Ahimsa: The Art of Non-Harming
by: Artemisia Shine ♥ October 6, 2011
“Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible.”
The Yamas and the Niyamas comprise two of the eight limbs of Classical Yoga as first written around 200CE by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Yama is the Sanskrit word for “abstinence” and the five Yamas are a set of external disciplines we can apply in our lives to help align more harmoniously with the Universe. Niyama translates as “observance” and the five Niyamas are a set of internal observances that help us align more fully with our highest Self.
The first Yama is Ahimsa. Himsa translates as “harm” or “to cause pain.” The “a” set before “himsa” changes the word to mean not-to cause harm or pain. Ahimsa is the practice of non-harming – with our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes and beliefs. Are there relationships in your life that may need further practice of ahimsa? Do the choices you make come from a place of not causing harm? Are your thoughts about yourself injurious? Do you walk lightly on the earth?
The beautiful thing about the practice of yoga is that it is a practice. We all make mistakes and act in ways that fall outside of our ideals. Perfection is not required. At any moment we can initiate practice and apply the principle of ahimsa in our lives. We can deepen our yoga practice with each breath, continuously over time.
Ahimsa begins inside. What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? When we look around the class and compare ourselves to others, thinking things like “I should be more flexible! Why can’t my down-dog look like her down dog?!” we are really practicing self-rejection rather than yoga. When you’re on the mat, internalize ahimsa and honor and appreciate yourself just for showing up! As we nurture a love relationship with ourselves we can more easily shine love on those around us. As we exercise this yama with our partners, children, and roommates, we reduce violence in our communities. Ahimsa goes beyond simply being kind to our neighbors and includes not causing pain in the natural world and avoiding harm to the planet.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Ahimsa is an attribute of the brave. Cowardice and ahimsa don’t go together any more than water and fire. “ For this month, lets courageously set an intention to live in ahimsa and more purposefully cultivate compassion in our lives. When you encounter violent thoughts about yourself or others, take a deep breath and say “Ahimsa” silently (or aloud) and allow this principle to subtly reset your brain. Choose a relationship where unresolved injury has occurred and lovingly address your part. Apply ahimsa daily with what you choose to consume and how you treat the natural and material world. The seeds of himsa can sprout and establish roots in our hearts, choking out light in our inner landscape and lessening peace in our relationships. Collectively, let’s be an agent for health and healing. Let’s cultivate wildflowers of ahimsa, tending amity with all life and the universe at large.
– Artemisia Shine