Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Communication

Feeling connected to other people is a fundamental human need. Research for decades has shown that babies will fail to thrive if emotional connection is missing, despite having all physical needs met. Susan Pinker has a TED talk titled The Secret to Living Longer Might be Your Social Life, which describes how social ties extend life spans in blue zones, areas in the world where a notable percentage of people live past the age of 100.

How can we cultivate more and deeper human connections? The yoga sutras have something to say. Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras takes us to the deeper practice: control of thought forms and study of the mind, Raja Yoga. In this chapter, the eight limbs of yoga are introduced.

2.29  yama-niyama-āsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayaḥ-aṅgāni

The eight limbs of Yoga are social ethics, personal observances, physical discipline, expansion of prāṇa through mastery of the breath, focusing attention away from external objects, choosing what to focus on, maintaining the focus, and assimilation of the object of focus. 

Physical practice is noted (asana); it is only one of the eight limbs of yoga, though it gets the most attention in our culture. The first limb, yama, provides guidelines for dealings with others and the second (niyama) in the list instructs us on developing ourselves. I’d like to focus on the first limb, yama, the teachings for social ethics:

2.30  ahiṁsā-satya-asteya-brahmacarya-aparigrahāḥ-yamāḥ

The social ethics are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation to serve the pursuit of the Absolute, and absence of greed. 

In my life I’ve noticed, if I’m focused on non-violence (ahimsa), the other social ethics are more accessible to me.

But what does that look like, ahimsa, non-violence? Is there a way I can actively cultivate something that is non-action?  Frustration!  We are creatures built for action! At the surface level, non-violence is abstaining from action. I won’t hit, bruise or kill another being. This is at the level of the physical where I can easily recognize this sort of violence. It leaves a mark.

We are also familiar with the violence of some words, when we hurl insults like rocks with the intention to hurt at the level of feeling. So much more clever than the primitive use of sticks and bullets. Certainly I am practicing ahimsa if I keep it to myself when I’d like to take a verbal jab.

It can be harder to recognize the violence in the thinking that precedes the judgment, and the harm that does to the relationship and to me, as these thoughts live in my head.

Judgment is so acceptable in our language. Sometimes we disguise this as the language of improvement. If I don’t tell him (or myself) what is wrong with him (or me), how will anyone be motivated to change?

Much judgment is built right into our language. The verb “to be” is rarely used alone and quite frequently followed by a judgment. “She is so insensitive” is used as commonly and casually as “she is tall,” as if we could see inside another person. And when I tell myself the story that I know how you are, it justifies my retaliatory reaction.  Dr. Brene’ Brown writes, “Dehumanizing always starts with language.”

I’m interested in communicating more mindfully, at the least, questioning my first reaction. How can I move from my judgment to a space where I have the chance to connect more deeply with another human being? Slowing down, I can check what I have perceived, watch my thoughts and choose my response. Each step provides an opportunity to practice ahimsa.  These active choices allow me to abstain from violence, and possibly, cultivate deeper human connection instead.

Mary Kluz, RYT-200, has been actively teaching yoga since 2015 and is part of the faculty for the 240 hour River Flow Yoga Teacher Training. She is an Associate Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin-Extension. Mary is offering workshops on Mindful Communication, September 15, 2018 – 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM and September 27, 2018 – 12:30 to 4:30 PM. Her yoga classes on Thursdays (5:30 pm) and Fridays (5:00 pm) are focused on stress relief and centering.

Still the Mind, Find Your True Self

By Pauline Zweck, RYT-200, Certified Viniyoga Wellness Instructor, 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness

 “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the end of strings that somebody else pulls.”     –      Howard Thurman

1.3 Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe ‘vasthānam

Then the Seer (Self) abides in His own true nature.

1.4 Vṛtti sārūpyam-itaratra

At other times {the Self appears to} assume the forms of the mental modifications.

We humans are constantly letting our thoughts define our world and ourselves. We cannot get in touch with our true Self until we learn to clear our mind. Patanjali reminds us that we are all divine expressions of the universe. Behind the different forms of energy is one unchanging Self.  A still mind understands this and sees their neighbors as themselves.

