To do no harm. To cause no injury.
In the yoga practice, ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, or moral vows. We tend to think of nonviolence and how it relates to beings outside of the self: eat plants not animals. Don’t hurt other people. Be kind and compassionate in thought, word, and action. This basic social contract is incredibly important in creating a world in which all beings can thrive. But what about ahimsa in relationship to the self? It’s hard to take the concept of ahimsa and turn it reflexively back on the self especially when so much of the harm we do to ourselves we rationalize as beneficial. “If I just push hard enough, it will be worth it.” Let’s unpack the three main categories of violence towards the self and how we can practice ahimsa to create a better relationship with our very own souls.
Or, how I call it: Self Image. Do you know what your deep-rooted beliefs about yourself are? We all have ways that we think about ourselves. What I’m interested in here is whether or not you think you are worthy of love. Do you believe that you are a good person? Do you see yourself as capable of joy, happiness, success? Do you believe that you have inherent worth and value? If the answer to any of these questions is no this is the root of the self-sabotage problem. If you don’t believe that you are capable of success, why would you do anything that brings you closer to it? If you don’t believe that you are worthy of love, why would any relationship you have be healthy? When we deny ourselves inherent worthiness, it is an act of harm.
Comparison will surely destroy us all - or at least the way we have been condition to compare. When we look at other people and judge them to be better humans than we are, then use that information to tear ourselves down, we are doing zero people a service. First, most people are fighting internal battles just as we ourselves are, so it is unfair to compare the persona they wear out in public to our private persona. Secondly, this version of comparison says there is only one way to succeed, there is only one way to find happiness or fulfillment, and it is not the way I am living. Sure, there are things we can do differently and more in alignment with our truest selves, but ultimately, what makes one person successful and happy and fulfilled won’t do it for another person. Those thoughts that say, “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not kind enough. I’m not thoughtful enough. I’m not healthy, well, balanced, happy, thin, strong, courageous, adventurous, whatever, enough” are ways in which we harm ourselves through our thoughts. I will not lie, this is probably the hardest variation to tackle without the support of a professional therapist/psychologist/healer because these thoughts are conditioned. They are learned responses based on the way we have moved through the world thus far and they experiences we have accumulated throughout our lives. Trying to undo decades of learning will not happen over night. It might not happen in a year. It potentially will be something that you’ll spend the rest of your life working to unlearn. Know that, but also know that change is possible and, no matter how small, the change will ripple through the rest of your life.
What can we do to encounter ourselves in our thought-world nonviolently? When you notice the sort of thoughts that tear you down, whether they are in the form of comparison to another person or old variations of the story a person in a position of power told you moons ago, stop that thought in its track. Acknowledge that it exists. Thank it for making itself known. Then, combat this limiting belief with facts, data, observations, about the reality of what is happening. Perhaps you and your partner separated. It is not because you are not worthy of love or don’t have the capacity to care for another person. Perhaps, what that person needs and what you need are no longer in alignment. That’s okay. People change. Maybe you didn’t get the raise you asked for. Does that mean you are horrible at your job and you should quit and make it easier for everyone? No! If you didn’t get fired, you’re doing fine. Acknowledge the ways in which you are succeeding and if you received feedback about ways in which you can grow, receive it. When we engage with these thoughts and beliefs about who we are, especially the negative and limiting ones, rather than allowing them to be true, we give ourselves the opportunity to decide what is real and what is not. We reclaim our ability to create who we are. Engage. Discern. Question. Create.
Thoughts become words. How we speak to ourselves matters. Whether the words are spoken aloud, or written down on paper, or mantras repeated only in the privacy of our minds, our words matter. How many times a day do you think to yourselves, “damn. That was so stupid. I was so stupid.” Do you recognize that as an act of arm towards yourself?
You aren’t stupid. You aren’t a lil bitch. You aren’t ratchet - okay, maybe a little bit, but only in the best way.
These words you say to yourself are stemming from the thoughts you think, the beliefs you have about your inherent worthiness. When you find yourself being harmful towards your precious heart and soul with the words you speak or write or think, pause. Notice. Does the way you speak to and about yourself fill you up or tear you down? There are still days when the only things I say to myself or the only way I talk about myself to other people is hurtful. Both my culture and my gender have told me that if I am diminutive, submissive, docile, I am good. If that’s you too, know that it is okay to have those days. Whenever I realize that I’m starting down that path again, for every bad thing I say or think about myself, I make a mental or written list about my redeeming qualities, my accomplishments, the ways in which I show up and kick ass on the daily.
Friends, this is where you can help each other out. Ever have those conversations where you say, “Ugh I’m so fat. I’m so boring. I’m so annoying”? Great. Stop having them. Let it be known that that kind of self deprecation is not something that you want to engage with anymore. Change the perspective. I often do this in regards to my own physical body. If you know me personally, you know that I have a booty for days that has split many a legging and other pants (this is actually the secret reason I have at least two pairs of leggings with me at all times. Once was enough to teach me that if you twerk too hard pre-class, you might not be wearing those leggings home). Instead of body shaming myself, I took to reframing my butt as one of my assets (all the puns always intended). I love how strong my lower body is because that strengths allows me to climb mountains and carry 30lbs backpacks and run up Runyon. Reframe and Reclaim. And stop self deprecating.
Words become action. When we think of nonviolence towards the self, what comes to mind? Or, let’s ask the question in reverse: what does self harm mean to you? There are many ways in which we act violently with our own persons but so many of them have been normalized by cultural or media. You can fight me all day on this but drugs and alcohol are harmful to your body. They impair judgement. They literally poison your blood. Anyone with a substance abuse problem, or maybe more likely, their therapist, will tell you that substance abuse is usually an avoidance tactic, a way to escape or numb hurt. You can’t ignore an injury forever without causing some serious damage to your person. My personal preference is abstinence from all substances - I also hardly ever take pain killers unless my cramps are UNBEARABLE - but that doesn’t mean yours has to be. Recognize what you’re doing and if a drink with your friends turns into a blackout night so that you don’t have to feel a certain feeling or think a certain thought, you know that you have now crossed the line into harm via actions.
Are we violent in the way that we use our bodies? I am a yoga teacher and a personal trainer, so this is one of the things that I come in contact with the most. I see clients day in and day out treat their bodies like they need to be punished. They push themselves past the point of exhaustion, past the point of where training will be beneficial, and eventually get injured. I am guilty of this myself. How many races have I run with injuries? Almost all of them. Being less violent with the body means honoring when muscular discomfort becomes true injurious pain and backing off. Having trained through many injuries myself, I know how hard it can be to hold back, but just ask yourself if the immediate gratification of training outweighs the long term damage you will most likely accrue if you continue in push with injury.
Perhaps the not-so-obvious way in which we are violent towards ourselves is self-sabotaging. This ties into thoughts; if we believe that we will never be successful or that we are somehow deficient and ill-suited to achieve our goals and dreams, subconsciously we will make choices that render these beliefs our reality. It’s similar to the idea of a self fulfilling prophecy. We might say, to our peers, to ourselves, that we have goals which we are ready and excited to pursue. If deep at the core of our being, we don’t believe in our worthiness, the actions we take will inhibit us from achieving our goals. That is self harm. TO combat this tendency, write down your goal or dream. Make a list of action times, a timeline perhaps, that details the ways in which you can take steps to achieve your dream. When you notice yourself acting in a way that feels less than stellar, assess whether or not your current behavior is in alignment with the action plan. If it’s not, more than likely, that action is a self-sabotaging one. Steer yourself back on course by tasking yourself with one of your stepping stones. Then, watch your dreams become reality.
Actions become reality. Choose wisely.