The Yamas: Ahimsa

By Sydney Humphrey

Oftentimes when people think of the term “yoga” some version of an image of someone doing an exceptionally bendy pose comes to mind (likely on a beach or some Pinterest-worthy studio filled with sunlight, fresh flowers, and white gauze drifting in the nonexistent wind). And, yes, there are plenty of exceptionally beautiful yoga poses, along with plenty of other exceptionally less-beautiful, but just as beneficial yoga poses out there.

However, the actual physical “yoga poses” or asanas make up just one small part of Yoga.

Yoga is made up of 8 limbs of which, asana is a single one. And over the next few months, as we lead Yoga Teacher Training at the studio, we will be exploring each of these 8 limbs, beginning with the first one: yama.

The yamas are the first part of the yogic principles or ethical guidelines to live by (completed by the second limb of yoga, the niyamas) and focus on that which we must refrain from as a practicing yogi and aspiring all-around lovely human. There are 5 yamas, and with time we will delve into all of them, starting with Ahimsa.

Ahimsa translated from Sanskrit to English Ahimsa means “non-violence” or “non-harming”. This is the principle of refraining from causing harm to any living being, whether through physical, mental, emotional, or other means. Ahimsa or “non-harming” asks us to embody living with empathy and compassion for ourselves and all others.

How you may see this on your mat:

Sometimes it feels safest to explore a yogic concept that is a little new on our mat.  It’s a safe place.  It’s just for you.   So, practicing ahimsa on your mat can look a lot of different ways. 

You practice ahimsa by speaking kindly to yourself, noticing if you are starting to compare yourself to others or assessing “how good you are at a pose”, and working to release that judgment.

 You practice ahimsa by respecting your physical boundaries– the actual “non-harming” of your joints, and muscles, and the whole physical YOU.  

You practice ahimsa by avoiding judgment or other harmful thoughts towards those practicing with you.

You practice ahimsa by paying attention to your thoughts, the physical sensations you feel, and your overall experience.  This mindfulness is the first step to help you to notice where you could incorporate ahimsa more thoroughly into your practice.

It’s all part of the practice. 

Be kind to yourself.  Cultivate an attitude of non-harming with yourself and allow that to spread to those around you and your daily interactions.

How you may see this off your mat:

Similar to practicing ahimsa on your mat, practicing ahimsa off your mat will look very different depending on the day and the situation.  If you slow down, you’ll likely notice plenty of opportunities to embody ahimsa throughout your day-to-day life.

You practice ahimsa by being unabashedly kind and compassionate to yourself.  You are an absolute pleasure and delight to have in this world; remember that when you’re talking to yourself.

You practice ahimsa by evaluating your habits. Reflect on habits that may cause harm to yourself or others working to step away from these patterns.

You practice ahimsa by being open to learning.  “When I know better, I do better” is a beautiful affirmation and intention to incorporate into your life.  It can be daunting to feel like you aren’t sure when you may be doing something or participating in a behavior that is inadvertently hurting yourself or others.  Constantly worrying about the unknown and the “what ifs” can feel paralyzing.  But, you can actively practice “non-harming” by remaining open to learning from those around you and then putting what you learn into practice. Remember though: having good intentions isn’t good enough, we must also be aware of our impact and learning from that.  

You practice ahimsa by volunteering and being active in causes that you care about to better your community and this world as a whole.

You practice ahimsa through self-care.  Sometimes that self-care may look like allowing yourself time to rest.  Sometimes that self-care may look like inviting more opportunities for fun into your life.  Sometimes that self-care may look like holding yourself accountable and stepping up to challenges to grow. 

This too, is all part of the practice.  

Be kind and gracious to yourself and others; we’re all growing.

Affirmations connected to Ahimsa:

Affirmations are a beautiful tool to help us speak kindly to ourselves, change thought patterns that we may struggle with, or cultivate a more positive mindset.

Here are a few affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout your practice on your mat (or as you pump yourself up driving to work!):

  • I am kind to myself and others
  • I respect my boundaries and other’s boundaries
  • I do my part to make the world a better place
  • I choose my actions and reactions
  • I am compassionate

Food for thought:

If you are looking to delve a little more deeply into practicing ahimsa in your own life or exploring what ahimsa means to you, try out some of these quick journaling prompts.

Maybe you write it out in your favorite cozy corner with a warm mug of tea, or you can talk it out to yourself as you walk around your neighborhood park, or sing it out as you drive to pick up your groceries with the windows down and the sun streaming on your face… whatever works for you! Just take some time to reflect.

  • What are 10 things you love about yourself?
  • What boundaries do you want to put in place to practice non-harming with yourself?
  • What judgements, biases, or other harmful beliefs or actions towards others can you work to release?
  • Are there areas in your life where you feel you practice ahimsa already?What are those areas? Which areas of your life would you like to invite a more intentional focus on ahimsa?

Resources to look into further:

If you are interested in delving into this topic a little deeper, you can check out these resources:

AND we would love to see you in class on Saturday, October 14th at 9 am!  Sydney will be leading a Mindful Vinyasa flow focused on Ahimsa.

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