Ahimsa

Tree of Life Prayer BeadsWhen I first came to my Yoga mat, I came under the impression that Yoga was simply the physical movements that many of us are used to seeing. Enrolling in a Yoga teacher training program years after practicing with my first at-home DVD, I have quickly learned that the poses are just part of a larger path. There are actually 8 limbs of Yoga, of which asanas (the poses) are one.

Two of those limbs are the Yamas and Niyamas. “Yamas” are moral observances; our guiding principles for how we deal with others. “Niyamas” are our personal observances; the principles of how we deal with ourselves. There are 5 principles both for Yamas and Niyamas. For the purpose of this particular blog post, I am going to focus on one of the Yamas: Ahimsa. Ahimsa is Sanskrit for compassion – showing kindness and non-violence to all living things.

I am by no means a perfect person, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was already incorporating some of the Yamas and Niyamas in my life before I ever knew or even heard of them. Compassion has always been one of my guiding principles. And when my son was born almost 6 years ago, I knew without a doubt that of all the things I could teach him, what would be most important is showing him how to be kind to others.

When I was pregnant and found out I was having a boy, I admittedly cried for a day or so. I am the baby sister of 5 older brothers (between both of my parents’ first marriages) and I really, really, really wanted a girl so that I could complete the trifecta of my mother, me and my baby girl (yes, I actually did think this). Although my brothers had mostly girls between them and the family was actually lacking for boys, I wanted to add my girl to the bunch.

I always had to tag along for my one brother’s high school and college football games. Every Sunday, I had to sacrifice my cartoons or a show I was watching for whatever seasonal sporting event was on. While I had grown up surrounded by testosterone, I didn’t think I’d have a clue of how to raise a boy. Sure, my then-husband would help, but by time baby boy was born, I knew our marriage was on its last leg. I became a single mother before my son turned 2 years-old and as the primary parent, most of what he would learn would come from me. Like many parents of little boys, I want my son to be strong, confident and have some athletic prowess. I long ago accepted that I would not be able to teach him how to be a man, but I certainly could teach him how to be a kind and decent human being. And that has been my mission.

My message of compassion seems to be paying off. My son genuinely shows concern when someone is hurt or crying. When I have my own life moments that I am unable to hide from him, he always comes to me with his favorite toy or stuffed animal and tells me they can sleep with me in my bed so I’ll feel better. There is a little girl in his school who is visually impaired, and while it may take a little nudging from me, because he notices something “different” about her, he makes a point to speak to her and play with her when the other kids stay away. I see the kindness in him, as have friends of mine. While he is a little boy, I am always conscious of the fact that I am raising a man. One day, he will go into the world with the values I’ve instilled in him and learn how to balance that with the values he develops on his own.

Today I came across a Huffington Post article about the things every mother should do for their sons. The article was written in light of a sexual assault of a teenage girl that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio last August. The author suggests that we, as society and parents, help to create a culture of such violent acts, especially by pushing our boys to be “tough guys.” We praise athletes and athleticism, while encouraging our girls to be demure and supportive. It is the author’s belief that certain measures can be taken to avoid another Steubenville. The first of her suggestions is to teach our boys to be kind and to teach them this as early as possible. Being that kindness is something I’ve been working to instill in my son since birth, I wholeheartedly agree.

I continued to think about the article long after I read it. I thought about how some parents and people are of the belief that boys shouldn’t be showered with hugs and kisses because it will make them “soft,” while doing so for girls is acceptable. We tend to focus on the fact that our daughters need to see and receive love at a young age, so they will know what it should look and feel like when they begin to engage in relationships. And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t focus on this, but what about our boys? I don’t necessarily want my son to be a “mama’s boy,” but I have no shame in hugging him, kissing him and telling him I love him multiple times a day. I may make him wipe his tears right away when he falls, but I want him to be comfortable with love. I have had enough of my own relationships with emotionally limited men to know and believe that, for the most part, they did not receive enough affection while growing up. I can admit there was also likely something within me that attracted these types of men, but reading the Huffington Post article confirmed my personal conviction. We teach our daughters how to give love and be dutiful partners, while we teach our sons to be the protectors. I am not against this, but I think we should also teach our sons how to receive love. Sure, some of the discomfort with love may be a nature thing for boys and men, but I believe nurturing plays a big part as well. I say show them the beauty of love to the best of our abilities, so they will be better aware of treating love as a gift that should not be abused or taken for granted.

