The Ahimsa of Doing Less

if-your-compassion-does-not-include-yourself-it-is-incomplete-2

Pressure to do more comes from many sources; work, school, family, friends all place demands on our time, and this is compounded by the crafted images on social media that make it seem like everyone is doing more than us and in better lighting, too. It’s easy to ignore the subtle signals of the bodymind that ask us to slow down, to nourish ourselves with quiet and stillness.

The problem with ignoring those messages is that they tend to grow louder the more they aren’t heeded. Sometimes to the point that, in an effort to get its needs met, the body insists we stop by way of illness or injury. Once we have no choice, then, we rest. But it doesn’t have to come to this! We can listen to the quieter expressions inside and heed them to foster a healthier, kinder practice and way of life.

I spend a good part of my time when teaching encouraging students to do less. Now that yoga is in popular consciousness in a major way, we all have seen images of common poses and maybe have an idea of what they “should” look like. But each body is different, and striving to, say, get your nose to your knee in janu sirsasana, is not right for every body, every day. Only an honest look inside can tell you how deeply to express a pose to the greatest benefit to you at that particular moment. This svadhyaya, self-study can help us practice in the spirit of ahmisa, non-harming. Cultivating that compassion through awareness is one of the greatest lessons we can learn on the mat. When we look inside and really feel with curiosity and gentleness where we are at a particular moment, we’re able to really intelligently, safely move our practice to a deeper place, without fear of going too far, too soon and setting ourselves back with an injury. Conversely, when we attempt to go further than the body wants, we often get out of alignment or let go of crucial support (core connection, anyone?) to get to a particular place and risk hurting ourselves in the process.

This can apply to life in general, too. Where are you pushing beyond the edge? Finding yourself overwhelmed and unable to function? Could you pull back a little, extend yourself some compassion by taking a deep look at what is really serving you and letting go of things that are taking away your energy without giving back? This kind of self-care can help us to live more fully in our truth. The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of what is and is not serving you, and in the spirit of compassion, dedicate yourself to taking on only those things that nourish you. This doesn’t mean that every moment will be filled with ecstatic joy. Someone will still need to clean the bathroom, of course, because sometimes things that serve you aren’t fun. But a spirit of inquiry and intentionality can help us to do less when less is what is needed.

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