As part of the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program, this student chose to experiment with Ishavari Pranidhana (surrender to God). Changes in routing were used in an effort to find a personal definition for God. In doing so, this student was able to experience the presence of a God-Self despite daily obstacles.
I chose this Niyama because I have never been very religious or spiritual. My parents didn’t raise me under any specific religion, although my mother has a meditation practice and a Guru that she follows. I still never found myself that attracted to the aspect of having a God outside of myself. I chose this practice of Surrendering to God because I wanted to know what God meant for me.
My experiment was to do a free writing exercise every morning for Fifteen minutes. Writing without stopping to edit myself, while flowing with whatever thoughts or impressions came up for me about “Surrender to God”. From these writings, I found myself getting insight on how I could live my life more in accordance with my God-Self. I have an easier understanding and access of God when I think of it as a consciousness that is within myself, and within everything in existence. From this perspective, I was able to write about different exercises that would help me to recognize that divinity in myself, others and the world I live in.
I looked at how I spent my time. I started waking up at 5am and incorporated a 2 hour morning routine of Qi Gong(Chinese meditative movements), Neti pot, Pranayama, Meditation, Asana, Yoga Nidra(guided meditation), and Free writing.
I wrote about how expressing myself is an act of channeling my God Self. How writing at my blog on TravisDharma.com is a way to share the lessons that I’ve learned from my God Self. I wrote about how teaching other people yoga and Qi Gong is another way of channeling a higher source. I gave a speech at a Toastmasters meeting and allowing myself to be in that state of peace and harmony while I gave the speech allowed me to flow without having to look at notes. I acknowledged how giving massage is another form of inviting the divine. Listening to their body and allowing my mind to take a back seat as my intuition and divine connection with this being allowed me to facilitate their healing process.
Even though I had such a wonderful morning practice, I still found myself straying in the afternoon and evening, procrastinating and escaping with video games and surfing the internet. One evening I asked myself what I was afraid of. What fear is underneath this procrastination? I found myself fearful of having a successful massage practice, feeling that I wasn’t good enough to be teaching yoga, and that is why I was having difficulty using my time to work on projects that would further my career. I still feel this fear, and one practice that I implemented to help recognize and release these inhibitions was to laugh at my fears. I could feel the fear literally rising in my shoulders, and I’d shake it out and laugh. Laughing at the smaller self that thinks that I’m not good enough, laughing because in truth everything is divinity, and what does it mean to be “not good enough”? That in itself is funny.
Another obstacle that I found to surrendering to God was feeling overwhelmed by my life situation. A couple weeks ago I signed up for the MLBEx(National Massage Exam), and I researched more into what I needed to do to become licensed in Colorado. I was feeling overwhelmed with the fees, applications, marketing fliers, business cards, videos and photos that I need to make in order to become more successful in Breckenridge. I had updated my resume, which looked great, but I was still overwhelmed by all of the possibilities and all of the things that I felt I had to do in order to be successful. Looking at this from my perspective of “Surrending to God”, I changed perspective to what I can do in the present moment. Instead of worrying about everything that I had to do to be prepared to give massage and teach yoga in Breckenridge for ski season, I focused on what do I need to do this week, or this day. The answer is study for the massage exam, brainstorm and write out the projects that I want to accomplish, and focus on the next step that is available to me. Although I still feel overwhelmed, I acknowledge that I will accomplish what I need to, and that God is giving me the time and resources that I need.
Another obstacle that I felt the last couple weeks has been loneliness. My boyfriend has been out of town for work, and social engagements that I’ve planned have fallen through. I moved to Colorado only a month ago, and rediscovering a sense of community takes time for me. By looking at the process of “Surrender to God” I have found that I believe God has been telling me that I need more time for introversion, and that I need more time for reading and writing. The reason the social situations have been canceled is because I need that time for myself. Although my ego tells me that I’ve had enough individual time, I obviously need more time to process the fear and overwhelm that I’ve been feeling.
I realized how studying, and learning is another process that can be attributed to God. Teachers of Yoga and philosophy are channels of this God-Source. By listening, reading, and processing their information and insights, I can absorb and be a sponge for the knowledge. By incorporating the insights and lessons into my every day life I can truly learn by experiencing it in my world. I can figure out what aspects of the teachings resonate with my life, and help me to feel that connection to Source.
Overall, I feel that I have had this sense of a God-Source all along, and that now I am able to have more understanding about what that means for me. I will continue to do my free writes every morning, because I get to process my mind stuff, and get insights into how God enters my everyday life. There will always be obstacles like fear, loneliness and overwhelm, but when I look them from the perspective of my God-Self, they aren’t as big and insurmountable as they were before.
Each student in the Axis Yoga Teacher Training chooses a yama or niyama to experiment with in their lives. This student applied Ahimsa (non-violence) in terms of treating loved ones more kindly. The experience proved enlightening.