Being that the Yoga teacher training is a huge aspect of my life right now and being that I am a single mother, my son pretty much doesn’t have a choice but to take this journey with me. He doesn’t attend classes with me, but he is impacted by the time I invest in the training program. It can be hard at times, because my particular program is a weekend-based one. I work a full-time job during the week and then for 2 full weekends out of a month, for the next 6 months, I am in training. Add on to that a job that requires travel and our time together can really be limited. But I know I must see this through and I try to include him by doing Yoga with him at home and teaching him a few asanas he can do on his own. In the end though, I know the most important thing is to continue teaching him about Ahimsa. He is already practicing this Yama in his life. And just like his mother, he doesn’t even know it. Yet.

Namaste.

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35.

I turned 35 years of age a few weeks ago. For years, this had been “the number;” the age that when I was younger, would be a determinant of the level of success I achieved and accomplished.  I just knew that by age 35, I would be happily married, have my four children and would be at the pinnacle of my career, either as a lawyer or some sort of community activist. I would have a house comparable to the childhood home where I grew up; complete with a family-friendly neighborhood and an ample-sized backyard where my children would be afforded the same simple luxuries I was afforded as a young girl. Swing sets, family BBQs and even a doghouse.

As it turns out, I haven’t actually achieved any of these things. I did have a marriage, but now I’m divorced. I have a son, but he is my only child. I have a mortgage on my own home, but it is currently a one-bedroom condo with a loft that I share with my kid. Co-parenting and condo living is not exactly where I thought I’d be at 35, but strangely enough, I am completely okay with this. Okay…maybe like 90-95% okay, because I still want the house for my kid (and more kids, to boot). Yet for all the fretting I had done about turning 35 and what that would mean for my life, when the moment actually arrived, I embraced it. I stepped into it. I owned it and silently said to myself, “35, I am here.”

I was fortunate to have my big day land on a Saturday, so I spent my birthday weekend with a group of cousins in Texas. This is the state where my mother grew up and where I have traveled to every summer pretty much since I was born. With this birthday, I knew I wanted to do something different. To be some place different. It wasn’t until I was on the plane to Texas when I realized the significance of being connected with my roots on the day of the celebration of my birth.  What better way to step into a space and embrace it while also being embraced by those who have always loved and accepted you? It was definitely a full circle moment. It was like coming home to who I am. It also turned out to be one of the best weekends I have ever had in my life, birthday or otherwise.

About a week prior to turning 35, my therapist asked me to take some time and reflect on what has been defined as a monumental age. She wanted me to think of all the experiences that I’d had up until this point in my life and how I could use those experiences to shape my life from here on out. Again, what stood out to me the most is the ease with which I stepped into the space of turning 35.

I realized this comfort came from surviving all of the experiences, good, bad and ugly. I did not reach 35 unscathed and instead of running from the challenges or allowing the challenges to prevent me from being my best self, I accepted them as life lessons. Building blocks that would only serve to make me stronger. I know that without these challenges, I would not be the woman I continue to become. I’ve earned my stripes and I wear them proudly. I have quickly learned one of the most beautiful things about turning 35 is reaching (if you haven’t already reached) that place where you begin to fully accept yourself for exactly who you are.

If you lined up ten of my closest friends, they would probably all describe me in the same way. Headstrong. Independent. Stubborn. Unnecessary worrier. Determined. Compassionate. Devoted mother. Talkative. Passionate. Intense. Overthinker. Kind. For a long time, I shunned my better qualities while erroneously telling myself doing so was a form of humility. Yet, I’d also be offended by the pointing out of the not so great stuff about me. Now I understand I need to accept all of the things that make me who I am. I can be proud of the person I am and the accomplishments I’ve made, and instead of being offended about the not so great stuff, I can do my part to not let it adversely affect others or myself. This is where my work in therapy comes into play, as well as my desire of continually striving to be the best me I can be.

While reflecting on turning 35, a video poem from Warsan Shire found its way to me. She is a beautiful poet based in London. I’d heard of her through tweets from one of my writing inspirations, dream hampton, but I’d never actually checked out her work for myself.  That is, until the day a friend posted the poem on her Facebook page. I was so moved by it, that I watched it multiple times and immediately shared it with other women friends who I knew would also appreciate the message. Being that ten of my closest friends would probably also describe me as a love junkie, there was something about the poem’s description of the strength of a woman’s love that really spoke to me. Through my work in therapy, I have come to understand how strong my own love is. Though I have had to learn how to be mindful of it in my relationships, it is also something I fully accept about myself. I haven’t reached 35 without experiencing heartbreaks and letdowns, but I am proud of myself for still being strong enough and willing enough to be receptive to love.  It is not always easy, but doing so will bring ease to my life’s journey from here on out.

When the video poem came my way, I knew it would have to be included in my next blog. I hope you enjoy it.

And cheers to turning 35.

Peace and Love.