When I was young, I felt connected to Self. Growing up on a farm afforded me many opportunities to just be one with nature; a creek, tall grasses, a woods with wildflowers and raspberries, a 360 degree expanse of the horizon, witnessing skies before they had to compete with manmade light.  Utter and complete freedom. There was a oneness in my small world of nature and family.  My mind had yet to start carrying on conversations with me, or if it was, I was too pure and innocent to know I should be listening.

Then the layers came. I’ve often contemplated on when this first occurred. A time comes in one’s life when you realize other people have expectations of you. This repeats and repeats many times over.  I dutifully lined up to accept the layers and identities. Even when these are positive, the separation begins. I am this, you are that. Many of us relish and foster our uniqueness, voraciously adding to our collection. Until we experience a burden.

All the things we identify with sometimes gang up and clutch at our true Self like heavy armor that is a few sizes too small and it becomes necessary to step back, breathe and let the armor fall away lest it smother us. Once we remove the years of labeling, we can discover that we all exist from the same source of energy.

Pauses are necessary. I connect with my true Self by meditating, or resting in my hammock. Taking time to watch a leaf, the sky, a bird, brings the oneness back. I give over. The armor drops away. With the Self there is no effort. It just simply is.

Pauline Zweck, RYT-200, trained at the 200 level in 2007, studying a blend of yoga disciplines with a focus on modifications and moderation to make the practice available to all. In 2015, Pauline became certified to teach Viniyoga, a style of yoga that is adapted to support your physical and emotional needs throughout the various stages of life.  Pauline teaches at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness on Tues at 5:30 pm (Yoga for Beginners & Beyond), Wed at 12 noon (Mental & Physical Balance) and as a long-term sub from Nov – April for Mon 8:30 (Senior Yoga Therapeutics-Mat) and 10:00 am (Senior Yoga Therapeutics-Chair).  She is also faculty with the 240 hr. River Flow Yoga Teacher Training.          

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Golf with Pilates

By Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates Trained in Mat & Reformer

“The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, and a strong core.”

Who’s ready for golf?! We all may be mentally, but after a good old Wisconsin winter, we probably aren’t physically up to the challenge. So what’s a body to do? My suggestion is Pilates.

If Josef Pilates were trying to create the perfect exercise for golfers when he invented his method of controlled movement, he would have succeeded beyond all measure.  It may not have been his intent, but I believe he achieved that goal all the same.

The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, a super-strong core. The list could go on and on. The practices in themselves are amazingly similar in some ways. They are both complex full-body movements. Just as every swing of the club requires many moving parts to work together, so every move in Pilates requires control of the whole body. If two sports were ever “pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy” kind of movements, these are it.

Golf, however, is asymmetric. The cruel trick of the game is that you swing only one way; only work the muscles on ‘one side’ of the body. If your game isn’t going well, you practice. Only swinging one way. Only becoming more imbalanced. Haven’t you ever found that the more you are practicing, the worse your game is getting? This is why. It also leads to injury.

For right handed people, the left (leading) side of the body is injured more than the trailing (right) side. Vice versa for the Phil Mickelsons out there.  Fifteen (15) minutes a day of golf-specific Pilate’s exercises can ensure your body stays balanced and can break the cycle of imbalance and injury.

The best thing is, if you can golf, (or even if you can’t) you can do these exercises. All of the exercises are done standing, wearing sneakers and comfortable clothes. Some people hear ‘Pilates’ and think I’m going to have them prancing about in spandex. I swear that is not what it is. It was actually invented using only men’s bodies.

One of the first male clients I ever had accompanied his wife (I am sure, unwillingly). He was so nervous, he was visibly sweating. He was a golfer though, and so most of what we did that day was golf-specific. At the end he was laughing and relaxed. He looked at me and said, ‘well that was just moving’. Exactly. I still wonder what he thought I was going to make him do. By the way, he called me the next week and said he had had the best golf game of his life that day. Maybe a coincidence, but I like to think he learned something that helped.

What I think helped the most was that he became more aware of his body. Especially the core. And when you initiate every shot by moving from the core first, your movements become repeatable and consistent.