Chosen Yama: Ahimsa (Non-Violence)
Hypothesis: If I consciously try to avoid being mean to my family, as well as increasing awareness of negative thoughts towards others, I will create a happier home, closer, more trusting relationships, and will feel more at peace within myself.
Experiment: Develop and maintain a seated sadhana practice and, in general, focus on peaceful words and kindness; avoid being reactive, critical and yelling.
I found some inspiration through some research on the topic:
“Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injury. It is positive, cosmic love. It is the development of a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. Ahimsa is true sacrifice. Ahimsa is forgiveness. Ahimsa is Sakti (power). Ahimsa is true strength…
Practice of Ahimsa develops love. Ahimsa is another name for truth or love. Ahimsa is universal love. It is pure love. It is divine Prem. Where there is love, there you will find Ahimsa. Where there is Ahimsa, there you will find love and selfless service. They all go together…
The power of Ahimsa is greater than the power of the intellect. It is easy to develop the intellect, but it is difficult to purify and develop the heart. The practice of Ahimsa develops the heart in a wonderful manner….
Ahimsa is soul-force. Hate melts in the presence of love. Hate dissolves in the presence of Ahimsa. There is no power greater than Ahimsa. The practice of Ahimsa develops will-power to a considerable degree. The practice of Ahimsa will make you fearless. He who practices Ahimsa with real faith, can move the whole world, can tame wild animals, can win the hearts of all, and can subdue his enemies. He can do and undo things. The power of Ahimsa is infinitely more wonderful and subtler than electricity or magnetism….
~ Sri Swami Sivananda
I was drawn to the ahimsa group, since I knew from my reading that my mouthy ways were going to have to go. I have, time and time again, verbally lashed out at my mom, husband, and recently my little son. Harsh words are something that I remember coming naturally to me since adolescence. As an adult, I have definitely tamed this tendency in public, professionally, with acquaintances and even with close friends. I am known for being a very nice, reasonable person, excellent communicator and mediator. I can see issues from both sides and, while I like a good debate, I can word things well without attacking the person I am in a discussion with.
Now those few mentioned people, who I am extremely close with, have had to endure the experience of my mouth in a much more demeaning, inappropriate, cunning way. The ones I love the absolute most may find me coiled like a snake, ready to hiss, at the slightest provocation. I am usually good about apologizing later, and have promised them and myself that I would be better about this, but I seem to fall back, at least occasionally, into this mean-spirited, belittling way. My mom has definitely gotten the worst of it and I carry a lot of guilt for that. We have a really good relationship sometimes, and are ultimately very close, but I have hurt her feelings and ruined her days more times than I would want to count. Needless to say, I am not proud of this part of myself.
My husband, Kevin, and I have pretty good communication, and we have seen a counselor, Howie, here and there. Our son, Kaiden, met Howie one time, when he actually had to sit in a session with us because of a last-minute childcare issue. Kaiden, who has witnessed our bickering, on occasion, one time told us to, “Go see Howie.” We stopped, and laughed, and asked him to elaborate. “Howie is where you go when you want to be better persons,” our astute 5-year-old told us; from the mouths of babes. In any event, my marriage is of great value to me, as is modeling a good relationship for our child, and I have no desire to ruin it with yucky comments and fighting, or to belittle my husband whom I adore, and appreciate, beyond belief.
Kaiden seems somewhat indifferent to my yelling, even if it is at him. I suppose this is developmental, since he is simply taking it all in, at this point. He is spared, because he is so young and sweet and adorable. He gets the most of my affection and loving, kind words on a daily basis. As he grows, I really do not want for my relationship with him to go this way, or for him to learn that this is how he should speak to anyone. Knowing that he has learned some of this is a sad truth and he is a really good reason to bring it into focus. We are considering having another child, and I have somewhat of a hang-up about the possibility of having a girl and repeating the pattern with her.
I have noticed that this type of communication has done a dis-service to myself, because they (my mom and Kevin, especially if we are all together) sometimes expect me to be mean, so even if I’m not being hostile, I may be misinterpreted. I’ve also inadvertently taught my husband this type of talk and while he has not mastered it to my level, he has a more bitter tongue than he did before.
Halt! I have to turn this around. I want a happy, peaceful home where everyone feels loved and accepted, especially by me!! So, when it was time to choose a Yama on which to focus, while I was kind of in the mood to clean out my basement, I knew that Ahimsa was the place for me to be.
In our group, we noticed that Ahimsa is the first of the yamas to be discussed or written about. I learned that this is no coincidence, of course. Ahimsa is the first and foremost, all-important Yama for an aspiring yogi(ni):
“There is a deliberate order in the five yamas. Ahimsa (non-violence) comes first because one must remove one’s brutal nature first. One must become non-violent and develop cosmic love. Only then does one become fit for the practice of yoga.” ~Yoga Magazine, in an article entitled Yama & Niyama: The Path of Ethical Discipline, January 2009.
