In Yoga, there are the Yamas. They are ten characteristics that help you live your life in a way that benefits you and others. These characteristics can be applied to your life both on the mat and outside the mat.
The first Yama is Ahisma, compassion to all living things. Compassion can show itself in a variety of different ways. When I think of compassion, I usually think about other people, animals, and the environment at large. However, I believe it’s important to start with the self.
If one is mean or more mildly neglectful of oneself, it’s hard to be compassionate to others. At its worst, those who neglect themselves can experience anywhere to a mild or extreme form of “compassion fatigue.” This fatigue is a deterioration of compassion over time that can occur when there isn’t enough self care and too much expenditure of personal resources.
I think about the worst things that I say to myself, and realize how much this outlook can effect my relationship with others, as well as the way I treat my body on a day to day basis. If you find that you are low on compassion, for either yourself or others, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Among other things, yoga is a great way to do that. Becoming more aware of your body, mind, and spirit helps you check in with what’s going on.
But here’s the thing. No amount of self awareness will do you good if you don’t apply understanding to the situation and work to address what’s going wrong. Compassion is something that leads to empathy, care, mercy, leniency, and a whole other slew of action oriented solutions.
The great thing about being compassionate towards oneself is that it branches out to being compassionate towards others. The overall well being of others is tied to, and therefore benefits, the individual.
When I observe my yoga class, I can see this in action. My classes at Sanctuary are hardly an individual centered practice. When I am in that room, I become part of a space that is being held by my instructor and my fellow yogis. The energy that is being raised in a class always feels different to me, and is influenced by the attitude of those in the class. I have been to classes that were fitness focused and devoid of the spirituality of yoga. I could definitely feel the difference in the space. I truly believe that in classes like Sanctuary Yoga’s, the time that one spends (little as it may be) hearing one’s fellow yogis, empathizing with their successes and troubles, and growing as a community, is invaluable.
Expanding that, learning to become more mindful and full of gratitude allows me to feel compassion to the surroundings that provide me atmosphere and the gifts of nature. I love doing yoga outside or in a studio with windows to the outdoors. It’s amazing how much gratitude one can discover when spending time with nature and becoming aware of the difference a breeze or a sunny day can make.
This gratitude transforms into compassion as I become more aware of my environmental impact. On the mat, you just start noticing things like how difficult tree pose can be and how amazing it is that trees are sturdy and strong. Or you begin to see your furry friends as teachers as you realize that your cat’s downward dog is better than yours will ever be. It’s these little things that helps me be kinder and more appreciative to others and my world. It really has given me a more positive perspective in my life and therefore strengthened my relationship with myself and others. In the end, compassion is a gift to yourself as much as it is to anyone else.