Though I am not currently teaching yoga at a studio, I read much of the yogic literature I have from both a teacher and student perspective. As some of you may know, I have been reading Forrest Yoga creator, Ana T. Forrest's book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices: to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit. There is so much in this book I identify with and love, but yesterday, while reading I came across something Ms. Forrest and I greatly differ on.
Forrest's position on "ahimsa" (nonviolence) is one I can't get behind. In her book, she states:
That's why I'm not a believer in ahimsa, the doctrine of nonviolence; we must learn how to fight for what matters to us. Our body knows how to fight and if it stops, we're dead.
I am a huge believer of ahimsa (I have the word in Sanskrit tattooed on my forearm). For me, it means more than being nonviolence towards others; it also means being nonviolent to myself, which I struggle with from time to time. I do not self-injure in physical ways, but more so mental/emotional ones. Ever since I was let go of my old job this past January, my self-esteem has severely plummeted. My self talk is mostly negative. I have been dealing with body image issues, etc. It's not fun. I haven't been so obsessed with my body image since I was a dancer (back in my teens).
Anyway, during my yoga teacher training, ahimsa was incredibly important to me. I remember I completely utilized it in my day-to-day life for a week long experiment. I counted how many times I was "violent" to myself by thinking negative thoughts. The number was so high that I felt sad for myself--I felt sad that I, apparently, didn't love myself as much I pretended to. It was a hard realization, but much needed.
Enough about myself. In regards to Forrest's words on ahimsa, I am confused and in disagreement with her equating it to "fighting" for oneself and one's life. I am a huge proponent of fighting for your life--fighting for your self--fighting for your rights/beliefs/etc. I think you can fight for yourself in nonviolent ways. You can fight for your life in nonviolent ways. Obviously, if your body is being attacked, you may need to use violence to keep yourself alive--I support that, and would do the same. The principle of ahimsa recognizes self-defense when necessary.
I understand that "fighting" generally connotes "violence", but when we're talking about fighting to stay alive or to be true to oneself, I believe you can be nonviolent and still thrash and kick and scream--whatever you need to do to live freely--whatever you need to help drain your wounds.
I wish I ascribed to ahimsa more than I do. It's not always on my mind, even though it's inked forever on my skin. I do enjoy looking down at my forearm, seeing the Sanskrit, and knowing what it means. I feel a sense of secrecy when I'm out and about and this tattoo is showing, because most people don't know what it means--but I do. Strangers will sometimes ask what it means, which quite frankly, annoys me (because really it's no one's damn business, but that's a whole other blog post), though I often tell them: "nonviolence." Even though, that word alone doesn't do it justice. Many people then seem to look at me like I'm a wallflower, or some hippy-dippy "Kumbaya"-loving stoner chick (though there may be some aspects of my personality that are a tad "hippy-ish", I don't sit around in healing circles, holding hands and singing songs--though I kind of want to, so if you want to, let me know!).
Back to my point though... I think it's slightly dangerous for a yoga teacher to make such a broad generalization of a word that can and does mean so many different things to different people. Sure, there is the "definition", but there is also the individual's own definition. There is the individual's own experience of it. By dismissing it completely, because you think it only means this one thing, you are dismissing its importance to people other than you. You're also not giving it a chance, because your definition is far too narrow.
Ana Forrest, I expected more from you... but I know you're only human :)