When I began teaching yoga, we held our classes in a horse barn. It was a lovely horse barn, but a horse barn nonetheless. The horses were gone, the stalls were empty, but an earthy, equine energy lingered on. We practiced on a concrete floor and the space soon became know as the ‘yoga barn’. We have since moved our classes into a state-of-the-art eco-friendly facility right next door, and the name ‘yoga barn’ has stuck. The original barn had an enormous 18-foot garage door, which opened to a beautiful, expansive meadow. During winter months, the closed garage door acted as one of our walls. We had no A/C in the barn, so during the summer months when temperatures rose to triple digits, we simply opened the garage door, turned our yoga mats to face the meadow and were blessed with the peaceful and stunning vista. It was not uncommon to stand in vrksasana (tree pose) and watch a family of geese, deer or the occasional Bald Eagle amble across the meadow and into our view.
One hot summer evening, we opened the garage door and began class as usual. The meadow had been freshly baled and a gentle breeze brought us much-needed relief from the heat as well as the scent of fresh cut hay, and…well…ticks! Tiny little ticks were just randomly flying in on the wind and depositing themselves onto our mats!! It was completely bizarre!! What was most interesting, was witnessing the reactions of the students. While holding utthita trikonasana (extended triangle pose), one of the students plucked one of these little suckers off her arm, walked over to the edge of the room where the garage door met the meadow and proceeded to gently blow it off her finger as though she was making a wish and blowing an eyelash. Not long after that, another student, while in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), let out a short burst of “Eeew!” and picked a tick up off of her yoga mat. She walked over to the grass just beyond the garage door, bent down and located a small rock, sat the tick onto the concrete and in an impressive display of determination, began beating it mercilessly!! Once she had decided that the tick was ‘good and dead’, she brushed off her hands, returned to her mat and proceeded with class without missing a breath!
There are eight stages, referred to as ‘limbs’, in the practice of classical yoga. And there are ten codes of moral conduct, the yamas and the niyamas, that constitute the very foundation of these limbs. The physical practice of the asanas (postures), which is so popular in America at this moment, is the third limb. This clearly tells us we have work to do before we step onto our mat and dare to call ourselves ‘yogis’. We are encouraged to be firm in our foundation of the first two limbs before we ever strike a pose!
The first and foremost code of conduct, upon which all the other yamas rest, is ahimsa, which means non-violence. When we talk about non-violence, it’s one thing to tell yourself that since you don’t cruise the streets popping people off at random, you are not a violent individual. But let’s go a bit deeper shall we? Ahimsa extends itself to our thoughts (“As a man thinketh, so in his heart is he”); and our mind. What are you feeding yourself? Is it uplifting? Think of yourself as a computer; your mind is the hard drive, what you feed your mind is the software and how you project yourself to others with your words and actions is the big screen. Garbage in = garbage out! Any thought or word that does not uplift or edify is harmful. Wow. That includes gossip. That includes resentment. That includes harsh criticism of yourself as well as others! Triple – wow!
So let’s cultivate and nurture the opposite of ahimsa by practicing karuna, compassion.
In order to counter the effects of violence in our society, our community and our hearts let’s take this approach: First, do no harm. Second, prevent/remove harm. And third, go out of your way to do good. Let’s be proactive in this New Year. Get this; you don’t even have to go out of your way to do good; how much does a smile cost? Or perhaps just hold the door for someone at Reasor’s. Or turn your thoughts to compassion for the special person that just cut you off on the turnpike (that would be preventing harm, wouldn’t it?). A couple thousand years ago, a great master of yoga named Patanjali wrote the following suggestion; “We are to live so that no harm or pain is caused by our thoughts, words or deeds to any other being. …we must cultivate love for all, and try to see the one Soul within everybody.”
When I tell the tick story to my classes, I inevitably get laughter and some random applause for the woman who killed the tick. Afterall, ticks are nasty creatures! I often counter their response with the following questions:
“Is it safe to say that most of us are from a Christian background?”
“Safe”, they say.
“And we believe the Bible to be true, right?”
“So, we all believe the story in the Old Testament about Noah, the Arc and the flood, right?”
“OK, so, the tick made it on the boat!”
The tick is indeed a nasty creature, but for whatever reason, the tick made it onto the boat. Are we insinuating that God made a mistake on that one?
Lisa Bracken teaches at and owns the tick-free Yoga Barn at The Canebrake in Wagoner, USA. She also teaches yoga at NSU in Tahlequah and works diligently to practice non-violence in her daily life; especially when it comes to hanumanasana.