What is Ahimsa/ NonViolence?
Everything you need to know about the first Yama
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to non-harming, non-violence, or non-hurtfulness. The root of the word, 'himsa' meaning 'to cause pain' and 'a' means 'not'.
So ahimsa/ nonviolence, the first Yama, is one of five concepts that help us deepen our relationship with the external world, by reducing the harm that we cause intentionally or unintentionally to ourselves, others and the planet with our thoughts, words and actions.
In this blog, I will be sharing everything you need to know about the first Yama and how it can improve your life.
Yoga History: Yoga Sutras + 8 Limbs of Yoga
The true meaning of Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit.
According to practice, we often suffer because of not knowing our true Self and the illusion of separation of our individual consciousness from Universal Consciousness.
So taking a step back... where do the Yamas come from?
The five Yamas are the first Limb of Yoga, within the 8 Limbs of Yoga, which are 30+ concepts that come from the Yoga Sutras.
The Yoga Sutras act as a practical guide to assist you on your journey of remembering this union.
The Yoga Sutras were transcribed by a man (and most likely many of his students) named Patanjali, presumably from India, living somewhere between the 2nd and 4th century BC. Patanjali is also credited with developing Sanskrit grammar and basic text of Ayurveda.
The Yoga Sutras contain 196 verses, which discuss the aim of yoga, the development of the processes which involves the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ and finally, how you strive for freedom, liberation and self-realization which is the 8th Limb of Yoga also called Samadhi.
According to the Sutras, beginning the pursuit of self-realization is the most significant step in life – as they make us aware of our pitfalls and how to overcome them.
So why would we harm ourselves or anything else?
Yoga philosophy says this type of thinking, speaking and behavior is FEAR based and happens when we are embodying negative energy like greed, anger, insecurity, or judgment.
So when we observe these types of thoughts, words, feelings and actions we can acknowledge them and then let them go... allowing more love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness to be created.
“Already without your knowledge you are destroying many creatures. You walk and many ants are dying under your feet. You are not killing anyone. It is just happening. But an intention to destroy something, an intention to do violence can destroy your very basis, your very own root. Dropping this intention for violence is ahimsa.” - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Ahimsa asks us to actively engage in nonviolence and to use our time on this planet to help bring peace to ourselves, our communities and beyond.
Examples of practicing Ahimsa ON & OFF your mat include:
OFF The Mat:
- Vegan diet
- Cultivate positive and loving thoughts
- Practice daily physical, mental and emotional self-care
- Be a calm driver
- Live more sustainably
- Let go more
- Resolve conflicts peacefully
- Volunteer & get involved in your community and meet others doing the same!
ON The Mat:
- Do you do your sadhana (asana practice) in a disciplined manner or as per your mood?
- Do you harm yourself in any way by either being too pushy or being too lazy?
- Do you deny your body rest when needed?
- Do you pay attention to your breath?
- Do you glance at the other students in the yoga studio and compare yourself to them?
- Do you base your self worth on whether you can do a certain pose or not?
- Do you think how ugly your toes look when you are doing a forward bend or roll your eyes in sarcasm at your love handles in a side bend?
- Do you get mad at yourselves for your chattering mind in savasana or in meditation?
Who besides Patanjali has talked about Ahimsa?
This essence of nonviolence is not new and was not only talked about by the yogis. It has also been demonstrated by many philosophers, political activists, scholars, scientists and religious leaders throughout time, including Lord Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., The Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela have all spoke on this topic at length.
Benefits of practicing Ahimsa:
Ahimsa involves embodying more courage on a physical, mental and emotional level. Continually coming back to this idea of not causing harm or violence ourselves or anything else takes skill that can be developed over time with practice.
The yogis say when this skill is mastered you attain siddhi (power) of peacefulness, and whoever is in your presence will feel peaceful too... how powerful is that?!
Additional benefits include:
- Exudes vibrations of love and peace
- Increases willpower and acceptance
- Generates mental fortitude
- Cultivates courage and confidence
- Helps to overcome anger, fears and insecurities
- Expands our sense of belonging
- Improves our relationships with the self and with others
- Increases assertiveness, patience and communication
- Reduces stress and helps to achieve peace of mind
Would you like to learn more about how you can start embodying this amazing concept to enhance your life and the lives around you?
Check out my online course, 'The Yamas' where you will learn about how ALL 5 yoga concepts can help you deepen your relationship with others and external world.