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Extra Grace Required - Our Blog

Led Forth in Peace: The Ethic of Nonviolence

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Isaiah 55:12

To my great frustration, as I’ve aged, I have developed knee issues. If I don’t take care of my knees by the regular practice of strengthening poses such as chair, utkatasana, they ache and bother me. A byproduct of my lifestyle, my mind is also often over-taxed: thoughts whirling between uncompleted tasks, family concerns, and my full calendar. A yoga practice that allows me to focus on the bodily sensation that I feel in each pose calms and soothes me. I love my asana practice, but my practice intention is often directed by the clamoring needs of my stiff body and cluttered brain. It is easy for me to forget that asana is more than movement and sensation awareness for physical and mental benefit. Underlying every yoga practice are ethics that help transform the asana from exercise to a spiritual practice, a practice with the power to heal, to bring into union body, mind, and spirit.

The eight limbs of yoga outlined in the 2nd century by Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, describe the third limb of yoga, asana or right posture, as built upon a healthy inner posture. This inner posture is nurtured by the ethical principles that comprise the first two limbs: the yamas (right action or restraints) and niyamas (right practice or observances). Central to both is the principle of nonviolence, ahimsa. Deborah Adele in her book, The Yamas & Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, asserts “…nonviolence is so valued that it stands as the very core and foundation of all yoga philosophy and practice.”

The ethic of nonviolence, to do no harm, flows easily between yoga and our more traditional Judeo/Christian faith practices. In the life and ministry of Jesus and in our sacred texts, we are reminded again and again that to live a life of faith, we need to cultivate nonviolence. Here are just a few familiar quotations from scripture, exhorting us to peace and nonviolence, but there are many, many more:

“blessed are the peacemakers” Matthew 5:9
“swords into plowshares” Micah 4:3
“love your enemies" Luke 6:27
“the leaves of the tree [of life] are for the healing of the nations" Revelation 22:2b

In last week’s Practice of the Inward Journey, and this week’s Practice of Hearing God Whispers, we suggest seated asana for meditation: Hero’s Pose and Easy Pose, respectively. The purpose of each pose is to produce a seat that we can hold in stillness and comfort, spine erect and long, facilitating a full breath and alert attention. But we can also embody the essence of these asana by sitting up tall on a chair, or in a pew. When we modify asana as our body requires, let go of striving, and allow the pose to ride on our breath, we embed nonviolence into our body and mind, and honor the ethical principles underlying our practice.

This week, on and off of your mat, as you find your meditation seat, attend a rigorous vinyasa class, speak with a difficult colleague, or tackle a long neglected household chore, bring integrity to your actions by embracing nonviolence in your body and mind. Practice yoga and live your faith as the scripture proclaims, “be led forth in peace.”

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