You may or may not have heard this term bandied around in the yoga community, but put quite simply, ahimsa (a-him-sa) means non-violence. Whilst we can pretty easily determine how to practice this in a literal way (don’t go around punching people no matter how much they annoy you!), it’s the deeper, more abstract practice of this concept that is really going to help you lead a more yogic and happier life.
Non-violence towards other living beings
This one can be a bit tricky, and definitely uses my brain power to decipher on a daily basis. Some yogis interpret this to mean that veganism is the only right path, however a bit of reading on the good old Internet can leave your head in a tizzy about what foods cause the least harm (just google the environmental and health implications of soy if you want to step into a minefield!).
Health and financial implications also play into this one, and coming from a place of non-judgment, I really don’t think there is one right way to do this. The first step towards this one is simply becoming aware; so get out there, read voraciously about the harmful things that are being done to animals and humans (think sweat-shops and child slaves), and then see if you can make small changes to minimise the damage your life on this planet is causing.
Non-violence towards your body
Not hurting yourself should be pretty simple right? No running with scissors, playing with fire or driving like a maniac should be pretty standard, but we all still manage to damage our bodies constantly.
In our asana (yoga posture) practice, as a yoga teacher, I see people ignoring ahimsa on a daily basis. We shove ourselves into poses and push ourselves too hard and then wonder why our back/shoulder/hamstrings are hurting despite all the yoga we’re doing. There’s a pretty fine line that we walk in yoga between (sometimes strong) discomfort and pain.
My favourite cues – if you are clenching your teeth, frowning or feel like saying the word ‘ow’, maybe it’s time to pull out just a little! There’s no magical prize for touching your toes, just work within your body and your capacity to increase your ability without harm.
Non-violence towards the planet
This is another dangerous minefield filled with more information than you can poke a stick at, but the simplest and most effective way to be kinder to the planet is so so mind-blowingly simple – just buy less crap!
Who has a cupboard filled with things they never use? A wardrobe filled with clothes they rarely wear? That infamous second drawer in the kitchen filled with all kinds of utensils you never use? If you don’t LOVE it, and you don’t NEED it (want is not enough), then don’t buy it! Simple.
Non-violence in your thoughts
Well, I saved the hardest ‘til very last, because this is the least tangible and possibly most important way to practice ahimsa. Learning how to not think mean thoughts towards others is one thing. It’s pretty darn hard, but achievable if you can try and remember that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, just wants to be happy.
Much harder than this is if you’re anything like me (and 99.99% of humans on the planet), in which case I can almost guarantee that your violent thoughts are more often than not directed towards yourself. The person in your life that you are the cruelest to, the hardest on, and the least compassionate towards is probably you.
We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t good looking enough and aren’t worthy enough, etc. So here’s what you can do: Start slowly. Start by telling yourself that you love yourself each morning – maybe into the mirror, maybe giving yourself a big hug at the same time. Write a list of your best qualities, your best features, and read over these daily.
Slowly (but surely) these positive thoughts will begin to become second nature, and it will be easier to dismiss your unkind thoughts. Learning how to be non-violent towards yourselves in your thoughts is a life long journey, but one which gives us the largest reward, if all – happiness.
Practicing ahimsa towards yourself requires work and time and a whole lot of patience, but I promise you that it’s the best change you will ever make in your life!