Before there were yoga asanas, before there were yoga mats, before there were even yoga teachers, there was ahimsa, the very first sutra in the original philosophy of yoga, and this is the core of anyone’s yoga practice, whether they realize it or not.
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence…not necessarily tree-hugging, anti-war, protest-joining, vegan, guilt-inducing non-violence, but rather a compassionate attempt to purposely do no violence to others, including yourself. You may not be running around flailing a sharp knife at your enemies, and that’s great, but ahimsa challenges us to consider the less obvious ways in which we may be unknowingly, subtly violent. Ahimsa simply encourages us to be more aware and more compassionate. Where does ahimsa start? At the core of all we know: with ourselves.
Practicing Ahimsa On the Mat
The practice of yoga on the mat is non-competitive because when we compare ourselves to others, we are doing subtle violence to our psyche. The practice of yoga on the mat is accepting because when we judge how we look, how we feel, or what our body is capable of, we are doing violence to our spirit. The practice of yoga on the mat is pain-free, because when we stretch beyond our body’s ability into a space that causes us pain, we are doing subtle violence to our body. Hatha yoga meets us exactly where we are in the moment, and ahimsa reminds us to graciously accept ourselves and our bodies as we are right now.
Practicing Ahimsa Off the Mat
Ahimsa, the first Yoga Sutra, encourages us to contemplate, without guilt or judgment, how our actions affect others and the world around us. From the products we buy to the way we treat strangers, to the food we choose to ingest, ahimsa encourages us to be mindful of what others feel and experience as a result of our actions. Note that “mindful” does not mean “guilty” (Guilt is just another form of violence we do to ourselves!). Ahimsa merely reminds us to be aware, to remember that our actions and choices affect others.
How I Choose to Practice Ahimsa
At a very young age, I felt a collective consciousness hard-wired into my DNA, yoking me on some fundamental level to my Indian heritage. Although my father gave up his vegetarianism at sixteen and I had been raised to eat meat, I had an epiphany at the age of seven when I realized that the meat I had been eating once had a soul, a will to be free, and a right to live, just as I had. I realized that it was with violence that these animals lived and through violence that they died. I could no longer eat chicken and say I loved animals. I could no longer eat pig meat and say I didn’t like violence. I could no longer eat cow meat and then hug my dogs, whose depth of love and compassion surpassed that of most humans I knew growing up. I am not perfect in my convictions or practices. Nor is my diet necessarily the right way for everyone. Nor do I feel I’m better than anyone else. But refraining from eating meat is one way of alleviating the suffering and violence in this world just a little, and it is what works for me.
Ahimsa and You
Is there a place in your life, whether it be in the way you speak to yourself or someone else, the way you treat the people you encounter on a daily basis, the way you view your reflection in the mirror, or the food you choose to eat, where you can more mindfully foster ahimsa?
By Anitra Lahiri
Anitra Lahiri is an avid Yogi, Yoga Instructor, mother, and writer who strives (and often fails!) to infuse all aspects of her life with Yoga philosophy and practice. Her Yoga blog, Under the Lotus Tree, is for anyone who simply wants to live a healthier, more meaningful life. Read more from Anitra at her blog - underthelotustree.com.
Start practicing ahimsa with the following classes from YogaDownload:
Bhakti Flow - Lauren Pech
Foundations of the Practice- Alanna Kaivalya