I had to let go of my daily asana practice as I’m injured and need to rest, so I decided to focus more on the other limbs of yoga, mainly on the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the often seen as ‘moral codes’, or ways of ‘right living’. They form the foundation of our whole practice, and honouring these ethics as we progress along ‘the path’ means we’re always being mindful of each action, and therefore cultivating a more present and aware state of being.
Today I want to talk about one of the most important aspects of yoga – Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the first of 5 Yamas and means non-violence – in all aspects of life. When we act with Ahimsa in mind, this means not physically harming others, ourselves, or nature; not thinking negative thoughts about others or ourselves; and making sure that what we do and how we do it is done in harmony, rather than harm. Sutra 2:35 reveals:
‘In the presence of one firmly established in non violence, all hostilities cease’. This implies that those who do not cause harm emit ‘harmonious vibrations’
, encouraging others to live peacefully too.
How do I practice ahimsa in my life? In my asana practice I don’t push myself over the edge; of course I challenge myself in order to grow, leaning in to that sometimes scary edge, but I don’t push myself to the point of harm. I try to take care of my body by eating healthy food. The guidance of Ahimsa advises not harming another living thing, and therefore suggesting abstaining from eating animals. Even if we don’t kill an animal with our own hands, paying someone else to do it means supporting violence. Once we really trully live yoga, there is no way we could support the industry of killing and torturing of millions of animals per day, it becomes clear to us that this is wrong.
The hardest part of living Ahimsa is non-violence in thoughts. Not being physically violent is something we can achieve pretty easily, but we usualy struggle to control our thoughts. Our thoughts play such a big role in our overall wellbeing. You may be the healthiest person you know; eating well, exercising a lot, drinking your green smoothies, and taking supplements you need, doing everything ‘right’ – but if your thoughts are still harmful, you are being violent. Ahimsa means being mindful of our thoughts. When we think negatively, we send messages through our body that cause the fight or flight response, secreting cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) in to the body. This lowers the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and physical pain. It’s not just thoughts about ourselves we should be mindful of; jealousy, judgement, anger and resentment – while directed at someone else – just come back to bite us by making us feel bad too. On the other hand, ‘non-violent’, loving thoughts cause dopamine (the ‘feel good’, ‘relaxation’ chemical) to be released in to the body. This strengthens the immune system, and actually has the power to cure us from illness.
Be mindful of your actions and thoughts, take this week to practice ahimsa. Be kind to yourself and others, we are all connected.