For those who might not be familiar with the term Ahimsa, allow me to explain a little bit. Ahimsa is the first of Patanjali’s Yamas in the 8 limbs. The Yamas can be seen as the yogi’s ethical and moral guidelines towards society. Directly translated Ahimsa means non-violence.
However, in my opinion, we can expand the definition of Ahimsa to also include compassion, empathy, peace, non-harm, mercy and ultimately love towards all beings, both humans and non-humans and the whole planet. The Dalai Lama has called Ahimsa loving-kindness, which is also a beautiful way of seeing the first of the yamas.
Ahimsa is one of the main reasons that so many yogis are vegetarian and vegan, and many yogis actually only see it as being vegetarian or vegan. However, it is about so much more than simply what you put on your plate. Yes, that is also a part of it, but it’s much, much more. Ahimsa is also about how you treat yourself, others and ultimately our beautiful planet. Remember that violence can take many forms: Negative self-talk, a lack of compassion towards ourselves and others, judgment, beating yourself up…
But let’s take an even deeper look into this yama and how I see it. Just to preface, this is how I understand this yama and how I’ve been taught it. You don’t necessarily need to agree with everything I say. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
So, now let’s unpack this yama a bit more. As human beings we must start from a place where we can agree not to kill each other. I see you, I don’t kill you. If we kill each other, it’s all over. This is really the very basic of Ahimsa. That we can basically agree to not kill each other. But naturally it’s also more than that.
You can also see Ahimsa as a sort of vow that says I will by my actions live in a way that will not be harmful to any living being and the environment. What does this mean? It means that I won’t be driving my big diesel car. Instead I’m driving my electrical car. Or even better I’ll bike or walk. I will recycle. I will not use plastic bottles. I will not eat animals because there is no reason to kill anyone just because you’re hungry.
But we can take it even further than this. Ahimsa also has to be practiced through actions, words and thoughts. Both towards ourselves and others. If we all practice and live this yama it will bring happiness to all.
Now, there are exceptions where you are allowed to cause harm. If for instance I’m a doctor and I need to perform surgery on you in order to save your life it’s okay that I cut you open and therefore harm you because the intention is healing and health. As a yoga teacher this means I’m allowed to push you a little bit even though it might not feel awesome in that moment, but ultimately it will lead to a more joyous, free life with more flexibility.
Ahimsa can naturally also be practiced in your yoga practice. If you keep pushing yourself over the edge and injuring yourself, you are not practicing Ahimsa in your yoga practice. Yes, put in the work on your mat and do your practice but don’t harm yourself.
Failing at Ahimsa
Naturally, we all fail at Ahimsa every single day. I don’t think I have ever gone through a day and not failed at this yama. Every time I hop on a flight, I buy a new dress (even if it’s sustainable), I tell myself I’m not good enough, or I get my coffee to-go in a non-reusable cup I’m failing at Ahimsa. I think it’s better to simply accept that we will all fail at Ahimsa so we don’t beat ourselves up about it. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice non-violence. You absolutely should. But just accept that you will fail.
So, are you starting to see how Ahimsa really can be practiced in every moment of every day? Ultimately, I believe it is all about compassion, love and kindness both towards yourself, all other beings and the planet.
I hope this post has given you an idea of what this beautiful yama is all about.
If you’d like to work together one-on-one feel free to contact me. I’d love to work together!