauna are being killed and harmed by human activity. See BBC iPlayer link – you have a few days left to catch this fascinating series, click https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p04tjbtx?suggid=p04tjbtx
This is a very good example of how ahimsa can be applied both on the micro and macro level. For example, as a result of watching the programme the owner of our local shop has stopped offering plastic bags, he told me that he had calculated that he gave customers more than 10,000 plastic bags per year! (And this is a small convenience shop, just think how many supermarkets give away even now after the new 5p charge). The programme made it clear that it is by the actions by each one of us, however apparently small and insignificant, can make a difference and help protect and save our world.
Plastic might be everywhere and feel impossible to change, but we can look at what we use and reduce it, for example, most of us know plastic bottles are not good for the planet but how many know about plastic straws? They are only used once and thrown away, and eventually to paint a grizzly picture this straw ends up choking a bird somewhere on the planet. This is “himsa”, described above as cruelty and injustice, in action. It is cruel and unjust that we are so unaware of our actions; or don’t care even if aware of the harm we are causing. Have a look around you, in restaurants, bars and cafes, how many straws are used and how it is rarely asked if we need a straw. In fact, as a family we have asked for NO straws only to end up getting them. It is like the words ‘no straws please’ you fell on deaf ears because so many people are running on auto-pilot and not paying attention. If we don’t pay attention to our habits we will lose our planet.
I have heard that some shoppers are unpacking their shopping in the shop, taking the produce and leaving all the plastic packaging in the shop so that hopefully shops start to realise that they are selling produce with far too much plastic packaging and change their practices. A question: do you need plastic bags for your vegetables? Bring with you re-usable bags, and in particular bags made of fabric not plastic. A little more effort goes a long way, and is all part of the yogic practice of ahimsa.
It is all around us, like for example, disposable coffee cups are not as recyclable as many of us believe. These cups have some plastic in them to hold the liquid but there are just three recycling centres in the UK which can recycle these cups properly, so that means most do not get recycled. In many coffee shops I see people drinking out of disposable cups, they are for takeaway, and at other coffee shops like airports they routinely give paper cups instead of china cups when there is seating provided. When asked why they do this staff told us that their washing machine was broken and offered other excuses, it became clear they had never thought about what they are doing except it is easier and less work to use disposable cups instead of washing up cups. Being lazy is killing our planet. Buying a reusable coffee cup is one way of cutting back on wasteful use of these cups. Last weekend the Guardian reported on this problem, see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/05/mps-25p-charge-takeaway-coffee-cups-possible-ban-environmental-audit-committee-report and another report, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/07/the-guardian-view-on-recycling-throwaway-economy-is-not-cost-free
I don’t normally write in such a campaigning way, but I had been thinking of writing about ahimsa for several months. There are ways in which we can look after ourselves in terms of ahimsa, but it does seem that our planet is screaming out in agony asking, no, pleading with its human inhabitants to exercise the practice of ahimsa with the earth we inhabit (for now!).
Apply this to our life, apply this with those within our immediate environment like our family and work colleagues, and apply this to all around us, even far away. We work in small steps but one step can lead to a mile.
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