Ahimsa is the concept of doing less harm, on the mat and off. You can never be perfect, but you can always do better, be kinder and more loving. Ahimsa is the first of the precepts set down by Patanjali, a great yogic sage. The second is Satya, or truthfulness. These two ideas are the heart of yoga. Be kind. Be honest. Everything else will fall into place.

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I never intended for yoga to be anything more than a way to heal my injuries. As the list grew longer, the pain was consant. Not only could I not touch my toes, I couldn't lift one of my arms higher than my shoulder. I was willing to try anything, even yoga. I got hooked on yoga and feeling better with Bikram, and then discovered Vinyasa. I was working at a Bikram yoga studio, and the big secret was that all the instructors practiced another style of yoga with Rusty Wells on Sunday mornings, which was taboo in that world. The nickname for this class, or actually, maybe it was a code word, was "Church". They kept inviting me to join them, but it wasn't until I felt ready to begin the Bikram yoga teacher training that I finally thought I was strong enough to go. I knew my 26 postures, and felt confident walking into his level 2/3 class. I slumped down and smirked when the chanting started, unprepared for anything hippie or new-age, and refused to chant. The class was amazingly hard and humbling, but at the same time, sweet and beautiful. Some of the poses I knew, but most were completely new to me. I was intrigued. At the end of class, I chanted, and I never looked back. I studied with Rusty for two years in his style, Bhakti Flow, before I began assisting him in his classes, workshops, and teacher trainings, locally and internationally, from 2004 & on to 2014. The physical process was what brought me to the mat, and it still grounds me, but the surprising part is the way that yoga has affected me internally. Eventually you realize that the physical benefits of the practice are merely a pleasant by-product of the real transformation taking place.

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Near the front door of a flat I used to live in, somebody wrote "Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge because you're a vegetarian." There is a seeming randomness to life, even though most of us desire fairness. We like the idea of people getting what is coming to them. We yearn for karma, bad or good, and the idea is everywhere. Magazines give karma demerits, coffee shops call their tip jars good karma jars, and some drivers have good parking karma, but what does it mean? The definition of karma has become like obscenity in the 50's and irony in the 90's: most people can't define it, but think they can recognize it when they see it. Here's one way of looking at it: karma is not some kind of quid pro quo, give-and-take with the universe. There is no eternal ledger where you can accrue a positive balance for yourself through an occasional act of kindness.

Karma has no individual selfish application.

In its most basic sense, karma doesn't even know your name.

The concept is surprisingly simple, and strangely binary: your actions either make the world a better or worse place for you, the ones you love, and everyone else. Every action has a reaction and so forth. Your actions ripple outward, as do everyone else's. We all have a part in how things evolve, and we all have a say in the outcome.

You matter.

We all matter.

The idea of being good and acting positively is related to the desire to make the world, at least in some small way, a better place. When you make the world a better place, however, you do it for the greater whole, not a specific part. It helps to consider yourself as not separate from the whole, to stop thinking of yourself as having such an amazingly unique experience, to move away from individual self-absorption, toward how we can begin to restore some kind of balance, inwardly and outwardly, individually and collectively. How do we find this balance? Running around and trying to be good can be draining when we expect or hope for something in return. People may not seem to appreciate the noble things you do. When you look for reciprocation, you are going to be disappointed. Find your balance by changing the way you look at  the outcome, the results, the fruits of your labor. You are attached to them, or not. It's your choice. Being good and expecting a positive outcome as a direct result is bound to fail, ends up frustrating you, and leads to cynicism. The alternative is being kind and good just because it's right, without attachment to whatever may happen. Be good because it makes the world a better place, not because you need, want, or expect something in return. Be good because you can make a difference. Be unattatched to the outcome, because eventually that bull is going to charge.

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Instead of complicating things needlessly, look at the two basic emotions behind the heart: love or fear. Everything we do can be traced back to, and is driven by, one of these two most basic emotions. Your actions are either active, open and positive, or they are reactive, closing off and negative. Everything. Kindness comes from love, cruelty from fear. I hope we can all agree that the world has experienced enough cruelty, enough fear. Love is the antidote. However, don't just love the people who are easy to love. Some people can make kindness difficult. Act with love towards everyone, whether you think they deserve it or not. Nobody ever acts like an asshole because they got too much love, so holding yours back only compounds the problem. You cannot solve the past, but you can learn enough from it to influence the future. Now, realize that you can never get to the point of perfection, it's a pursuit doomed to fail, an unrealistic goal. Instead of perfection, why not just be better? Everybody can do that. Let kindness be your religion, to paraphrase the Dalai Lama. That same wisdom is handed down by the eldest and wisest in many times and cultures: be kind, be kind. But how? Start with how you look at yourself, and then move outward,  with how you treat those you are close to, and on to those you meet, and on and on. Your outlook and your actions make a difference. How can you make your influence more positive?

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Have you ever tried to teach somebody a lesson? Do you really think they learned anything? Does that ever work on you? It never did on me.  I think it's really just a justification for treating someone poorly. A related idea is when you decide not to reward certain behaviors, as if you were going to train another person to be better, to be the way you think they should be. People change on their own schedule, not yours. What you usually teach them is that you have the capacity to be either petty or mean, and probably both. Contrast that with the feeling you get when somebody has the chance to teach you a lesson, but graciously chooses to share an unexpected and profound kindness. In traffic, at work, at home, it is profound because it is given freely. What if you stopped trying to change people, and just started loving them for being exactly who they are? Nobody is perfect - it's impossible. Even trying to be perfect is painful, no matter what standards you use. I used to think that it was my place to mess with people, to perhaps shock them out of their complacency and into a new awareness. The more I see, the more I understand that people have enough discomfort, enough shock, and enough pain. Why add to that? What good can it serve? Most people really are just trying to get by. To quote Michael Stipe, "Everybody hurts, and everybody cries." The central idea of Bhakti is that there is a pervasive goodness that can be shared, absorbed and released, without end, without diminuation. To quote Rusty Wells, "Let love in, let love out. The nature of God is to love and to be loved." Why is it so hard for so many of us to accept this? What if we changed our point of view so that we looked to protect others, rather than castigate them? Trust me, there are enough forces waiting to crush each and every one of us that the proposition of adding to that is ludicrous. Bad things happen to all of us. You are your brother's, your sister's and your neighbor's keeper. We are a community. We are all connected. Share support, share kindness, and share love. Whether or not it is appreciated, it is important, and it is needed. Your actions matter. Everything matters.

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