Compassion has been calling to me lately.
I’ve grappled for years with what to call my own style of yoga flow and nothing seemed to hit home or bang the gong for me until now. I stumbled across this Sanskrit word: Karuṇā: compassion, empathy, kindness. And with this discovery Karuṇā Flow was born. It has always been a priority of mine to teach students through the concept of Ahimsa, or non-violence, within our life/practice and toward our self; to demonstrate kindness to our body, to listen to corporal requests. But with this newfound label on my teaching practice something else has given rise: the exploration into the true nature of Karuṇā, compassion and how integral a piece it is to the entire yogic lifestyle. It is more than simply non-violence toward the self or another and so in that compassion is not synonymous with a NON action. It is not the absence of doing, but rather a quite active engagement. How do we tune in to our ability to nurture a real compassionate relationship with ourselves and others?
Compassion is an intricate puzzle of respect and empathy, putting yourself in another’s shoes, offering the shirt off your back. Compassion is stepping away from perfectionism and judgment and stepping toward acceptance and tolerance; a mental switch from “I am nothing LIKE you” into “I am nothing BUT you.” It is a thing of beauty, grace and unity. And it is elusive. And it is fleeting. And it is hard.
The downfall away from the compassionate path starts as children where oftentimes we lose our ability to stick up for the underdog or speak up for the voiceless for fear of standing out in a crowd. And those we went to with our hurting hushed us down into submission. Shane Koyczan, a poet and performer, writes about his experience as a child who was bullied:
“surrounded by people who used to say
that rhyme about sticks and stones
as if broken bones
hurt more than the names we got called
and we got called them all
so we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun”
And in these words lies the worst part of the path for the misunderstood soul: the lack of self-love and the need for acceptance. What struck me most from his piece, entitled To This Day, was that he seems to highlight that somewhere in that sweet spot between babies and teenage beauties we’ve completed disconnected from compassionate relating. I witnessed in the classroom when working with teenagers that the tendency toward torture far outweighed those glinting moments of community effort, support and caring. Why is that? What have we done wrong in a world where it is cooler to push your sister down than to raise her up? And don’t be fooled by the clever disguises and intelligently delivered manipulations; adults are guilty of lacking compassion, too. The opposite of compassion is indifference; the worst kind of in-action.
But is tenderheartedness something that can be taught or the more important question, can it be taught through yoga? Is it just the disillusioned dreamer that believes a genuinely caring public is possible? Maybe so, but it’s worth a shot. I say bring on the empathy! My plan of action is pretty simple: steps A through Z all consist of the same movement….YOGA. Teach it to the children, share it with your friends and your loved ones, live it. Start this routine: less judging, more hugging, stop thinking, start thanking.
But why yoga? I tell you why: because compassion is everything we strive to create when we come into these crazy shapes we call asana: understanding, connection, unity, a feeling of purpose and a sense of who we are. As with most goals, it always starts from within and this is where we need the assistance of The Practice. Most people recognize that yoga isn’t about touching your toes or standing on your head, it’s about what you learn on your way there; understanding and loving yourself, patience, acceptance, being present. Only when you deepen that relationship can you offer something pure to those around you. This is the part where we learn to be softhearted—first for the sake of the self…only after as an offering to the world.
Koyczan’s piece ends with a plea
“if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer”
Let yoga be your mirror. Begin to see yourself in the face of the Other. Let’s flip the script on our previous definitions here, make it cool to collaborate, sweet to seek connection and noble to negotiate. Let’s take our Warriors off the mat and out into the world and in this battle not as oppressors but as Uplifters. Warriors of Compassion. Yeah. I like that. Get involved. Stand up for the little guy and therefore yourself. Take a long jog in someone else’s sneakers. Get down to the nitty gritty on the battlefield of Understanding. Prepare your artillery and bring it to the mat. And then allow for more awareness as the war begins to unfolds, the real Practice, the stepping off of the mat that inevitably follows. Hold a hand, wipe away a tear, give a hug. Just because. And you deserve it, too. Look a little closer, stare a little longer, get a better mirror. The shape of your Warrior is beautiful and more importantly, the Warrior heart is strong.