As I read this, I repeated in my mind, “Brutal nature;” another article referred to “beastly nature.” Definitely not adjectives I am hoping to personify.
In other areas of my life, I feel I fall in line with Ahimsa pretty well: I like to be a friendly, supportive and a patient listener to people, friends, co-workers, etc. I advocate for children in my work in Montessori Education. We are mostly vegetarian, although we maybe should consider giving up fish (and eggs). I am vehemently against war; my dad was a draft-dodger in the Viet-Nam days, and indoctrinated me with pacifistic, humanistic ideals. I struggle with raising a boy in a violent society and cringe when he wants or plays with a toy gun. Actually, I remember being quite vocal with my husband about keeping these toys out of our house and not in a kind, gentle way. I detest the whole concept of hunting and other forms of animal elimination. I don’t kill spiders, but do feel a sense of victory when I kill flies in my kitchen in the summer and welcome the first frost to kill them for me.
So, clearly, my close personal relationships are where I have fallen short of Ahimsa. I was motivated by talking about it in the group and making a real, measurable goal of it. This felt different than my previous empty promises, which included no timeframe or actual plan.
I began a seated meditation practice, since I’m hearing that this is the cure-all for everything, whereby I walk to the Krishna Temple at my lunch hour daily and sit in the temple room for about 15 minutes. I focus on breathing and sometimes a word or two like kindness, peace, etc. “Ahimsa” makes an okay mental mantra also. I have looked forward to and enjoyed this time. My next goal is to bring the practice home, literally, by finding a place and time to meditate on my own time and in my own space. This may be more challenging at first, for the obvious reasons, but if it is as enlightening as we are learning it is, why wouldn’t I?
I’ve also made mental notes, throughout the days, reminding myself of my desire to be sweet to everyone, especially my family. I didn’t tell anyone about my experiment, but I have noticed a better rapport with them. During the first week sometime, I said something to my husband to which he became very defensive. It wasn’t about him, it was about our new puppy needing formal training, which for some reason he took very personally. He raised his voice at me in defense. (Like I said, I take partial credit for making it “normal” to speak unkindly in our home and there it was, a perfect example.) I stayed calm and told him that he didn’t need to yell. I stayed true to myself, did not react harshly, or take the discussion to the next level of argument. He came to me shortly after to apologize. Hmm, the power of ahimsa at work! I told him that I had made a goal of being more gentle with my words to him and my mom. He said he had noticed. I still didn’t go into the entire Yama explanation, but I’m sure I may at some point. We both have to remind ourselves to say all things in constructive ways and refrain from sarcasm.
Kaiden, lately, has taken more strength to deal with in a kind way than the adults. He is in a phase of testing limits, and is also extremely bright, so when he is pushing buttons that we are asking him not to push, it can feel very challenging to keep it soft and supportive.
My mom and I have done pretty well. In my own defense, she is a difficult person to get along with. All the more reason to shower her with love, I’m sure. She can be very loving, supportive and sensitive on occasion, but often she is very self-centered, constantly shares her misery with us family, even though we prefer not to listen. She could really use to talk about a lot of her personal struggle, but her choice is to dump, repeatedly, on those closest to her. Her personal form of himsa, I suppose. My resentment for her has grown over time, out of my wish for a more helpful, maternal mother. She’s given me countless gifts of the non-material variety, but selfless service is not at the top. However, I know that our time together is limited (in the sense that all our time is) and that I will feel happier overall, and in the end, if I can exude warmth and love toward her as much as possible, even if that means less interaction much of the time. I have really been making it a point just to tell her I love her and to hold off on judging her every word, even when her words are redundantly pessimistic.
I was not that surprised, but maybe a little, that I was able to, fairly instantly, just be nice. Clearly, this is not something that should be that difficult to do, but sometimes I have wondered how deeply engrained in me this behavior is. After a bad fight, I have thought to myself that I must be doomed to bad relationships, and pushing people away, with my words. And during these past couple weeks, I am really noticing how much I don’t like the feeling of being rude.
I will need to keep this strict focus on kindness, moving forward, and maybe in time it will become my nature. For the time being, it has been an immediate improvement in the atmosphere of our home. In the future, I will also work on not becoming irritated with others, outside my family, like Pakistani phone solicitors, colleagues and parents at work, and so on. On occasion, you might not know it on the outside, but on the inside I can get quite riled up against others. This is a misuse of energy, I can see.
I am glad that I have shed some internal light on this fatal flaw and do feel a greater sense of calm and wholeness, already.
Axis Yoga Teacher Training students participate in experiments as part of their certification. For this student, the process of experimenting led to personal insights and started a chain reaction of revelations. The subject of the experiment, ahimsa (no harm) became a vehicle for a broader lesson of experiencing life.
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