Many think of yoga as just the pose or the asana, however yoga goes far deeper than striking the perfect pose. In yoga philosophy and the ancient texts of ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ it is well recognised that there are 8 limbs of yoga that must be journeyed and practiced when walking on the path of yoga. Each limb provides a foundation and offers us guidance within our own practice, both on and off the mat. To practice the philosophy of yoga is to essentially provide us a pathway to reaching Samadhi – a state of bliss.
The first limb is made up of the ‘Yama’s’; which are moral values and a code of ethics that guide us on how we can best act towards ourselves, and the world around us. There’s no mistake that the Yama’s come first; after all, if you want to change the world, you must first become the change you wish to see within the world.
Ahimsa is the first of five Yama’s, and often thought of as the most important – Yama. ‘Ahimsa’ means ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’. In this context, we’re talking about non-violence in all aspects of life. When we practice ‘Ahimsa’ in our daily life, this means not physically harming others, ourselves, or nature; as well as not thinking negative thoughts about others or ourselves; and making sure that what we do and how we do it is done in harmony, rather than harm.
To bring the practice of ahimsa into our daily life we must first take the time to understand the impact of our daily actions, thoughts, and choices. Things like being kind to others, being charitable and choosing fair-trade, organic, and cruelty-free products come to the forefront of our mind when we think of living with non-violence.
However, what we think about ourselves and others, and how we treat ourselves is also a big factor. When our thoughts contain negative responses like disappointment, resentment, judgement, or guilt, we vibrate little energetic ripples of violence or negativity out into the world. If you can’t forgive someone for something they’ve done against you, or if you can’t forgive yourself for something you’ve done, this is an act of violence because it pushes love away.
The practice of Ahimsa revolves around unconditional love for all and for all that is.
Pressuring yourself to overachieve, burdening yourself with commitments and “I should” and holding high expectations for yourself are not loving mindsets and are violent towards yourself and the world at large.
Acting out of our fear is another form of violence to the self. Most of us inflict violence on others and on ourselves daily in subtle ways that we are not even aware of. Modern culture has bred this type of mindset, hence why it is an internal war or struggle for most.
When we hold a negative mindset, it creates a negative ripple of energy. Finding inner peace through ahimsa will in turn allow us to come to peace in interactions with others and ourselves. This may come as a surprise if you consider yourself a non-violent person.
You can incorporate ahimsa into your daily life and throughout your daily activities, decisions, and thoughts. Here are some ways:
Abandoning our own well-being, needs and happiness is an act of violence towards ourselves and the people around us. We must look after ourselves so that we can be loving, joyful, calm and resilient; and have the ability to set healthy boundaries and the strength and energy to take care of others.
Choosing to reorient and accept life the way it is, is a crucial part of living with non-violence. It is important to learn how to balance working hard for change whilst simultaneously learning to let go and accept. Yes, we need to work hard to make change however we must also learn to let go with grace all that is not meant for us and instead allow ourselves to find acceptance within all that can’t be changed.
On The Mat:
From complete beginners to the most experienced yogi, we can all feel frustrated when our physical yoga practice doesn’t progress as quickly as we’d like. Practicing Ahimsa throughout our yoga practice guides us to let go of thinking negatively about body and our abilities; and invites us to move with intention, love, and acceptance – no matter how strong or flexible we are at this moment.
Instead of letting the limits of your body create stress, make peace with where you are on the mat today and respect and appreciate everything your body does for you. Perform yoga poses gracefully, without force or ego.
The practice of Ahimsa invites you to come to your mat with the main goal of seeking out a connection with your true self. To have an experience in your mind-body -soul, an experience that encourages you to soften, expand and get to know yourself better whilst growing a deeper appreciation for yourself. The mat is a symbol of the world around you. Come to your mat to learn about the world around you and your interactions within it. Be open to new ways of thinking and being and allow yourself to settle into that space of self-awareness and stillness so that you can explore your own authentic truth, curiosity, and creativity. And most importantly Ahimsa invites us to come to our yoga mat knowing that we all have a place in the yoga room and in the world around us. We all belong, and we all have something to contribute on and off the mat.
Practice non-violence in your mind by tuning into your thoughts. Cultivate your awareness of your own thoughts to find if there are hints of violence or judgement against yourself or others. Awareness doesn’t mean reaction or negativity. You don’t need to push negative and toxic thoughts away; just simply recognize them. Observe as they come into your consciousness, and then encourage them to simply drift away without getting attached or lead into the internal drama.
Thoughts naturally move into and out of our minds. The thoughts themselves don’t necessarily cause harm. However, holding onto thoughts and getting attached to them disrupts the wellbeing of our mind-body-soul – causing negativity and violence in both our internal and external world. Start to practice simply observing your thoughts with kindness, acceptance, and love instead of reacting to them. Remind yourself that we are all doing the best we can with what we know. Yes, we must set healthy boundaries – but never should we judge ourselves or others when we fall short.
When you allow yourself to acknowledge and observe with loving kindness, you’ll find that your thoughts slip from your awareness just as easily as they come in.
Yes, a vegetarian diet does come highly recommended in the yogic community, as the guidance of Ahimsa advises not harming another or causing suffering to other living beings, and therefore suggests that we not eat animals.
Besides eating a fresh, pure vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s also recommended to avoid alcohol, coffee, drugs, smoking, using microwave ovens, overeating, eating in a hurry, eating while you’re in a bad mood or arguing while eating, as much as possible. These are all things that are considered to disturb the mind.
But don’t stress or feel guilty if you eat or drink something ‘un-yogic’ and not in alignment with the practice of Ahimsa.
There must be balance, therefore you must do the best you can without causing harm or stress to your own mind or body. Even one day a week of eating plant-based meals is awesome!
Take some time to consider what feels right and works best for you. Can you change things a little so you’re supporting environmentally friendly companies? Eat organically? Maybe eat vegan or vegetarian at least a couple of times a week? Buy fair trade? Eat seasonal and local? Choose meat from a small-scale farmer who raises and kills their own animals on-site and more ethically?
Whether you choose to eat meat and animal products or not, doing what is right for your unique body whilst helping to support the environment and wellbeing of animals at the same time is something we can all be a part of. Learn where your food comes from and make your own choice on what you feel is kind or violent based on your own set of values, morals, and code of ethics.
And remember the most important guideline: your food should be satisfying. You should eat things you enjoy, after all our purpose in life is to love life and let life love us in return.
Next time you’re about to prepare or eat a meal, consider a few things:
- Be mindful about WHAT you’re about to eat. Is it fresh? Is it supporting your health and happiness? Is it supporting the health and happiness of other humans, animals, and the earth as well?
- While cooking your meal, do so with love and joy. Maybe sing, play music, light a candle or sip on a glass of wine while cooking. Wear your favourite apron. Smell the fresh ingredients.
- Cook with complete mindfulness, being aware of every step in the process and savouring the entire experience. Smell the food as your chopping. Notice the colours and textures of the ingredients. Feel the energy of the artisan who made the pottery bowl, wooden chopping board or wooden spoon you are using.
- When your meal is ready, offer a prayer or take a moment to be grateful for your meal. Think of all the things that had to happen for you to eat that meal – from the nurturing of the crop, the harvesting of the crop to the store person who filled the shelf and sold you the ingredients.
- Eat your meal with love and attention, enjoying every bite and every flavour. Take your time to finish your meal, don’t rush, don’t stress.
- If you can, share your meal with another.
When we pay attention to the aspects of yoga that don’t involve balancing upside down or doing the splits, we begin to realise that there is a much deeper meaning to our practice, and that the path of yoga has so many amazing gifts to offer.