Ahimsa is the first of Patanjali’s Yamas, which are the yogi’s ethical and moral guidelines towards society. Directly translated Ahimsa means non-violence. Himsa means violence. A means non. However, you can expand the definition of Ahimsa to also include compassion, empathy, non-harm, peace, mercy, and love towards all beings. The practice of Ahimsa is called ‘Mahavrtam’ which can be translated to ‘the Great Vow’.
You could see Ahimsa not simply as non-violence but as the opposite of violence: Compassion, mercy, peace, love…
Many yoga practitioners believe by becoming vegetarians/vegans they are practicing Ahimsa. However, Ahimsa is much more than what you choose to eat. If you are vegetarian but you are constantly judging others, you have missed the mark. We are not practicing Ahimsa by judging, condemning, and holding anger towards others.
Violence takes many forms, and it is not only about not harming animals and the environment. Violence can also take the form of judgment, a lack of compassion towards ourselves and others, negative self-talk, negative thoughts, beating yourself up…
Violence can also show up on your yoga mat. If you are constantly thinking thoughts like: I’m too big to do this pose, why don’t I have a body like hers, I’m bad because I can’t get my leg behind my head… Then you are not practicing Ahimsa in your yoga practice. Practice with the body you have. The perfect body for yoga is the one you already have. Don’t starve yourself and don’t force your body into shapes and poses that clearly are an act of violence against your body. Listen to your body, and do your practice with love and kindness for yourself.
If you like to find out more, in all our 200-hour courses like the Yin & Yoga Foundations Teacher Training Course 200 Hours we look deeper into subjects like this.
When practicing Ahimsa try cultivating an attitude of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion for yourself and others. Make peace with yourself, your failures, your successes, and your body.
If eating a vegetarian or vegan diet feels right, do it. But do not force it upon others and do not judge others. That is not practicing Ahimsa. Many yogis do at some point in their practice start to feel overwhelming compassion for the animals and the earth. But your decision to switch to a vegetarian diet should come from a place of love, not anger. Ahimsa is not about creating dogma and then judging others when they fail to live up to the dogma you have created.
The truth is we all fail at Ahimsa. Every time we speak a harsh word, we feel jealous, we put gas in our tank, we take a flight, we buy vegetables wrapped in plastic, we think negatively about ourselves and others we are, in a way, not practicing ahimsa. But don’t beat yourself up for failing. Forgive yourself and others and move forward with a humble heart.
Live your life while maintaining Ahimsa in thoughts, speech, and actions both when interacting with others and when by yourself. Make peace with yourself and others.
Take a moment to reflect on the following question:
How will you practice Ahimsa today?