Inside Yoga 235 (8/6/2018)
Our impact on the world we inhabit has never been such an important subject, with last year’s realisation by the government that David Attenborough’s warning about plastics damaging our world needed heeding being just the tip of an iceberg we keep ignoring.
One of my yoga teachers, Clive Sheridan, would frequently comment that we should try to tread lightly in this world, and throughout our life, wherever we are and whatever we do. This broad sweeping comment is important and intrinsic to the guidance found with the heart of yoga teachings.
This message applies to every level of our lives, including areas we might not think relevant: we can look at a programme like Attenborough’s BBC programme, Blue Planet, which sparked the government calls to ban plastics and agree with its message whole heartedly but not notice what we are doing on a daily level and the harm we are causing.
Treading lightly in every way starts with our thoughts and intentions, how do we approach every moment of the day? Are we having harmful and aggressive thoughts while thinking we are doing good acts? It’s all about intention, mindfulness and actions at the same time.
One of the most important guidelines outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the yama ahimsa, which simplified is non-harming; and generally seen as not physically harming others or ourselves, and this includes all of nature, not just humans, plus not having negative thoughts about others or ourselves. It’s a principle that covers all points of existence, and by which we seek harmony and balance.
And importantly, the reason why the advice to tread lightly is relevant is that instead of seeking to take on the world in one go, we start at home, where we see how we behave in every moment of every day. Start here, and then we can help the world beyond.
For example, look at your yoga practice. Do you tread lightly with this? Or are you forcing yourself, both physically and mentally, harming yourself in the process or perhaps simply not getting the most you can out of the practice. Do you seek to enter a posture with an awareness and lightness which makes a position more accessible? Yoga means union, so we first aim to have a sense of union with ourselves and what we are doing. In order to achieve this we need to master our breathing and with a steady breath we can feel a stronger and more tangible connection with what is actually happening. A yoga posture becomes more effective in a positive way if we approach it carefully, with awareness and lightness, even to achieve what outwardly appears to be a physically demanding exercise.
In meditation, we tread lightly too, working with our distracted state of mind and restlessness not with aggressive and harmful reaction but supportive and light touch which encourages us to try again and keep practising. Much in the same way, when teaching young children parents and teachers realise that gentle encouragement and lightness produces better results. We might feel gown up but we are still children in many respects.
Now expand this view beyond our yoga practice, and we can see how we can improve our approach to our daily life, from family to work life, from domestic to global, we are able to tread lightly in this world if we adhere to the principle of ahimsa.
David Attenborough is our modern hero who at the age at 90plus felt the time had come to spell out how foolish we had been with the care of our planet. Now it’s our turn, to look at every aspect of our life, and make changes, and see if it is possible to tread lightly, and I do not restrict this to just the ecological time bomb we are facing, but to take this approach in every area, our work, our family, our friends, plus how we consume and accumulate stuff (do we really need more or do we have enough?).
This might strike you as not being a part of yoga but it is. We have never been separate from the world we inhabit and the people we live with and near to, as the word yoga means union, we need to seek union with ourselves and everything around us, and looking to tread lightly in this world will help.
To read past articles about ahimsa, plastics and the rest, see the links below:
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