Do No Harm

I’m not sure when I became addicted to Gentle Yin Yoga, but it just kind of happened. I think I like it so much because it forces me to be on the edge, yet also, to be still at the same time. It’s a ‘thinkers’ yoga, and I like that because so much in yoga is quieting the mind. My mind is never quiet. Ever. (I am the reason Xanax was created.) Yet, for one hour each week, I sit still on my mat and come into my breath, letting my body guide my mind and releasing whatever hysteria the past week has created.

The class I’m attending here locally is currently studying the Eight Limbs of Yoga which are Yama (abstinences), Niyama (observances), Asana (yoga postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (absorption). We started with the Yamas, of course, and as far as simplicity goes, this is going to make up a great series.

I’ll open at the beginning (how appropriate!) with Yamas – Ahimsa. The Yamas comprise of five essential principles, each addressing our interaction with the world around us. Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, or doing no harm, to ourselves and others. It can also mean being compassionate to ourselves and others. Essentially, the Ahimsa is the knowledge and understanding of non-violence, the non-harming of yourself, and other living beings.

“Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” – Voltaire

My introduction to Ahimsa was the week before my birthday, so somewhere around August 13th. I remember leaving the class with the knowledge of how I was harming myself and harming others – feeling as though change needed to occur but unsure exactly how. The how would start to unfold for me in ways I didn’t expect. I was in a relationship with a man I loved, but for some reason I felt I was always falling short of his expectations for me. I realized this was harming both of us, and in an act of compassion for him and myself, I told him we made better friends than lovers and that was that. And throughout the course of the week, I thought about other ways I was harming myself – and others – because, let’s be frank, when you harm yourself you also spill some blood onto others. The ways I was harming myself (not an exhaustive list, but short enough for today) were:

Saying ‘yes’ when I should say ‘no’. I didn’t realize how often I do this until it became abundantly clear to me in a mild breakdown over trying to determine whether to take the time to shower or eat a sandwich, which I wrote about here. Most people can do both (not at the same time, but you know…) but I couldn’t because I had said ‘yes’ to so many things, with no ‘time buffer’. I had to choose. In relationships, I tend to lean heavily on my own expectations of what a relationship should look like and because of my flawed beliefs, I was giving away time to others I really wanted for myself. COVID created a big hot mess of juggling work, parenting and parenting as a teacher, and teaching as a parent that I never expected. I was longing for relief. But I was still saying ‘yes’ to things that stole my time – the time I needed to restore myself and restore my soul. Not only does saying yes when you should say no harm yourself…it harms others, too. You aren’t your best self when you are bitter. And, you can’t show up for yourself or others when you aren’t your best self.

Working ineffectively. Yin yoga isn’t hard but even the softest poses made me sore. When I became more mindful of my work day practices, I realized I sit – sometimes for hours – working at my desk without stretching or moving anything more than my fingers as they race across the keyboard. This is definitely a form of self-harm – although we don’t talk about it much. They say (who are they, by the way? Is there just one group of theys who get to dole out sage advice?)…anyway…THEY say that sitting is the new smoking. I believe it. So I started setting a timer for every 30 minutes. I get up, I stretch and I drink a cup of water (bonus self-care). I’m feeling better and my body feels better.

Holding on to the story. My divorce wasn’t as bad as some, but for me, it was devastating in so many ways. And, for a while, telling my side of the story became imperative. I wanted the world to know that I wasn’t the villain in the story, but what happened by telling that story over and over again was that I became the victim and that…oh boy…that was so much worse. That story was actually more harmful to my self-esteem and my livelihood than I could ever imagine…until I did imagine it. So I changed my narrative. When asked recently why that relationship ended in divorce, I simply said “You know, we just couldn’t get on the same page with values, money, and priorities. It wore us both down.” That is actually a true statement, too, so I don’t feel as though I lied. I just no longer need the fillers.

Mindless drinking. I wouldn’t say I need a meeting but I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that alcohol is my drug of choice when it comes to dealing with stress. Except…alcohol is awful for your body. (Please don’t even start with the studies about red wine to justify its consumption.) My doctor said it best: Alcohol is a poison. I never quite considered it a poison but, um, yeah. It is. Have I given it up altogether? No. I loves me some whiskey and a glass of cold white wine does hit the spot. But I’m more mindful about my choices and my consumption now that I’m aware of how much harm it can do. And, let’s be honest…if you drink too much…there’s a good chance you are harming others, too. The blog post is too short to go into all the details but I think you can recall a time where you drank a bit too much and said or did some things that hurt other people. That’s probably not your best moment.

Ignoring my dreams. I’ve set off on a journey this year (my ‘year’ always starts on my birthday, for those of you who don’t know. My birthday is my new year’s day). The journey, a bucket list of sorts, to engage in some of the things I said I would always do but never took the time to do, or trusted that someone else would make happen for me. For example, I’ve always wanted to commit to a yoga class but when I’d block my calendar for it, I suddenly started penciling in ‘my guy’. I wanted to learn to paddle a kayak but waited for someone else to take the reigns and make that happen. I just decided that life is too short to wait for someone else’s timeline to align with mine. I didn’t see anyone blocking calendars to spend time with me or make these things happen so it was up to me to make them happen. And several things have been crossed off my list so far this year. Check out the list.

So, I’ll end today with some questions (and a song): How are you harming yourself, and consequently, harming others? Are you ignoring your dreams? Are you saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’? I’m curious. Really.