Ahimsa

By Erika Hoffman

I started a new yoga class today. It’s for beginners, I’ve taken yoga before. I’m always the one in the back of the class: the one who during “down dog” is peering over at fellow students assessing if my dog is sufficiently down enough to pass muster. I’m the one slipping out to get a sip of water and staying too long necessitating the worried yoga instructor to send a search party to inquire if I’m still standing. I’m the one who wears the blousy top, the oversized sweat pants and warm socks. I’m the one who quits.

So, when I saw a class offered for a small group of students where yoga would be explained, and the class would start out slowly, I whispered to myself: “Sign up.”

Like previous yoga courses, we had to fetch our mats, our blocks, our blanket and our strap. The young, tall, thin practitioner of yoga studied the six of us, and the first thing she said was: “All of you get another blanket.”

So we six sat cross-legged upon two folded blankets high atop our mats, like queens. She asked us to introduce ourselves, say why we wanted to take the class and tell what injuries we’ve had. Rosemary stated more flexibility as her goal, and she had carpel tunnel. Anita wanted more strength and had hurt her back. Janice said she wanted what Rosemary wanted, and she suffered from plantar fasciitis. The aged Swedish couple with strong accents murmured something about hips, falling, possible strokes and loss of hearing. My turn: “My name is Erika, I have no injuries. I’m here to lose weight.”

To which, our yogi replied, “Yoga won’t make you lose weight.”

I piped up. “Yes, it will. This class meets from noon until 1 pm so it’ll keep me from the refrigerator for a least an hour – the lunchtime hour.”

She laughed and thanked me for my sense of humor. But I wasn’t kidding – that was my main reason for choosing to come!

With precise words, our yogi, Gillian, told us what she was going to teach us, demonstrated the moves for us and then had us try. Patiently, she circled the room, repositioned hands, feet, blankets. The older Swedish lady required the most assistance. When our instructor told her to put her feet next to the wall, she rested the top of her head on the wall. “Blankets on the right,” our yogi announced. My Baltic neighbor had hers on the left. I think it was a language barrier. Then, I experienced an “aha moment.” In future exercise classes, if I’m floundering, I could assume a foreign-accented alter ego. It would make me seem much less pathetic, actually a sympathetic character, if exercise gurus think their orders were lost in translation.

No comprende!”

Je ne comprends pas!”

Ich Weiss nicht!”

I can master these.

Threaded throughout our yoga practice were lessons about its philosophy and a little history about an Indian fellow who suggested taking yoga slowly so not to do any damage by overextending oneself. He felt it wasn’t necessary to flow too fast from one pose to another, risking injury. Hmm. I wish I’d heard that interpretation last year when I was always ten steps behind the pretzel-like, shape-shifting, masochistic contortionists in the aficionados’ class.

So, I was glancing around trying to assess how I compared to these newbies when Gillian brought up the concept of Ahimsa. She said we must practice Ahimsa – non-violence.

I thought to myself: Of course, Namaste and all that. She further defined this term as non-violence against ourselves: Disappointment, resentment, guilt or shame are types of violence against ourselves. And then, she added, “Comparing ourselves to others to gauge how we are doing is a manifestation of violence against ourselves.”

Quickly I swiveled my head back onto my neck and ceased my nosey spying on my fellow yoga trainees. Although I am a peaceful sort – not a drama queen stirring the pot type – I do have a bad habit of making comparisons. Often, I’m judging whether I’m meeting the bar or whether I’m falling into the subpar, nether regions of athletic inability.

Next time I’m asked what I hope to achieve in the practice of yoga, I’m not inclined to blurt out – shedding winter poundage. NOPE. Enlightened, I have a new resolution: To master the first of the five “yamas” – to express an unconditional positive regard for everyone and everything including my pleasantly plump self. And when I do “downward dog,” I hope to resemble a flamingo bending for a slurp of water and not an upside down sloth falling from a tree.

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman Erika Hoffman views most travel experiences as educational experiences and sometimes the lessons learned are revelations about oneself.

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10 Responses to “Ahimsa”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    This story so filled with my own truths is filled with humor and made me smile throughout. I enjoyed it!

  2. Carol hartsoe says:

    I loved the humor in this one and enjoyed reading it! I look forward to Erika’s next story!

  3. Rose Ann says:

    As usual, you’ve given us an insightful, humorous look at the desire we all have …to fit in (and not be the last picked!). I just may try yoga myself. Thanks for the push. Happy New Year!

  4. Emily Hungerford says:

    Easy, quick, and humorous read! Laughed my socks off. A five star story of human nature and lessons learned.

  5. margaret says:

    As a devoted yoga practitioner, I certainly enjoyed Erika’s story. She put humor on a bold-faced truth I’m guilty of doing as well. Who doesn’t look around to compare? But she honed in on another truth. Yoga is about self-awareness and acceptance and her article reminded me that’s what’s most important. Thanks!

  6. Sally says:

    Thank you, Erika Hoffman. Now I might sign up for my first Yoga class. Instead of stressing about how I’m doing, I’ll think of the humor in your article.

  7. Barbara Margolis says:

    What a nice way to start the first business day of the new year, with a chuckle! You have perfectly described my experience with yoga, right down to worrying about everybody else’s superior skill. Getting out of the house is always a beneficial break from the fridge! Thanks so much for brightening up my day with this piece.

  8. Claudia Frostr says:

    I enjoyed Erika’s article. Reading of her experience made me smile and remember the last time I attempted a yoga class…..feeling very out of place I could have used some of Erika’s humor.

  9. Cora says:

    Erika’s story is refreshing and gives comfort in knowing that others feel like a fish out of water in these situations. It’s also a great reminder that we should focus on what we CAN do as opposed to what we cannot. Thanks for an upbeat message to start the year!

  10. Erika Hoffman says:

    I want to thank friends and also those I don’t know who took time to read my story and comment on it. It cheers a writer’s heart to be read. And if you get a chuckle out of it, all the better!

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