For most people, yoga starts with asana (physical practice; the third limb of yoga). When you begin studying yoga philosophy, a whole world opens – even if you’re just touching on the surface. Ahimsa, meaning non-violence, is the first of the five “characteristics” in the yama limb of Ashtanga Yoga. As with every aspect of the eight limbs, its meaning and application is down to the individual and is very open to interpretation.
The more I read on yoga philosophy, and the deeper I get into my practice, the more love I have for the world and all its inhabitants. Although I do eat meat and in fact was paleo for the best part of a year, I am growing more and more uncomfortable eating animal products. I’m not going to paint a pretty picture of fluffy bunny rabbits – the fact of the matter is that animal slavery is cruel, the conditions are horrific and it is, frankly, unsustainable! Once I realised all this there was no going back. I eat meat yes, but I no longer enjoy it and the thought of it makes me nauseous. I like animals way more than people … and I don’t eat people.
Wow, rant alert!
My point (somewhere) was that ahimsa can be interpreted to mean not causing harm to any living thing. Not humans, not livestock, and not fluffy bunny rabbits either! By avoiding violence and aggressive situations, you avoid taking part in harmful activities – towards yourself or others.
Although ahimsa traditionally meant “do not harm or kill people”, it can be taken to mean a lot more than that. How often do you judge others, or even criticise yourself? For me, hands on heart, it is a lot! This is definitely something I am working on – to stop seeing the people around me in a negative light, and most definitely to be kinder to myself. Ahimsa can therefore be taken to mean looking at others and not bringing them down. Or it can mean stopping being your harshest critic and starting to accept yourself.
In the yoga studio, you can often see examples of ahimsa in people forcing themselves into poses they are not comfortable with; pushing themselves when they really just need to surrender. Everybody with a regular practice will be able to tell you that on some days, particular asanas come a lot easier than others. But on the days when you struggle, be kind to yourself; don’t force the situation or the pose. Instead, become mindful of your body and aware of how you are feeling. After all, violence and awareness cannot coexist – just make space in your life for peace and allow the conflicts to resolve themselves.
I know I have an incredibly good talent for constantly comparing myself to others and always coming last. Even in my physical practice, which I am not supposed to be attached to, I still find myself feeling inferior when I lose my balance or when people who started after me are now several asanas ahead of me! I need to strive towards kindness and compassion, to myself and to the world at whole. I want to focus on world happiness and peace (and not in a Miss World way!), and not on subconscious superiority complexes.
(On a side note, I am also trying to have a more plant-based diet. My breakfast, lunches and snacks are all vegan, and I am trying to only have meat 4-5 times a week for my evening meal. While I don’t believe in restrictive diets, I really don’t feel comfortable eating such a lot of meat. I want to begin to phase animal products out, but slowly so I can be mindful on how I’m feeling and reacting to this change.)
What is your interpretation of ahimsa and how do you implement it in your life?