Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which translates to ‘no harm’ or ‘no violence’ in English. A term of extreme importance in the Yoga Sutras, Hinduism and Buddhism.
It features in the 1st limb of Ashtanga yoga and is one of the five Yamas. (Yamas are ethical standards and a kind of code of conduct in the Yoga Sutras, which practitioners should abide by).
To me, and i’m sure many others, Ahimsa is one of the most important aspects of Yoga. Being able to do asana (yoga postures) is a very valuable thing and we learn a lot from it. However, if we don’t practice Ahimsa, or grow from our practice and incorporate Ahimsa into our lives, Yoga might as well be a gym class to us. We need to start, as we venture on our journeys, incorporating this into our lives…
This is the aim, right?
Ahimsa means no harm. This means to any living beings, including yourself. Peace begins with no violence and no harm. To be truly at peace, you have to be at peace with yourself and others.
When we are mean, nasty or violent towards others, it is normally an outward projection of what we are feeling inside (often referred to as the mirror theory). If we want to see change in the world, we have to start with ourselves. Once we are at peace with ourselves, we can start to drive positive change in the world.
When people treat us a certain way, or things aren’t going the way we planned in this world, when we are hard on ourselves… feelings of shame, guilt and disappointment manifest. Sometimes, we can all be guilty of expecting too much of ourselves, the people around us or the world in general. When things don’t go our way, for whatever reason, hurtful feelings can start to creep in, which causes us harm and has the potential to cause others harm also.
If we start to practice Ahimsa, we start practising unconditional love and compassion. The more we incorporate Yoga into our lives, the more we start to feel this within ourselves. We become at one and united with the world around us.
Yoga and meditation makes us look at ourselves and our lives internally. We can work on turning negative aspects of ourselves into positives, without acting on this externally.
An aspect of practising Ahimsa.
– How can we practice Ahimsa on the mat and in our lives? –
1. Learn to love yourself and help yourself, through doing this, you will learn to love and help others too.
When you put your practice 1st you allow yourself the time to put yourself first and focus on your health and well-being. There is a reason we get told to put our own life jacket on, or our own breathing mask on an aeroplane on first… this is because before we can help others, we must help ourselves.
When you put your own health, physical, mental and well-being first you are much more able to help others.
It is really important to have a dedicated practice. The goal of yoga is to still the mind and if not dedicated, dipping in and out doesn’t allow the mind and body to change. It is in repetition that the mind and the body can become conditioned to change. The more you practice, witness and experience this yourself… the more inspiration you get to keep up a regular practice.
We all judge, be it over little things, such as a friend who is late to a meal, or big things such as people who support certain political parties or do hurtful things. Try to focus on your practice and progression, not what others can do. (It is your journey after all).
Meditation teacher Tara Brach often tells this story:
Imagine you are walking through the woods and you see a small dog. It looks cute and friendly. You approach and move to pet the dog. Suddenly it snarls and tries to bite you. The dog no longer seems cute and you feel fear and possibly anger. Then, as the wind blows, the leaves on the ground are carried away and you see the dog has one of its legs caught in a trap. Now, you feel compassion for the dog. You know it became aggressive because it is in pain and is suffering.
So we can see the pain now, but couldn’t before… humans are like this, psychological pain is invisible physically but often we can sense it in peoples actions.
I like the quote –
If you truely loved yourself, you could never hurt another.
(Source – Buddha Quotes)
So sometimes it is best to depersonalise and step back and reflect why a person might be the way they are… do you see some of yourself in the person? People make mistakes, or are ignorant of certain things. Just like we are from time to time. We are all human after all. When you feel good about yourself, these things tend to be less of a worry.
2. Practice yoga gracefully, don’t force things.
When we push and pull on ourselves, we do not let the body open naturally. It is actually counter-productive to our practice. We need to be gentle in our practice and when we are, you will be surprised how much your asana practice opens.
The focus should be on the breath 1st, then everything else will follow and flow.
3. Meditation on and off the mat
If negative thoughts come in, observe them and ask them to leave. We all have them, these triggers, but we can learn to react positively to them. Meditation allows us to clear space in our minds and our hearts to facilitate healing and a more peaceful outlook on life.
Creating space for peace in life is of the utmost importance. ensure you time aside for meditation, yoga practice, a long soak in the bath, or time reading. These little snippets of time in your day will lead to a more peaceful life.
4. Be kind anyway…
If someone is off or funny with you, it can be hard not to take it personally. Normally it isn’t a reflection on you (unless you have actually done something, where this would apply)… so be kind anyway. Everyone is fighting an internal battle none of us see behind the curtains of our minds, so just… be kind anyway.
One last thing…
Research becoming more plant based
I’m not going to preach veganism or vegetarianism, but personally I think a big part of practicing Ahimsa is reflecting on the pain and suffering in the world and the effect we have on the environment. I’ve slowly been transitioning to a plant based diet, with a few hiccups along the way (I have struggled transitioning at times) and and feel so much better. Even if you make a small change, it can make ripple effects in the world for the better.
The things we put into our bodies affect our karma; meat will affect our inner peace. Some good documentaries to watch are Cowspiracy and Earthlings, both on Youtube for free. Not for the faint hearted, earthlings will shock most.
I believe however, we should be very aware of the pain and suffering big corporations put animals through for our food. Too many people turn a blind eye or are naive to this, or the fact eating meat is destroying the planet and is the leading cause of global warming and climate change.
Which leads me onto my last point….
What are your opinions? I’d love to hear from you!