Make This A Daily Practice to Enhance Your Life
Chances are you’ve been in a class where the teacher is talking about Ahimsa. I don’t remember the first time I heard the term, but it’s been an increasingly relevant part of my yoga practice and for good reasons.
So, what exactly is Ahimsa?
How will it help advance my yoga practice?
And more importantly, how will it improve the quality of my life?
Ahimsa can be translated into non-violence, non-injury, or harmlessness. This is the first of the Yamas (restraints) shared by Patanjali. Patanjali is revered as an evolved, incarnate soul who came to earth to help humanity sometime between 500 and 200 B.C. . His legacy lives through the Yoga Sutras in written form and is often referenced by yoga teachers worldwide.
From Patanjali himself,
“When you are established in ahimsa (non-harming), others will stop harming you.”
What’s important is this essence of harmlessness is a quality of the mind, as much as it is bodily actions we take and gestures we give unto others. Ahimsa is synonymous with benevolence, meaning well unto others and beginning with oneself.
Here are three places to implement, inquire, and practice Ahimsa for the beginning or avid yoga practitioner (yes, you).
As you lightly read, consider this – how do you currently harm yourself or others? If you need to pause here to reflect, do so, and read on when you’re ready.
We’ll begin on common-ground, the very place where you likely first heard of this whole non-violent, compassion thing – on our yoga mats in classes, studios, or sanghas.
1. Your Yoga Practice
The principle of non-harming is essential as we step onto the yoga mat. Nowadays, this place is likely at our home studio and comes with its own set of challenges.
When it comes to asana, Ahimsa for one practitioner may look vastly different from another. That’s the thing — it will look different for each one of us. Still, when we take a microscope towards ourselves and investigate where and how we may be harming, there is a universal feeling of safety, compassion, and harmlessness. It can feel uncomfortable because let’s be honest, who wants to admit they’re harming themselves?
How do you feel when you choose which class to stream? Is the energy aggressive or even forceful? Are you respecting your body’s need to rest? Are you inviting yourself to expand authentically and exert effort to your fullest, or are you holding yourself back?
Consider this saying,
“The world is not dangerous because of those who do no harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything”Albert Einstein
Especially in times of a global pandemic crisis or economic uncertainty, we’ll continue to find refuge in our yoga practice. While Ahimsa is self-restraint, it should empower us to take the right action in the world.
Still, we begin on the mat – each class, each Surya Namaskar, or breath with the intention of being supremely kind to yourself and others.
2. Self-Image and Attitude of the Mind
Moving off the yoga mat and into the rest of our lives. How often do you hear a critical voice in your mind? Does it get louder when you see your reflection in the mirror or when scrolling the camera roll on your phone? In some circles, body-checking is a compulsively monitoring of one’s body or specific body parts, muscles, fatness, or bones.
Then we may have pesky little voices telling you your capabilities are not enough, that you are not good enough, that you are not a great, awesome person, literally tearing yourself up from the inside out.
Ouch. These inflictions can hurt a lot. Yet, these behaviors, self-images, or mental attitudes may feel normalized to you! Even being in a harmful environment, culture, or relationship may feel normalized.
The mind is pervasive and operates in the background as we float from task to task in our daily lives. The mind is powerful. When we feed ourselves the narrative that we are not sufficient as we naturally are, we harm ourselves. Now, the remedy and healing balm for mental attitude and self-image will look different for each one of us.
In part, this can be related to larger cultural phenomena or our upbringings, so looking at the types of inputs and conditioning being fed to your mind can significantly shift the ability to practice Ahimsa with more ease.
You may also recognize overt self-criticism towards people you love, and it’s a natural part of the mind to wander in such directions. However, with the dedication to our practice, we can always do better by ourselves and others.
Perhaps the best you can do is a pause, notice how you view yourself at the moment, take a deep breath, and re-center. Then, feed yourself a solid dose of self-love, encouragement, and grow from there.
3. The Kitchen
First, this isn’t going to be touching at all on the types of food that you eat or anything diet-related – there are other blog posts on the internet you can read for that one.
I want to talk about the mental-emotional-physical state you’re in during the act of eating and the underlying relationship to one of the other essential inputs for life force.
Can you accept each bite of food knowing that you will become one with that which you are consuming? Eating is yoga, integrating what we are eating, becoming part of our vessel for everything else in life.
Why are you eating? What is guiding you to eat the foods you are eating? What energy are you sharing with the food you’re preparing for your loved ones?
In a relationship with food, Ahimsa can practically be applied by taking the appropriate amount of time to nourish and sustain oneself and others in your day.
In Conclusion, Ahimsa is a daily practice. It can be a focus for a single yoga class or the rest of this year.
I promise that you’ll benefit you, your family, and the community when you increase your awareness of how you practice Ahimsa on and off the mat.
Ahimsa’s perfect attainment is rare to find, and it doesn’t mean that those of us who have self-harmed or brought harm to others are doomed or heading for hell – it means that there is a potential to transform, to evolve, to do less damage. It means that being flexible with ourselves in how we approach self-care may be a radical act of harmlessness in it of itself.
Are you doing the best you can?
What would change for you if you began to practice Ahimsa with a daily frequency?
How do you speak to yourself when there’s a glitch in the quality of self-care?
How do you course-correct and navigate your inner-world in these moments?
Lastly, it isn’t impractical to strive to improve progressively and evolved versions of ourselves through cultivating Ahimsa. It can be a humbling and noble effort.
By Ariana Brandao
September 8, 2020