First, do no harm.

Ahimsa.

The very first tenet of the path of Raja Yoga. The first Yama. Do No Harm. Treat all life with respect, kindness, non-violence.

Mightily espoused by yogis world-wide, and most commonly quoted as the fundamental reason yogis “should” be vegetarian, it is one of the more clearly stated ethical boundaries adopted by those on the eight-fold path of Yoga. Clear in it’s message of kindness, and yet one I see thrown to the way-side in so many classes in which I participate.

Violence. A word that is endemic in this modern world: wars, gangs, crime, abuse, neglect, and every -ism you can name. Sometimes it makes headlines that make us cringe, or headlines that make us think. Many times violence is obvious, overt, in-your-face. These forms are easy to denounce, to rail against, to decry. Our practice on and off the mat is often used to counter the social atrocities that surround us: fund raisers, festivals, concerts, seva. Service. We offer our bodies and our hearts and our voices and our dollars at the alter of doing good for others.

And yet as we step on the mat each day, so many of us step right into the arms of Violence against ourselves. We come to the mat for solace, for effort, to burn off our stressors and dive deep within. However, this act can become unkind when pursued from a place tainted by competitive ego. We can move too fast, we can push too hard. We can refuse to listen to our inner voice when it whispers to us and only hear it when in screams at us from a truly deep injury.

Our asana practice is a tool to bring us into deeper alignment with our true Nature. If we approach it with a blind eye and deaf ear, we are no longer in a practice. Our asana can work against us if we don’t have a basic understanding of the Nature of our body, for our body is what we bring to the mat first. We cannot focus only on our muscle and bone, but neither can we discount it.

Unknowingly inflicting violence upon my Low Back.

My own practice is deeply rooted in this physical exploration and though I have studied anatomy and physiology for going on two decades, I am still surprised and amazed by observations being made across the physical industries. This article by Michael Boyle MA, ATC,  “Is Rotation Training Hurting Your Performance”, references just such observations with respect to twists in the low back. I found it eye-opening and gut-clenching all at once. Drawing from the research of Shirley Sarhman and her book, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, it describes the importance of rotating our spine at the Thoracic level (mid-upper back) instead of our Lumbar levels.

This article was a wake-up call to me that even as closely as I observe and converse with the inner workings of my body, that I was ignoring some very basic functional anatomy and inflicting violence upon it with many of the movements in my practice. I have since made adjustments and found that my lingering back pains have disappeared.

This article also made me begin looking deeper at my spine in practice from top to bottom and along the way I have made some rather startling personal discoveries. As I teach these new alignments to my students, they are discovering their own new levels of freedom and strength. I will be offering intensives on this work in the months to come, so STAY TUNED.

Not only do we need to pay attention each time we step on the mat, but we must remain aware that new information is available for us to feed our knowledge base and grow in the intelligence of our asana. It’s not always about going farther or holding longer. Making those distinctions is part of our practice of Ahimsa. Be kind to your body.

Leave A Comment