Ahimsa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What word do I most associate with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Nonviolence. In Sanskrit, nonviolence is translated as ahimsa, and is the foundation of a Yoga practice.

Ahimsa is so much more that simply not thwacking another person in the face. Not thwacking people is the easy part. The hard part is living in balance with our inner voice, our gut, our “spidey senses,” so we don’t lash out at ourselves or others. When we feel afraid, tired, stressed, we find ourselves behaving unkindly. We must listen to the wisdom and guidance of our inner voice, which intuitively knows what we need to prosper as a human being.

“Balance” does not mean having a perfectly designed day planner. Let’s face it- that will never happen!  Balance means allowing our inner voice to inform our thoughts and actions. Chew on that for a while! Easy to say, hard to live every moment.

Swami Karunanunda said everything around us began with a thought we cherished. Yoga teaches us that whatever is on the inside will eventually come out. Think about the symbolism we have discussed in class and satsang: gods & goddesses. The gods represent unchanging Truth, and goddesses represent that same Truth that is set into motion. Whatever is deep inside us will come out. Our challenge is to quiet the noise in our heads long enough for our deep inner wisdom to bubble up. This is a Yoga practice.

In his book Polishing the Mirror, Ram Dass tells a story from Aikido master Terry Dobson, who witnessed love in action. Ahimsa in action. Terry found himself on a train with a drunk man who was threatening innocent passengers. Terry was ready to take him down to protect the innocent, when a older gentleman started to speak to the drunk. With a welcoming smile and voice, he invited the drunk to sit and talk. “What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love.”

Can we look beyond appearances and see a deeper level of another’s being? Can we find common ground? Can we interact from a place of love? This gentleman on the train was not a milquetoast. He didn’t roll over. He was confronted with aggression and reacted with ahimsa, with love. This is work! It takes mindfulness and a whole lot of practice. Lots of practice!

All of this sounds great, but could seem way out of our grasp. However, we practice this on the mat by simply setting an intention to not harm ourselves while practicing asana. We directly experience ahimsa in our own physical bodies. We pay attention, stay alert, let the body communicate what it needs to us. And we listen. Am I trying to keep up with other students in the class? Am I trying to impress the teacher? Why am I here? Thankfully, a handstand is not a prerequisite to learning to listen to my inner voice. Mindfulness is. Awareness is. Practice is. And we can all do that!

Imagine a person who challenges you. During your next interaction, can you find a way to approach the person by first finding common ground? Can you be mindful of your tone of voice and your facial expression? Can you diffuse even part of the combative energy with love? Baby steps.

Imagine how safe we would all feel if ahimsa were at the core of our thoughts and therefore, our actions. How connected would we all be? I believe MLK Jr. had this dream for all of us.

Keep practicing!

See y’all at Underground!

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