February: Ahimsa & Valentine’s Day

ahimsaFebruary, whether we like it or not, is the month of mushy gushies and candy hearts. It is unavoidable for those who are heartbroken and oh so accessible for those who are hopelessly in love. The truth of it all though, is that love rules our lives whether it’s February 14th or not.

We are all products of an act of great love.

In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, ahimsa is the very first yama- making complete sense because, as life teaches, after an initial act of love, all the other work begins. Ahimsa, or loving kindness and non-violence, is the first ‘step’ to creation, manifestation and spiritual fulfillment.

This year, I’ve been trying to look at Valentine’s day and February in general as ‘ahimsa’ month (not that it should be limited to one month- i’m just focusing especially on it!) I’ve been devoting myself to moments of love, both on and off the mat. I must say, it’s not easy- especially when the internal voice turns toward condemnation and judgement. However, as love is the catalyst for all other ‘work’, I’m trusting that a month (or a few days if you want) focused on loving kindness will bring that creative energy, manifest some dreams and bring some peace.Β ahimsa3.jpg

ON THE MAT AHIMSA PRACTICE

If you are hoping for a generalized asana practice here, you won’t be finding it. Asana, or the physical postures of yoga, benefit all humansΒ differentlyΒ and I don’t believe my ahimsa asana practice is the perfect fit for everyone. Ahimsa is about tuning into yourself and finding your true path of self love- that may be a rigorous asana practice OR a softer one.

Instead, here I offer a few ways to find that connection with the self- so you may discern what is best for your body. These modes of connection will come in the form of pranayama (breath) and guided exploration. I practice these before my asana practice- they help bring more love to the movement, truly making it a ‘yoga’ practice and not simply a good stretch.

Dirga Pranayama: 3 Part Breath: Yogic Breath

  1. come to comfortable position- this may be seated or reclined, however if reclined try not to fall asleep! πŸ™‚
  2. Breathe normally, as you were before coming to this practice. No restrictions, no ‘trying’. Β How does the breath feel? Is it fast? Slow? Warm or cool? Bring your awareness to it in observation- never judgement- and know that this flow is what keeps you moving, thinking, ‘being’ all day.
  3. Bring your hands- one to your low belly and one to your chest (if comfortable). Allow the inhale breath to flow deep into the belly. Fill your entire belly with air then, once full, allow that air to begin filling the lungs – keeping the belly full still. Once both belly and lungs are full, bring the air (if possible) to the throat or collar bones. How does your body feel when it is this ‘expanded’? is there discomfort? is there energy?
  4. Begin to exhale slowly, letting the collar ‘deflate’ first, then the chest, then the belly. How does the body feel now? Take a moment in the space in between to notice.
  5. Repeat this, brining awareness to different aspects of the breath, the body and of course, your thoughts. Bring as much love and acceptance to the practice as possible, perhaps repeating some sort of mantra for every repetition. I’ve been using the mantra ” AHAM PREMA” meaning ‘I am divine love” (which we all are). I internally repeat it in those moments of space in between breath ‘action’ (between inhale and exhale).
  6. When you have practiced to your limit, with ease, come back to your natural breath. What is different from the list you took at the beginning? What do you notice? Give yourself thanks and slowly, and oh-so lovingly, come to your asana practice.

OFF THE MAT AHIMSA PRACTICE

This month I have allowed myself an abundance of time to do one thing a day that I thoroughly enjoy and am able to connect to a deeper sense of myself within. This usually takes a creative form- writing or painting or cooking. Some believe ahimsa to mean non-violence to all creatures big or small off the mat- which I believe as well however, I also don’t think vegetarianism and veganism is all that accessible to every single person.

Off that mat ahimsa has to do with intention. What is the intention you are preforming this task with. Is your intention violent towards yourself- are you doing it to just get it over with or to escape some perceived ‘ugly’ part of yourself? or is your intention loving- you are doing it to deepen some sense of self understanding or connection? Your entire day can’t consist of this- mine certainly can’t. We all have to do things we don’t ‘want to do’ or that doesn’t necessarily bring ‘us closer to ourselves’.Β We have to work and take care of our families and so on… however, I’ve been taking one thing per day (outside of ‘yoga’) that brings in that little bit of love light. Whether its 5 minutes before bed or when you wake up- take a little ahimsa time- something that brings you a little closer to loving kindness for yourself.

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Travel Yoga:3 Part Breath

Inhale: belly, ribs, chest, stay. Exhale. Repeat. Transition. Transformation.Β Β 3 part breath. Dirga Pranayama.Β 

This breath is my favourite and I practice it absolutely everywhere. I’m writing this now because I’ve found, on this recent trip to Toronto to visit friends, that buses are actually one of the BEST places to practice pranayam (for myself). Three part breath allows a lingering of time and space in between the inhale and exhale. It creates this appreciation for breath that I don’t necessarily get from nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing). It’sΒ like taking a “mind shower”, it honestly washes everything away until it is just your body and space. Plus its a really safe breath for most people to practice (always practice to your capacity, if something does’t feel right-its not).

If you find yourself on a particular noisy bus or with several flight delays and the world is spinning far too quickly and you think you might fall off, take 10 minutes….or 5….or however many you have…

  1. Take a moment to notice the natural rhythm of your breath. What does it sound like? Feel like? Is it shallow? Is it fast?
  2. Inhale slowly, drawing the breath down into the belly. You can place a hand over your stomach if comfortable to feel the belly expand.Β 
  3. Bring the breath into the ribs now, expanding in the chest
  4. If possible (because some days it certainly is NOT.) allow the breath to come into the upper chest- your clavicle area.Β 
  5. Hold slightly. Feel the expansion and space you have created in your body and mind.
  6. Exhale slowly through the nose. Upper chest, ribs, belly deflate.Β 
  7. REPEAT

This breath is balancing for thoughts and emotions. If you are tired it can be used as a wake up and it can also increase concentration. It circulates oxygen to all parts of the body bringing in 7x more oxygen than your regular rhythm (this does not mean the body always needs 7x more oxygen…just saying).

Making it perfect for pre, during and post travel. Build that prana!

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