Welcome to an exploration of the Yama's and Niyama's! First, what are the Yama's and Niyama's? The Yamas and Niyamas are yoga's ethical guidelines and are foundational to all yogic philosophy and thought. They comprise the first two limbs of Patangali's eight-fold path.
Before you begin to read, stop for a moment and think "what does Non-Violence mean to you?" Take a breath and close your eyes, what comes into your mind? There is no wrong answer. Think of something, now try to think outside the box. What else comes to mind? Post your thoughts in the comments!
The word Ahimsa comes from the Sanskrit word “hims” which means “to strike”, “himsa” means “injury” or “harm”. The word ahimsa means “not to injure”, “compassion”, “cause no injury” and “do no harm”. Ahimsa is also referred to as “non-violence”. This applies to all living creatures, including animals.
Ahimsa is an ethical precept in ancient Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In Hindu teachings the term appears as early as the Chandoya Upanishad. The Jain Religion constitutes Ahimsa as the first vow. It is a cardinal virtue in Buddhism. In yoga, it is the first ethical principle discussed in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patangali.
An important thing to note, however, is that Ahimsa is a multi-dimensional concept. It is not only, non-violence with action. It is harmful thoughts and words, not only to others, but to yourself. But even so it is more than that, BKS Iyengar describes ahimsa as having “a wider positive meaning – love.” That means ahimsa is really about kindness and love to all beings, including ourselves. Non-violence is defined by honest compassion and loving deeply, yourself and others.
Let’s talk about Ahimsa in regards to the physical. It is easy to think about not hitting someone. But let’s delve deeper. In your personal yoga practice could be not pushing yourself far into a pose and injuring yourself physically. It could be not littering and destroying the environment. It could be not over eating, or not smoking or not drinking to excess.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” - Lao Tzu
Ahimsa means being mindful of our words and thoughts. Things like lying, jealousy, speaking poorly others, gossiping, self-deprecating thoughts, harsh speech, unkind words, judgement, anger and resentment are all things we should be mindful of because these things make us feel bad. Even expecting too much from ourselves and taking on all the responsibility is a type of self-harm.
We can condition ourselves to replace these bad thoughts and words with good, loving words and thoughts. This actually causes dopamine to be released into the body and will literally make us happier and feel better. Violence can also be passive like failure to relieve another’s pain or approve of another person’s harmful action is an indirect form of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the total and complete abstinence of violence from your body, mind and spirit. So how do we manifest this in daily life?
One of the most famous displays of “ahimsa” was how Gandhi used it as a political strategy. Gandhi not only adopted the idea of non-violence, he assimilated it into his very way of life. He saw that violence could be passive and physical. Gandhi objected to violence because he saw that it begat hatred.
What ways can you incorporate Ahimsa into your daily life, words and actions?