This post was inspired by my dear yogi friend, Margo Pena, who has her own blog (youryogapnw.com/) that you should check out. She’s talking about Ahimsa this month and I’m just piling on 🙂
Have you ever heard the word Ahimsa?
It’s often the only of the yamas and niyamas that most yoga teachers know enough to mention in class. Did I just say that out loud? Sorry, not sorry. It’s true. We westerners have taken a broad practice and honed in on just one element of it: making shapes with asana (yoga poses). I get a little bug up my ass about it. Don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE the athletic nature of vinyasa yoga, but I’m a student of all 8 of the limbs. Over the next couple of months, I’m going to take some time and talk about these less practiced branches of yoga.
So let’s back it up. First things first: There are Eight Limbs of Yoga
Ahimsa is the first of Yamas, which is the first of the Eight Limbs. This is important and by design in the sutras. Essentially, Ahimsa is the most important element of the most important limb. In order to proceed with Ahimsa then we must first discuss what the Yamas are. The Yamas are the way yogis regulate their behavior. It is the discipline of restraint in all things. You can think of them as a code of ethics, or even as yoga’s version of the ten commandments (oops, is my Catholic showing?)
Specifically, they are broken down into five elements:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness
This post is about the first, Ahimsa.
This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Do no harm. When I came to yoga twenty years ago, I dove in head first. I became a vegetarian (and then a vegan) and sought to live a kind, empathetic life — that wasn’t much of a stretch for me. I’ve always been a bleeding heart. However, until that point in my life, I hadn’t treated myself with the same kindness I treated everyone else. I was very good at negative self-talk. I was a downright expert at self-sabotage. And I was a world-class champion at destroying my body. Correcting these behaviors were a lot harder than just giving up meat. That was the easy part. By the way, I’m no longer a vegetarian and that has been a challenge for me to accept. However, part of my journey of showing myself kindness was forgiving myself for my body’s nutritional needs.
I don’t want to get too preachy – that’s not the point of any of these posts. I’m merely journaling and sharing my personal experiences. I definitely don’t want to get political, so you’ll never see anything like that here. But, I can’t help but think that this principle – Ahimsa – is what is sorely missing our combative culture. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. If we all took the time to approach all of our interactions with the intention and commitment of Ahimsa, the world would be a much kinder place.