Be Kind to Yourself this Spring-Practice Ahimsa

I often start our yoga classes by setting the intention to “be kind to ourselves”. I feel that we need this reminder, not only in our yoga practice but in our lives.

In our society, we tend to take an all-or-nothing approach.  We often feel that something is not worthwhile unless we’re pushing beyond our limits, “going for the gold”, often resulting in harm to ourselves and others.  Fatigue, burnout, illness, pain, strained relationships, and discontent are often the signs that we haven’t been kind to ourselves. 
 

In yoga philosophy, the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) is an important ethical and behavioral guide.  Practicing ahimsa helps to create a harmonious relationship between our inner and outer worlds.
 
Ahimsa applies to our thoughts, words and physical actions.  In yoga we practice paying attention to the subtle messages our bodies are giving us, and honoring our limitations.  If we ignore these messages and push into a deeper variation of a pose than we are ready for, we can cause physical pain. 
 
Practicing ahimsa on our mats allows us to tune in on an even more subtle level in our daily lives.  We begin changing harmful thoughts, words, and actions toward ourselves and others.  When unkind thoughts arise, we can choose to work through our feelings in a productive, non-hurtful way.  We can seek Truth, love, and respect for ourselves, others and all of creation.

 

I invite you to practice ahimsa toward yourself as the warmer weather approaches. Take time to warm up, gradually ease back into activities outside, and gently stretch afterward. If you’ve been more sedentary this winter, avoid “making up for lost time.”  Remember that it’s actually more productive to pace yourself than to overdo and spend additional time recovering. Give yourself time to enjoy being out in nature, and to balance work and play.

Here are 2 gentle and effective stretches to try:

Wall calf stretch:

  • Place hands on wall, counter or chair for support.  Legs remain hip-width apart.
  • Stand with neutral alignment, abdominals engaged to support your spine.
  • Keep one leg close to the wall or chair, and bend the front knee (keeping knee over ankle, not beyond).  
  • Step the other leg straight back, keeping back foot straight ahead. Ground through back heel, keeping back knee straight. You should feel a very gentle stretch in the back calf and most likely in the anterior thigh and hip.  If the stretch is painful or extreme, move the back foot closer to the wall.
  • Keep weight shifted toward the pinkie toe side of the back foot to maintain arch of foot.

Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring stretch at step:

  • Stand at the base of your stairs. Hold rail for balance.  Use good standing alignment with abdominals engaged to support your spine.
  • Place your heel on either the first or second step.  You should feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings (back of leg). If not, move your foot to the next step.
  • Hold and breathe for about 5 slow breaths.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Many blessings to you in the month ahead! If you’d like guidance in an individualized therapeutic home yoga practice to feel better this spring, please call to schedule a private/appointment/session. If interested in a group yoga class, I invite you to drop-in on Tuesdays at 9am or Wednesdays at 6pm (Drop-in fee: $13).

Apr 2018 Shelley Carpenter, Physical Therapist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Reiki Master Teacher is a practitioner at Ommani who offers group (Tuesday and Wednesdays) and individual therapeutic yoga sessions, physical therapy, and Reiki care.  Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.