Ahimsa stands for “non-violence” or “absence of injury” in Sanskrit. It is the first of the yamas (self-restraints) in Yoga from Patanjali’s Sutras, in which you find the foundations of yoga (made up by the eight limbs of yoga). With it being the very first yama, it is the foundation of all the other yamas and actually of our whole practice because it is rooted in love – the interconnectedness of all beings and things – union – which is ultimately the meaning of yoga. You can consider ahimsa a universal observance ahimsa in which the point is to always have the intention to be mindful of doing no harm in words, actions or thought.
The no harm principle is found in other spiritual traditions. For example, it is found in the famous golden rule in the Old Testament (from the Bible): Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31). It is a fundamental virtue in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Moreover, there have been inspirational figures throughout history who promoted the principle of non-violence. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. with his leading peaceful American civil rights movement to counterfeit oppression, and Mahatma Gandhi, who said “nonviolence is our greatest walk of life.” Gandhi believed that the path of non-violence can lead us to Divine Truth. Among the great yogis in history, Swami Vivekananda particularly emphasized the value of honouring ahimsa.
For self-protection, sometimes aggression is necessary among creatures. When it comes to humans, they also sometimes bring violence (himsa). Suffering among people is often related to violence. Humans do not need to live like animals, humans can take care of each other (even some animals do this). It can be a big effort to move from animal tendencies o human ones, because selfishness is biologically deeply rooted within our nature. However, humans are divine. We have a great instrument: an intelligent mind with which we can consciously choose to not do harm, and to be loving instead. To honour ahimsa is one of humanity’s greatest duties (dharma).
Just like all the other yamas & niyamas, ahimsa is something that we can practice on and off the mat. Ahimsa begins with yourself (health, diet, thoughts), and it can be made simple, by starting off by setting an intention (sankalpa) to be loving in all thoughts, words, and actions throughout the day. Because these are the things that can cause harm when utilized in destructive ways. The Vedas even express the difference in ways of causing harm: kayaka (“of the hand,” referring to physical doings), vācaka (“expressive,” referring to words), and manasika (“of the mind,” referring to thoughts). Science comes in there where skeptics might doubt the power of thoughts. Negative thoughts create stress, which makes your body secrete cortisol, weakening your immune system. On the other hand, positive thoughts create happiness, and the secretion of dopamine – the feel-good hormone.
Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet There is an inner knowing (like in satyam – the second yama: truthfulness) that guides the observance of ahimsa. We know in our hearts when our intention is loving, and when it is not. Ahimsa and satyam go hand in hand. When we do not honour ahimsa we move away from truth. When we are aligned with truth, there is love and unity, there is a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world around us – harmonious relationships
OBSERVING AHIMSA IN DAILY LIFE
There are so many ways you can practice ahimsa. Ahimsa goes as far as you are willing to take it, there are no limits when it comes to how much you can love. Here is a list of 15 ways to observe ahimsa in daily life:
- Read about ahimsa (in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and other yoga texts)
- Don’t hurt yourself trying to push yourself into a posture when practicing yoga on the mat.
- Do not force anything in your yoga practice, or in any other areas of your life.
- Be mindful of your language – change ‘have to’s and ‘shoulds’ with ‘want to’s and ‘would like, do not gossip, compliment others more, mind your tone of voice, be honest but not intentionally offensive. Note the ways in which your self-talk is full of criticism. The simple act of becoming aware if it goes a long way.
- Listen more (it’s a way of expressing love).
- Be kind to your body (live a healthy life by eating a healthy diet, practicing mindful eating, getting regular sleep and exercise, take care of yourself on all levels!
- Be sure to find a balance in your diet and lifestyle: on the one hand, we want to avoid harming others; however, if not consuming something presents a harm to yourself, then it is important to consider a balanced approach in which you can eat a healthy diet which provides you with the nutrients you need in accordance to your dosha/typology/specific health requirements while causing the least possible harm to other beings in the process – you can aim to find the middle way, for example by opting for vegan meals a few times a week if it is not good for your health to go on a full vegan diet). Nourish yourself!
- Live consciously, practice awareness, recognize non-loving thoughts.
- Respect Mother Earth and care for the ecosystem. Be mindful pf what you consume, the products you buy (fair trade and organic products can be expensive and difficult to afford if you are on a budget. You could consider making choices here: for example: opting to purchase some organic items, like eggs or diary. Instead of buying ALL your make-up and toiletries from an organic brand, you could be more frugal about using the products you have and treating yourself to one organic item next time you need to replace one that finished). Stay creative!
- Be kind, everyone has challenges in their lives which you may not know of.
- Resolve conflicts peacefully. Learn to control your anger, be aware of your emotions and learn how to manage and channel them
- Be gentle, and patient with yourself as well as others. Honour the process.
- Meditate (even if only 10 minutes a day), and connect to your inner wisdom.
- Practice forgiveness, hold no resentment.
- Leave things / return things in a nicer state than you found them in or was given to you.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF TO CHECK YOUR AHIMSA
- How can I be kinder to my body?
- What is the nature of my self-talk? Sometimes we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to our friends.
- How can I be kinder to others?
- How aware am I of kind of energy I send to others?
- Is the music I listen to positive and inspiring, or is it negative and hateful?
- What kind of TV shows and movies do I watch? Are they spiritually inspiring, or are they violent?
- How aware am I of the products I buy (are they fair-trade? Where are they produced?)
In what ways do I create drama, and how can I replace this by creating peace instead?
- How can I make things better?
- How are your actions beneficial to the world, and not only yourself?
- What does it take for you to extend the love in your heart to all beings?
- How can I become a peaceful, calming energy to those around me?
A WORK IN PROGRESS
In conclusion, there are a few things to remember when it comes to observing ahimsa. First of all, it is a work in progress! Be kind to yourself, make it a lifetime project. Changing habits takes time, patience and perseverance. Remember also the power of intention.
It’s easy to practice ahimsa when things are going well. When things get hard, when life hits you with an unexpected slap in the face, when a stranger is rude to you in the supermarket, when a partner is unfaithful, when someone cuts you off in traffic – can you still remember ahimsa?
It is when things get challenging that the practice truly begins. Great growth can potentially happen in these moments when you choose to be aware of your actions and choose to respond to situations consciously instead of impulsively react. This means that when something “happens” that triggers a part of you, you take a few moments of awareness and observe your inner reactions and consider the ways in which you can act from your Higher Self and respond rather than react.
Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet. To practice ahimsa is to remove all violence from our mind, body, and spirit. It is all about compassion, love, acceptance, kindness, and having an open heart. Pay attention to the subtleties of how you can make it manifest in daily life! Ahimsa serves our spiritual awakening because it also helps us to identify with what we are. It is a path towards unconditional love. To observe ahimsa is to extend to others the love we have within our hearts Ultimately, it comes from the love in your heart – the love that you ARE.
Thank you for tuning in to our saktiisha bimonthly articles of inspiration. May the power of loving awareness always be with you!