In my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I learned about "ahimsa" or non-violence in thought, word and deed. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm not a violent person. In fact, I lean more towards pacifist." Yet, something within me made me think again.
I started paying attention to my thoughts. I was shocked. I was unconscious of all of the negative self-talk that occupied my mind. Worse, it was on-going. I couldn't believe how mean, belittling, judgmental and critical I was of myself. Then I started noticing how critical and judgmental I was of others, both in my mind and in my words. Next, I became aware at how my actions reflected this violence in my impatience, curtness, ignoring people, withholding my love when I didn't get my way, viewing people as enemies.
This whole way of living was exhausting and completely contradictory to yoga. I had embraced and embodied my suffering. As a result, I repelled the people I wanted to be more like and attracted the people that suffered like I did. Something had to give.
As I started to explore why I thought and acted as I did, I realized that some behaviors are learned, passed down generationally, through culture, society, religion and school. While, some are learned out of reaction as a way to belong and feel safe and loved. Breaking through these thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors takes courage. To break free, I had to think differently than every way I'd been taught. I had no idea what that would mean to my life. I just knew I had to try.
First, I became conscious of my thoughts. When I would catch myself, I would try to challenge to belief and re-story. If I was criticizing myself, for example, I would ask if it were true or not. Then I would try to figure out why I thought that way. Finally, I would choose better words. Instead of, "You're so stupid!" when I would misplace my keys, I would say, "This is a reminder to be mindful of where I leave my keys." The judgement came from my own insecurity and expectations to be perfect.
As I started treating myself with more kindness, respect, and dignity, I noticed my temperament calmed. When I caught myself losing patience, for example, in traffic or in a long line, I would gently remind myself to focus on my breath. This gave me time to be more mindful of my breathing. I would start trying to elevate my energy as an experiment to see if I could influence the energy around me without ever saying a word. It works.
I started treating strangers with kindness more frequently. I'd smile more. I would try to engage the people who were serving me in restraints, cafes, and shops. I was nicer to telemarketers, too. The most impactful change came in my closest relationships. I quit blaming others for how I felt. I owned my feelings. This decreased arguments significantly and made my relationships far more pleasant. I even started attracting a different group of friends who were more in alignment with the direction I was headed.
I won't say I have perfected the art of ahimsa, though I will say it has changed my life. Each day is a new opportunity to practice staying present in compassion, respect, and dignity for myself and others. I wonder if we were all more aware of our own experience with ahimsa, would else could change in the world? It certainly seems worthy of an experiment.
Wendy Reese is a lifestyle strategist who specializes in whole being, author, host of The Whole Being Zone and yoga teacher with 13 years of teaching experience. If you are ready to cut through the limitations that hold you back from being whole, try Wendy's complimentary seven-day lifestyle detox course at www.wholebeinginc.com/detox. Get regular Wendy Wisdom (and inspiration) on Twitter and Instagram @wholebeinginc