Practicing Ahimsa On And Off The Mat

April Saunders
Practicing Ahimsa On And Off The Mat

I was at the yoga studio to take class and a student had a shopping bag from Lululemon that she was using to carry her stuff. On the side of the bag was the word "AHIMSA" with the pronunciation: (a•him•sa). I was reminded of my basic yoga training, and my first encounter with the word.

At first, its meaning seemed straightforward. But as my yoga studies deepened, so did my understanding. Ahimsa can be understood as it pertains to life practice, and even your personal asana practice.

Ahimsa In Everyday Life

Ahimsa, translated to "non-violence" is one of the Yamas or restraints that make up the most basic of all spiritual practices. These restraints are purifying, and eliminate all negative influences on others and the environment. In this case, non-violence means more than avoiding physical harm to others.

As yogis and yoginis, we have a special responsibility to uphold complete harmlessness in all our thoughts, words, and actions. Not only towards others, but towards ourselves.

We can be our own worst enemy. In a world where beauty is everything and we have the ability to connect to thousands of friends on Facebook with a simple click in the palm of our hand, refraining from negative thoughts can be challenging.

How many times today have you compared yourself to the skinny girl next to you in line? Or felt a slight pang of jealousy at the guy you haven't spoken to in at least 10 years, but just posted a selfie of his trip to a resort in the Riviera Maya? Believe it or not, these thoughts are harmful to you.

Ahimsa In Our Thoughts (And Food!)

You are in control of what you allow yourself to see, hear, and interact with. Everything we come into contact with becomes a source of influence. If we begin to monitor the stuff that comes in more closely, we will be able to have more control over the purity of our thoughts. Thoughts produce emotions, and emotions produce actions. Ultimately, actions produce character.

This concept can also be applied to the food we eat. What did you have for lunch today? Was non-violence practiced in preparation for the food you ate?

The yogis believe that the energy in your food is transferred to you in the same form. So if an animal was killed to provide meat for your sandwich, the fear and death from that animal is given to you when you take it into your body. There are many aspects of the yogic diet that reinforce this principle that we will not explore for the sake of this article. But know that ahimsa translates into our food choices, too.

Ahimsa In Your Postures and Present Moment

The next time you go to class, think about practicing non-violence in the present moment. Come to your mat and begin your yogic breathing. The fullness of your inhales and exhales will begin to focus your thoughts. Observe these thoughts.

Are they harmful in any way? Do you have ill will towards someone? Maybe towards yourself? Inhale good thoughts, and exhale to let go.

As you begin to move in your practice, think about ahimsa in terms of your postures. Notice if anything is not serving you today, and remove it from your flow. Also notice if you are fatigued. It's okay to rest. Come to Child's pose instead of forcing it.

Treating your body with the love and respect it deserves will translate to a genuine happy glow that will be noticed and reflected by everyone you come into contact with. And that is the true essence of ahimsa.