Practicing Ahimsa - More Than Just Not Killing People

Kat Selvocki
Practicing Ahimsa - More Than Just Not Killing People

I'm one of those people who can be ambitious to a fault. If you believe in astrology, this will come as no surprise: I'm a Leo. And if you know anything about ayurveda, this is also entirely to be expected. When it comes to the ayurvedic doshas, or constitutions, most people have a primary one and a secondary one. I, however, am all one, and that one is pitta. Pitta, like Leo, is about fire, drive, and passion. I've got those oozing out of my pores.

Naturally, this has led to some wonderful opportunities in my life; most recently, I moved halfway around the world to teach yoga in Sydney. I arrived here alone, effectively knowing only one or two people, to start my new career. People told me that it wasn't possible to make a living teaching yoga in your first two years, and yet, here I am: a full-time yoga teacher in a city on the other side the world from my home. I should feel awesome, right?

And yet, there is a flip-side to all that ambition: I fall too easily into a pattern of self-criticism. Where my friends see success, I see the parts where I could have worked harder, could have done things better. As hard as I am able to push myself, I criticize myself to a similar degree.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the yamas and niyamas, some of the basic tenets of yogic philosophy. I mentioned that the yamas were something that I work with regularly, so I felt like I had a solid grasp on them and how they relate to my life.

Oh, how sometimes we need a wake-up call.

Practicing Ahimsa: it's about more than just not killing people!

I've been teaching about the practice of ahimsa in my classes lately, as I feel like it's something that we take for granted. Ahimsa translates to either non-violence or non-harming, so it's easy to think, "Well, I'm not killing or physically harming anyone, so I've got this one down." In its most basic form, ahimsa is the philosophical concept that leads many yogis to vegetarianism, as they extend the idea of non-harming to animals as well.

When I talk to my students about practicing ahimsa, though, I take it a step further, to the concept of compassion. Physical violence isn't the only way to harm people; sometimes words or thoughts can dig even deeper. As I guided one of my classes through the concept of compassion and how it might manifest in their practices, it hit me that I'm not practicing what I teach - at least not outside of the classroom. On the mat, I challenge myself, but I don't push to the point of injury; I've done enough damage to my body over the years to know the difference between good and bad pain. But what about how I talk to myself?

Practicing What I Teach

I started examining the way I've reacted to my shortcomings, and I realized something crucial: in any given situation, I would never speak to a friend the way I do to myself. Each time I criticize the way I handle a situation, I'm not living ahimsa. Each time I think of myself in a hurtful way, I'm not acting with compassion--and compassion needs to start with me.

Patterns don't change overnight, so I'm starting with noticing, observing the thoughts the way I do my breath as I move through my practice. Rather than "treat others the way you would like to be treated", I'm learning how to offer myself the same kindness that I show others.

How can you incorporate the practice of ahimsa - compassion - into your own life?