When I took trigonometry in high school, I was in the first class that did not learn how to use trig tables. We spent one class looking through the tables in the back of our textbooks and then we never looked at them again. Calculators that did trig functions had become inexpensive and the school system decided trig tables soon would be obsolete. Instead of spending the semester learning to use the tables, we were taught how to use our calculators.
Several years ago I worked with a math teacher at a local high school to design a calculator for people with disabilities. She considered it part of her job to teach her students when to use a calculator and when another method would be better. For some types of problems calculators save time, but for others it requires fifteen minutes or more to enter all of the information into the calculator, where it only takes about three minutes to do the entire problem on paper.
In our everyday activities, we do not hesitate to use tools to help us. I use a computer and a calculator to balance the yoga center’s books. I have never used a ledger or performed all of the calculations by hand. I could, but the computer and calculator save time and effort. We have remote controls for our TVs and GPS systems are decreasing our need for maps. To go even further, we use light bulbs instead of candles to light our homes, and microwaves and ovens instead of fire to cook our food. All of these make our lives easier and more comfortable.
Interestingly, in yoga classes many do not use the tools available to make their yoga practice more comfortable and manageable. Our yoga center has all manner of props including blankets, chairs, block and belts. They can be used in numerous ways to aid alignment and to make challenging poses safer and less intense. For example, in seated forward bends, a blanket under the hips reduces stress on the back and makes the poses more accessible for people with tight hips and hamstrings.
Many think of props as being remedial. In some ways, this misses the point. Advanced students with hamstring flexibility usually do not need to sit on a blanket in seated forward bends, but doing the poses without a blanket does not make one advanced. Advanced students use the props they need.
One of the major ethical guidelines in yoga is Ahimsa which means nonviolence or non-harming. Most of us have heard about this in connection with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and we tend to think about nonviolence in relation to others. I regularly see people who are late wait at the door of a yoga room for the instructor to motion them in so they do not disturb the class during centering. However, many do not treat themselves with the same kindness. Often people prefer to strain rather than use the necessary props to make their poses as beneficial as possible.
When it comes to how we treat ourselves, Ahimsa can be difficult. In the end, it does not really matter if we can touch our toes or do a fantastic backbend. In our everyday life, it is just not that big a deal. Life can be challenging enough on its own, so it helps to be as kind to ourselves as we can. See if you can begin to practice Ahimsa using the tools you need to create a happier and less stressful life.