Words by Phoebe White
Patanjali’s yoga sutra sets out a fundamental concept in the practice of yoga: ahimsa, non-violence. Yogis agree that no other practice of yoga, from breath work to poses and meditation is yoga without the practice of non-violence. As a yogi myself, this is why I live a vegan lifestyle… but that’s another story.
Ahimsa is rooted in the belief that our true self exists within a peaceful, calm and blissful inner nature, and that this is the same for all of us. So to practice it in everyday life is not just about physical non-violence to others, but also directing our thoughts and words, opinions and attitudes with an intention to act with clarity and love.
For me, what this breaks down to is an attitude of kindness, towards those around me but also importantly to myself. Kindness is the basis for any reason not to be violent in thought or behaviour; it’s the mother of compassion; and in its reciprocal nature, is always beneficial.
If you smile at the world, the world smiles back
I started a deliberate daily practice of kindness some years ago amidst some very challenging life circumstances – I really had to work to be kind to myself as I re-laid my life’s foundation stones, but it was the only way I was going to be able to grow out of difficult relationships, feel through hurts, and release old habits holding me back.
What I learned is that practicing kindness to myself made it easier to be kind to others and being kind to others taught me how to be kind to myself. And that a kind life flows easier. There’s a Jungian concept called ‘perception is projection’ which I’ll dig into in a moment. But essentially, we can’t know something for someone else if it isn’t first true for ourselves. My world today is a brighter place because of kindness: smile at the world, and the world smiles back. Fact.
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, open and considerate. Being kind- or warm-heartedness, tender, gentle. Vulnerable even. It is revealed in good deeds that don’t expect reward, favours with no strings, help, assistance, service. It is recognised in reciprocal feelings of warm fuzziness.
For those of you that think this is soft and the very thought of warm fuzziness makes your toes curl, then know that kindness makes you live longer. Now that’s may seem like a sweeping statement I know, but many studies report that it reduces stress; The sense of reward gained from being kind to others releases hormones that promote good health, and it’s contagious and good for everyone. If you like science, this article from Berkeley on the ‘helper high’ and Dartmouth’s infographic on Health Facts are worth a look.
So, kindness IS the best thing ever. But as I’m sure we all know, life and the world can be assaulting and it’s all too easy to reverberate those negativities in response to it. So, let’s break down how a deliberate daily practice of kindness can help keep your life in flow.
Perception is Projection
I mentioned ‘Perception is Projection’ conceptualised in the work of Carl Jung. This is as foundational a concept in NLP as Ahimsa is in yoga philosophy and practice because, in both cases, there’s no self-improvement without taking responsibility for how we react to and act in the world. Which is great because it means we’re empowered to grow.
Jung said “We tend take our most unconscious material and project it on people and events around us. That which is unconscious must of need be projected on people and events that are around us.”
Here’s an example - because you’ve felt at one point or an other the feelings and sensations of anger and learned how this affects your behaviour, you can easily label similar behaviour you notice in others as anger. This may then inform what you think of them or the situation, how you speak and interact with them. If an alien landed on the planet and saw someone who was angry, they may interpret the behaviour entirely differently and indeed, respond differently. This gets complicated when one person’s way of showing an emotion is the opposite to another person’s way and if no-ones paying attention to their own internal world of perceptions then there’s likely going to be trouble.
Putting this together, practicing ahimsa means being mindful of our preconceived projections and how they inform our ways of responding to situations and others; and setting the intention to, like a complete innocent, react from a place of non-violence both inwardly and outwardly. This is how we may begin the journey back to our true selves and inner peace.
Inner peace is pure fantasy when we barrage ourselves with negatives. And this leaks out, because if we’re pointing blame at ourselves for things going wrong, judging our performance with higher than met expectations, hiding our flaws, then that’s the ‘material’ running unconsciously though our brains, and what we’ll project into and see in the world around us – we’ll blame others for things, see their flaws and feel disappointed in them. This may make getting on with things a little bumpy and our interactions with others somewhat tense.
For me, kindness is the bridge between Jung and yoga’s concepts. Kindness is the elixir for all of life’s challenges and a guide rope to fall into when needed. Kindness for self, kindness for others – no matter the situation.
Seek to run an overriding projection of kindness - give the benefit of the doubt, focus on positives, serve for the sake of it, offer skills and money, connect, muck in.
This isn’t about becoming a push-over, it’s about choosing how to approach things – you can decline kindly, disagree kindly, leave kindly, share hurts kindly. And it’s not about letting yourself off from any learning life’s obstacles so wonderfully teach us – just reflect softly and with gentle attention.
Kindness is about keeping well and healthy in the mess of it all. And as Dartmouth’s infographic says, it’s contagious so the more you give the more you’ll get. What if everyone projected kindness? Wow.
Be the trend setter.
Your daily life-brightening kindness practice
To cultivate kindness to self and others.
1. Offer one random act of kindness each day as you go about your activities, connect to someone. Seek to find out what kindness means for you and how others respond to your offer. You could journal your reflections about this if so inclined.
2. Use these reflections to cultivate a deeper kindness toward yourself. Take 10 minutes regularly to follow a short meditation. Set a timer so you’re not distracted. Then, sitting comfortably with back supported, ground feet to the floor and rest hands in lap. Allow eyes to close and awareness to drop to back of head. Witness the in and out breath, bring awareness to heart centre and belly. Use this breath awareness to remember any sensations felt when offering kindness to others. Allow feelings and thoughts about this to happen, no need to remember or analyse the story being told or why it was kind. Instead, focus on what it actually feels like in the body, so keep your attention to the breath and the sensations in your heart centre and belly (or elsewhere). Turn the corners of your mouth upwards if they’re not there already, and if comfortable, bring one hand to belly and one hand to chest. Witness the breath. When 10 minutes is up, bring yourself round gently.
3. Next time you feel blocked, guilty, at fault, angry with yourself or someone else, sad, disappointed… anything negative or intense, bring one hand to belly and one to chest, breathing in deeply, bring back that felt sense of kindness you’ve cultivated. It may not fix the problem at hand, but you’ll be approaching it from a healthy perspective of kindness.
I’ll leave you with this video from Place2Be (a great mental health organisation) on what some kids think kindness is.
If you’d like one to one support in living any of the concepts raised here, either in person or online, get in touch!
A long serving Londoner, Phoebe is a qualified practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming, life coach and yoga teacher, and experienced singer songwriter. She’s been leading workshops in a range of personal development topics and supporting people to achieve their goals for over 15 years. She teaches and sings regularly in North London and all around the world. You can find her over on instagram, facebook