Yoga is the journey of the self, to the self, through the self.
– The Bagavad Ghita
Yogi Log: Day 28
“Ahimsa: the practice of non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional. Non-violence is defined by honest compassion and true love. You can achieve this by embracing love: learn to love deeply, and also to be loved. However, this is impossible to do if you choose to ignore or escape from certain traits held in yourself.”
Admittedly, as someone who completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training, I should have probably identified “ahimsa” as one of the five yamas of yoga and recalled its definition, but when the concept was presented to me mid at-home yoga practice by the guru Baron Baptiste on my laptop, it tickled my curiosity. Today, a week later when we used that same recording to practice again, I recognized the moment in which it was mentioned and tuned in.
“Ahimsa does not just apply to people who are far away, it applies to the people closest to you. And the closest to you is you. Ahimsa starts with yourself. You know yourself before and better than anyone else. Those that are far are here. And so are those closest to you.”
I don’t even know if that’s what was said, but it’s what I heard, which is really what matters. I wasn’t even sure what he meant by “ahimsa”, but as I laid on my back with feet lifted high over my head in waterfall pose, images of the people in my life who showed me love and compassion rushed down from my toes through the passageway of my legs, and, by the time we came in to shavasana, they had joined hands in a protective circle around my head and my heart like patronus providing a respite from the dementors I’ve called to do violence against myself.
The face of my grandmother floating through the line of sight of my gently closed eyes and her voice, “Hi honey!” swirling like a passing summer breeze in my mind, coming to rest softly, as a blanket covering me. No. It can’t be. She’s gone… But she’s here now…
“Hey kiddo.” Another familiar voice that holds residency in the deepest crevices of my brain traveling into the present. Andrea. My coach. My hero. My friend. Her firm hug wrapping around me like no other. Gina’s small hand reaching across her yoga mat during a practice years ago and now onto mine in the here and now. A sense of Stacey’s loyal presence beside me and the nerves canvassing my skin alerting me to Mo’s pinky wrapping tightly in mine, reaching up from the yellow sheets of her safe bunk below. Her voice. “I promise. Won’t leave you.”
The notes of my Pop-pop’s Old Spice cologne dance in my nose letting me know he’s always near. My parents… a warm memory, fleeting, joining the crowd. My high school soccer coaches sitting at the head of our pre-game huddle circle, reading Dr. Seuss, speaking to the knots of nerves and doubt taking up residence in my stomach with an unwavering confidence in my strength, transcending time and space. “You’ve got this, Clark. C’mon.”
My K-8 gym and music teachers. My basketball coaches. My high school best friend’s mom. A teammate, Dawn, placing her hand on my back as I sat doubled over in church, praying for God to heal my shattered heart. Edward’s fingers intertwined with mine in the darkness, holding tight as I drift off to sleep. My road dawg Sarah, sitting across from me in a kitchy diner somewhere near Tombstone, Arizona. The connection shared hangs like a soothing cloud of mist, full of memories reminding me she’s still here. My dear friend Jessica, nodding in encouragement from her seat in the audience of the magical boathouse suspended over Lake George, but overlooking me now. And little me, slipping her nine-year-old hand in mine, nestling up beside me on my yoga mat.
You. Are. Safe. You. Are. Loved. The silent messengers repeating, over and over again.
“Let go of your rope. Drop below your surface experience.” The guru Baron’s voice in the present, coaxing me to go deeper still.
What started as slow-drip exploration of ahimsa became a steady, flooding rush of honest compassion and true love living on beyond their moments in time. Ever-present, my friend, the wearer of so many hats, their gatekeeper, Suzanne, laying on her mat next to me. Her steady, audible ujjayi breath, a pillar of Baptiste yoga, rooting me in the present moment and carrying the unspoken message, “I’m here with you.” I wondered if she sensed the suspension of air traveling to my lungs, an effort keep my inaudible sobs under control, or if she detected the heavy tears hitting my mat after burning silently down the side of my face. I decided it didn’t matter what she heard or what she knew – she was there. I was safe. I could give myself what I needed. I rolled gently onto my side into the fetal position and let the tidal wave of emotion crash violently over me. I hugged myself tightly, trying to duck under and escape the blow while still desperately needing to hold on to my patronus’ to keep away the dementors, and to protect and accept myself in my state of complete vulnerability.
It turns out, I guess, that there is no “escape” that leads to a life of non-violence, of ahimsa. To deprive myself the gift of these messengers is a direct contradiction – a denial of love and compassion.
The lesson: The only way out is through, and the way through is yoga.