How to Stop the War on Yourself & Be Empowered by Non-violence 

11219120_10208130040558591_2277323543183753638_nWe all desire peace in the world, but then why do we wage war on ourselves? We all aspire to be non-violent, but then harm ourselves in subtle ways all the time.

Gandhi said, “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.” Last week as we explored how to actively practice non-violence in my yoga lifestyle programs, I was remind how truly powerful this principle is.

Ahimsa, non-violence, and the first principle of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, means so much more than just abstaining from violent acts, but means cultivating an attitude of kindness, caring and compassion toward all things. That’s right, ALL things! And this my friend includes the neighbour you detest, your cranky boss but most importantly YOURSELF!

Most of us think, “sure I’m non-violent, I don’t carry weapons or beat people up.” But those are obvious forms of violence that, while horrible, may have less impact than the insidious forms of violence we all tend to act out each day.

As promoters of peace in the world we must first remember that peace begin with ourselves. 

I know when I’m being highly self critical I tend to judge others more harshly. When I’m overly tired and not taking care of myself I don’t have energy to give to, care for and be as kind to others. When I’m battling with my body I rarely treat it well or feel my best in the world.

On the other hand, when I’m well rested, nourished and self loving I naturally act this way to the people around me. I have more energy for others and for my dreams. I’m more productive and creative and my positive impact on the world increases.

The opposite of self violence is self care and self love. 

When we are not caring for and loving ourselves we are actually performing acts of violence —small, subtle acts of violence that accumulatively have a massive impact on our health and the world.

The World Health Organisation now names lifestyle diseases like cancers, heart disease and diabetes as the number one killers in the world. It’s not war waged with guns and tanks, but a subtle war we all wage on ourselves when we choose lifestyles that harm us.

We see this subtle war on ourselves through poor nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse; through depriving ourselves of sleep in order to chase achievement and “success”; perfectionism and seriously damaging self criticism, eating disorders and body dismorphia; through pushing our bodies too hard or not listening to them.

Basically, through wearing ourselves out and not honouring and appreciating this body that carries us through life. This is the opposite of Ahimsa, non-violence, and it disempowers us as individuals and as a society.

The more we practice non-violence by taking care of ourselves the better we impact the world. 

The bazaar thing is that we often feel guilty about taking care of ourselves, like it’s a luxury. But if you really think about the cost of self neglect on your health, productivity, relationships, creativity and greater cost to society, you’ll realise this is no luxury — it’s a responsibility!

Start practicing non-violence and taking better care of yourself right now! Here’s how: 

  1. Identify one subtle act or habit of self violence that you’d like to change this week. This could be anything like putting yourself down, drinking that extra glass of wine that makes you feel drained, going to bed too late or over eating junk food.
  1. Think about what you get out of this self violent habit. We only do anything because we get something out of it, even if it’s bad for us. When we want to break a bad habit we have to replace it with something that gives us a similar benefit but doesn’t cause us harm. So get clear on what benefit you get from this habit. It could be comfort, stimulation, distraction, motivation.
  1. Pick a replacement that has a similar benefit but doesn’t harm you. For example, if I over eat to the extreme every night when I’m alone to feel comforted, I could choose to do a self loving and comforting practice like oil massage or reading inspiring quotes, or calling a friend before I eat dinner at night. That way I feel comforted by something other than food.
  1. Make a personal dedication to non-violence with yourself. For example, my dedications is: I am dedicated to believing in myself, loving myself and knowing that I am worthy of love no matter what my imperfections are.

Enjoy (and trust me you will, practicing this makes everyone feel so much happier)!!

Please share with us your personal dedication to non-violence with yourself! 

Self-harming Yogis

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When I hear the words “self harming” I think of teenage girls cutting themselves or monks and religious fanatics practicing castigation. I picture extreme cases of physical self mutilation or deprivation. But recently in my reflections about the first moral precept of yoga, ahimsa, or non-violence, I’ve begun to see a different picture of self harming that may be even more frightening than the extreme cases. 

Ahimsa is often translated as “non-violence,” but in the yoga tradition implies so much more than simply abstaining from violence. It means to approach all things with an attitude of non-harming, compassion, kindness and love.

In the 30 Day Yoga Evolution this week we’ve been reflecting on how to practice non-violence in our lives, and one thing quickly becomes very clear about this practice; when we don’t have an attitude of non-harm, compassion and kindness towards ourselves it’s nearly impossible to have this attitude toward others.

When I think about when I’ve been my worst to the people around me (over demanding of my partner or over critical of my mother), I also see those are the times in my life when I’ve been most critical and hard on myself.

It’s not just negative self talk that is an act of self-harming, but it’s also how we take care of ourselves. When I jam one more thing into my day and ignore my signs of fatigue or eat something I know will deplete my body or have one drink too many, I’m harming my body. And overly tired, hung over or malnourished people don’t tend to be poster children for non-violence, compassion and love!

At the end of the day, practicing non-violence has to start with ourselves. 

The opposite of self-harm is self-care and self-love. Sadly, so many of us see self-care practices as luxuries and even feel guilty for doing stuff like getting a massage or taking time out for ourselves.

But if we stop and look at the big picture we can see that these acts of self care ripple out to our loved one, community and society. All we have to do to see this is think about the costs to our lives of not taking care of ourselves.

Firstly, there is a cost to how we feel, our energy levels and creativity. When we’re over taxed and tired we don’t function optimally, and as a result our work suffers, our relationships suffer and our health suffers.

Not only does this effect our individual lives and the lives of our loved ones, but if we stop to think about how much the nation spends on healthcare to treat lifestyle diseases we see that self care (or lack there of) has a massive impact on our society.

WebMD estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.

So how can we take care of ourselves better? 

Firstly, remind yourself of the greater costs of neglecting this healthcare practice, and stop feeling guilty about relaxing and pampering yourself.

Second, make it a priority and actually schedule some acts of self care into your calendar. Literally write it down like you would an appointment with your doctor.

Third, listen to what your body is telling you it needs. We so often over-ride the indicators of fatigue by having another coffee, or we respond to them in a way that isn’t really self care. Like having a glass of wine at the end of the day to release physical and mental tension rather than doing some stretches or taking a bath. Ultimately, the wine will just dehydrate our tissues more, disturb our sleep and keep us in a cycle of self-harming.

More Ideas for Self-care

  • Long walks to clear the mind, move the body and have some “you time.”
  • Take a bath, add some epsom salts to nourish your muscles and read a great novel to nourish your soul.
  • Foot massage is a great thing to do at the end of the day before you hop in bed.
  • Yoga stretches get you out of your head (and stress) and into your body and relaxation.
  • Legs up the wall is especially good for people on their feet all day and also boosts the immune system.
  • Pack a healthy lunch to avoid the pitfall of eating low quality food simply because that’s whats around.
  • Meditate for even 5 minutes in your day to re-boot your energy levels and give the old gray matter a break.
  • Listen to a Yoga Nidra as a way to improve sleep, clarity of mind or simply take a break. It’s been shown that 15 minutes of mediation or yoga nidra is equivalent to one hour of sleep.
  • Massage both professionally or giving yourself a massage improves circulation, muscle tension, mood and refines our ability to listen to what our body needs.

One of my favorite daily self care practices is self oil massage after my morning shower. Not only does it make my skin really nice, but according to Ayurveda oil holds the quality of love, so I feel like it’s an act of appreciation for my body. This has helped me so much with my issues of self criticism and body image. What is one of your favorite self-care practices?