Yoga Yamas: Ahimsa, or Non-Violence

Did you know that yoga is much more than a physical practice? The asana, or postures, we practice in a typical yoga class is the third of a total of eight limbs of yoga.

The first two limbs of yoga are yama and niyama, or ten moral and ethical disciplines and observances.

It’s of great benefit to simply consider each of these tenants in turn, to see how the concept fits into your life.

There is much that can be achieved through the practice of yoga, but without the yamas and niyamas, our successes may not be directed towards the highest good of our world and ourselves.

The following blog posts will outline each yama and niyama in the order they are presented in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the primary source documents of yoga written over 1,600 years ago. Prior to that, the Yoga Sutras were handed down from teacher to student through oral tradition, so are likely much older still.

Without further ado, our first yama: ahimsa.

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Consideration for all living things.

 

Non-harming. Don’t hurt yourself or others. Don’t be violent with any objects. ⁠

 

Consider the nuance of ahimsa. Are there little, seemingly insignificant ways we humans casually do harm?⁠

Me, I’ll eat an entire family size bag of chips if it’s in my hands. When I’m nervous I’ll chew my cuticles. If I stub my toe on a door I might slam the door just to show it who’s boss.⁠

If I think of where aggression shows up in my life, I have a hint at where ahimsa could play a role. ⁠

Ways we can live the spirit of ahimsa

-Identify those thoughts in your head that cause pain. Could be negative self-talk like “I’m lazy” or spiteful fantasies about how to get back at that idiot driver in traffic. The first step is just noticing when you tend towards the harmful or violent. The next step is to re-write the story, even if it feels fake. In these examples, instead of “I’m lazy,” try “I’m courageous and am facing the fear that keeps me from my tasks.” Instead of speeding up to not let the driver over, do what you can to help them get through safely.

-If you can, take a day off work when you feel worn down and sick. Avoid further stress to your immune system, and avoid harming others by bringing a cold to your workspace.

-Listen and respond to your body when you exercise. In yoga, take a variation like putting the knees down during chaturanga or finding a comfortable shape when the body is begging for rest. Don’t push beyond your limits, respect where you are.

-Recognize the ways in which our habits may be self-harming, like chewing nails or picking skin, drinking too much and having a hangover, eating cheese when you know it makes your stomach hurt…

-Aim towards being sensitive, considerate, and gentle towards all things. This could mean giving another person the benefit of the doubt, breaking bad news in a thoughtful way, using positive reinforcement with your pets, or even cleaning your home with a bit more mindfulness and care.

Sutra 2.35

For more on ahimsa and the other yamas click here

For the niyamas click here