Ahimsa, the First Yama

It has been nearly two years since I’ve posted on this blog. In an effort to once again expand my practice, and thus share ideas here, I decided to begin by reviewing the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. And since I’m starting here, it makes sense that I begin with the first one, ahimsa.

The literal English translation is “non-violence” or “non-harming”. This Yama must be looked at first as it’s a foundation for the remaining limbs. There are many layers of ahimsa. Violence against other people, animals, and towards ourselves, whether in act, word, or thought. More than just an absence of violence, when one practices ahimsa, then one practices love. When violence is removed, what remains is love. If one can see others and themselves through the eyes of love, can tolerate others who might be struggling, when we accept others as they are and ourselves as we are, treat others and ourselves with kindness and consideration, and release judgement, then we’re practicing ahimsa.

I think it’s important to remember that this is a practice. Some of us, some of the time, can be loving and kind and tolerant, and at other times, we struggle with it. If reacting violently in thought or deed is what one does automatically, then it’s a habit. Habits can be changed, but it takes a great amount of vigilance, and time. Slowly, one can develop tolerance for traffic, the line at the bank, the person in the express lane at the grocery store who has more than 15 items. Instead of the reaction that is habitual, and pulls us away from the quiet center, we begin to “see” these people and situations differently. Maybe we wait an extra minute before moving to another line at the store, or we move without loudly commenting about our displeasure for all to hear. Perhaps we remind ourselves that we’re sitting in a comfortable seat with our favorite music playing, so being in traffic is just that. Nothing we do or say or think will make the traffic move any quicker, and we can choose to arrive at our destination relaxed or frustrated.

When we begin to pay attention to our thoughts and deeds and attitudes, we begin to notice when the annoyances and anger come into play. It isn’t a matter of pushing away the annoyance or angst, but choosing to “see” the person or situation differently. Practicing ahimsa give us the opportunity to uncover what is already there, but buried under habitual reactions and an ignoring of our thoughts and how they make us feel.

Can you think of at least one way that you can practice ahimsa? Leave your thought in the comments below. While attending teacher training, I wrote several  poems to express the connections I made. One of the poems, “Ahimsa”, is in my yoga poem project, Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I. You can read a few of the poems from the project at my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com