There’s a reason why professional golfers like Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods do Pilates after all. If you are interested in finding out more, please join me at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness for our “Getting Ready for Golf” sessions on Mondays at 5:30 pm or for individual training. Here’s to a great season!

Faith Wilfley is Stott Pilates Trained in Mat and Reformer.  Dr. Wilfley enjoys helping people with different bodies and ways of movement be able to optimize mobility and achieve their goals. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, M.D. from Medical College of Wisconsin, and did her joint Pediatric residency at UNMC/Creighton in Omaha, NE, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  Dr. Wilfley is a Medical Doctor and was a practicing pediatrician for 12 years. She has good anatomical knowledge and is very safety conscious. Her philosophy in Pilates is the same as that for medicine: ‘First, do no harm’.

What is Pilates Anyway?

by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer 

First, let me start by saying that Pilates is for everyone. That’s right, pretty much anyone, with certain modifications, can do Pilates. From the person recovering from a prolonged illness or long stretch of inactivity, to the elite athlete, Pilates has something to offer all sizes, genders, and fitness levels. In fact, it is a great entry point to increased activity. It teaches proper body position and form, so it is a great way to begin your journey to a more fit life.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. I can almost hear you thinking, ‘seriously, what is it though!’ It is a method of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates (thus, the name) almost a hundred years ago. He called it ‘Contrology’ because the essence of all of the exercises is control. Holding one part of the body stable while moving another part with control. His theory, at that time, was that modern life with its inactivity was leading to illness and poor physical conditioning. Thus, why it’s around almost 100 years later!

What is a mat Pilates class like? Well, above all, hopefully it is fun! If you look in at a class, it looks pretty harmless. A lot of the time is spent laying on the mat. Movements are slow and controlled. Every move, however, is combining breath, core control, balance, and fluid movement. It’s a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy. I tell people it takes about 6 classes before you feel like you are really starting to get it. Did I mention, it’s also a practice in patience?

What do you get out of it?

  • Improved core conditioning. And by core, I mean abdominals in the front, deep back muscles, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.
  • Improved mobility. Flexibility + Strength = Mobility. The goal of my practice is to get, and keep, people as mobile as possible for as long as possible.
  • Improved endurance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March 2010 found that in active middle-aged men and women, basic mat Pilates moves practiced twice weekly for 60 minutes, for 12 weeks, showed statistically significant increases in “abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper body muscular endurance.”
  • Maintaining spine health, prevention of injuries, and improved body composition are all benefits as well.

How is it different from yoga? I like to think of yoga and Pilates as cousins. They are both mind-body forms of exercise. Both are low impact and will increase flexibility. Yoga practice may include physical postures (movement in and out of postures and held postures), breathing exercises, sound, meditation and philosophical teachings, whereas Pilates was invented as an ‘exercise’ and focuses on controlled fluid movement. Pilates is also very spine focused and the exercises should not have neck extension.  Pilates mats are also much thicker, as there is a lot of spinal articulation during classes and a thicker mat provides more comfort.

The only way to truly know what Pilates is like, however, is to come to a class.  Just let your instructor know beforehand if you have any history of injuries, or limitations of movement. Hope to see you soon!

Guest blog by Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates-Trained in Mat and Reformer, is a teacher at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness.  She teaches on Tuesdays at 9:00 am, starting March 15.

Top 5 Reasons Every Woman Should Belly Dance

by Anna Nummelin, Tribal Belly Dance Instructor

“Imagine a time when the bounce and sway of a woman’s hips was thought to be so beautiful, it was put to music…” ~ Carolena Nericcio, FatChanceBellyDance

Belly dance is women’s art. It is truly an expression of feminine joy, creativity, wisdom, and strength. Not to mention, it’s fun! The dance is derived from the inherent movement of the feminine form. In a way you could say we were born to belly dance! Yet somehow with all the bustle of modern-day demands, expectations, and unending distractions, we’ve lost touch with ourselves. Our roots, spirits, and bodies yearn to be rediscovered. Belly dance helps to breathe life back into the dormant areas through movement, shaking, dancing, and celebrating the feminine form in all her glorious shapes, sizes, ages, and seasons.

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