Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nadi Yoga Part 3 - Preliminaries - Ahimsa

Preparation: The Yamas and the Niyamas

In the undertaking of any science of transformation, there are preparations necessary. In the classical yoga, there are various breakdowns of how the path is laid out and the preparations necessary but in most cases they agree that the yamas and niyamas are important. Most often these two words are translated as observances and restraints. Depending on the text consulted these yamas and niyamas vary in number from 10 to 20. For our purposes here we will focus on the classical 10 yama/niyamas as given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Really the texts that give the 20 yama/niyamas are giving practices which are really subsumed by the 10. For example mitahara or proper diet can really be understood by the yama of ahimsa or non-violation.

To truly understand these yamas and niyamas in the context of nadi yoga we have to get beyond the traditional way of understanding these as moral precepts which bring about right living. We have to embody these principles very directly by seeing how they act directly on us through the instrumental layer of our being. In this way we can look at them as laws or principles of energy. Only in this way will we start to gain a deeper understanding of yoga from the nadi level. We will take each of them separately in turn. It will be helpful as we go through this list to seriously take stock in your own life and look directly at how these different principles are present and where they are absent. If one truly starts to pay attention to these principles, the nadi yoga will be understood at a far deeper level.

The Five Yamas

            The five yamas are five commitments of practice that we take that help to create a healthy functioning energetic system of body and mind. Unless these five practices are undertaken, all of the other practices of yoga will fall short. They are our guidelines for how to function in the world and with ourselves.

Ahimsa: Non-violation of the life force

            Ahimsa is oftentimes translated into English as non-violence. I prefer to call it non-violation of the free flow of the life force. When we classically think of this yama we think of being non-violent in the world, it is more of an external expression. But if we consider this action truly, before taking this yama outside ourselves, for our purposes in direct experience of the body and senses, we have to see how we cause violence or violate our own self first and foremost. 

Where does violation first occur? It occurs in the mind. It occurs through our intention, conscious or not. If you examine deeply you will find that every time, violation occurs at the deepest level of will. The expression then ripples out through our emotions and the body. However to see it at that deeper intentional level is not an easy thing to always do, especially when we have little understanding of our own mind.

One way that we can start to understand ahimsa and how it affects us is to begin to feel the effects of ahimsa in our own body. All effects that begin in the deepest level of the mind have manifest results in the outermost layers. How does our body feel when we speak, when we act, when we do a yoga posture? The symptoms of the body and mind will reveal the deeper layers of intention. Negative symptoms manifesting in the body are oftentimes the direct result of some violation that we are making with our very life force. Given that most of us have never been taught about our deeper life force and its expression, it’s not surprising that most of us are not even aware of how we violate ourselves. When we start to have the awareness to see these symptoms we can go deeper into our investigations. 

Always, when there is himsa or violation, there will be a rupture in connection, there will be a break in awareness, there will potentially be tension or even injury. It is important to learn to see what those breaks in awareness look like and feel like. If we can start to see these breaks we can oftentimes get at the source before the effects ripple out through our system. Eventually we start to see himsa right at its point of manifestation and we can learn to stop it at its point of origin.

Himsa is usually repetitive; we oftentimes repeat again and again the same actions seeking certain results out of obsession, greed, anger, and desire. In a yoga posture, we force ourselves into a position in an attempt to achieve some result. We may stay in a job out of a feeling of responsibility or guilt. We may allow personal relationships that are harmful to our person. We eat food that doesn’t agree with us out of habit. We engage media that slowly consumes us. Our habits take us over through time. There are many different ways that we can violate our own life force and most of the time we are not even aware of what we are doing.          

I think of ahimsa as knowing how to find our way through a maze. When we hit what we think of as a dead end, then instead of continuing to push down that same corridor, which has blocked us, we turn around and go back to the last junction that we encountered and try another path. If we do this each time we hit a "dead end" we continue to move forward instead of getting stuck. We won't continue to move down the same corridors but try something new. This is the only way to get through the maze. Each "dead end" presents itself as a feeling. It may be pain, or some other form of obstruction. We might think that by continuing to go down the same corridor that we can somehow unlock a secret there, but the real secret is to turn around and find another way through. The important point is to keep moving forward and not get stuck. 

To begin to see the symptoms of violation in our own lives is critical if we are to truly have ahimsa. Seeing the symptoms or the "dead ends" helps us to start to understand how responsible we are for our own well being and to begin to take ownership and power back into our life. We may feel out of control of our life and not recognize that we alone have the capacity to change many of these habits and patterns that are consuming us and slowly taking our life. 

When ahimsa becomes a regular part of practice the energy of the body/mind system becomes freed up to move in a more natural fashion. The polar imbalances start to even out and we find more clarity and central column movement of life-force. We also find that we are able to naturally enter postures and activities without strain or force, "knowing" how to find our way in. There is more freedom and expansion in our range of being.

The next post will continue with the yamas as a proper foundation to practice.