What do you think of when you hear this phrase? Most likely you hear the lyrics to My Country ‘Tis of Thee, or perhaps it conjures images of the American flag, the Declaration of Independence, or other symbols of patriotism. That’s what this month is all about, after all, celebrating our freedom. Freedom from tyranny, oppression, and most importantly, from harm.
In Sanskrit, freedom from harm is ahimsa, or nonviolence. It is a crucial tenet of many eastern religions, as well as in the practice of yoga, with the understanding that all living beings are divine and to do harm to others is to do harm to oneself. From a physical standpoint, we can practice this aspect of yoga by listening to our bodies during challenging asana, moving with deep awareness and conscious breath. As teachers, we are careful to always touch students with confidence and intention to safely guide rather than correct or change.
And therein lies the heart of nonviolence: correcting or changing something you perceive to be wrong, when really it might just be a different point of view. All living beings should also be granted freedom from harm through words and thoughts, not just actions. Are you not encroaching on someone else’s freedom if you impugn their beliefs? If you malign their life choices? Isn’t that why our ancestors fought so hard for the independence of this country, so that we could be free to live as we choose?
The same goes for your own words, thoughts, and actions. If you are always thinking about how your neighbor on the mat looks in a pose and thinking, “I will never be able to do that,” you are harming yourself. What if you never tried a new teacher, class, or pose? There is so much freedom just in those simple choices that opens you up to still more freedom through the movements of your body, the deep intelligence of your breath, and the ease of your mind.
For that is where it all begins: thinking good thoughts. In your most private of thoughts, in your inner world, be kind. Be open. Let Freedom Ring.