YOGA 101: Lights on AHIMSA

I have decided to start off a new category of posts. I would like to call it “Yoga 101” and write about different yogic terms and ideas, since the physical aspect of yoga (asana) is just one of eight branches of that tree. 🙂

In the beginning it can be quite overwhelming to get deeper into the terminology and it seems even more difficult to implement these concepts into our western lives. That’s why I will try to serve it all bit by bit – just stay open, take what serves you and let go what does not… 🙂

Yamas – AHIMSA

There are eight different paths in yoga which can help the yogi on his pursuit to inner bliss and wisdom. One of it is called “Yama” and it means something like “guidelines to the correct behaviour with others”. Let’s say these are rules for the outside world. Today we want to have a closer look at the first one: Ahimsa.

When you look up the term “ahimsa” (orig. अहिंसा, ahiṃsā) you will definitely stumble upon the translation of “non-violence”. It is one of the most important principles in all great religions, social structures and philosophical schools, but apart from that also something we teach our young ones from the  very beginning: “don’t harm another being and don’t inflict pain to others.”

The traditional interpretation of Ahimsa can be found of course in pacifism as well as vegetarianism (or even veganism): It’s the disapproval of violence (in words and actions) and of killing other beings for food, respectively. Something which generally is found in a yogic way of living (don’t get me wrong! It’s not meant that you have to be vegetarian or vegan in order to live a yogic life! It’s just traditionally practiced like that in India). In my eyes this is something important but also superficial – or let’s say just “the first of layers of understanding”:

The famous yoga teacher Simon Borg-Olivier said something very interesting about ahimsa in his video “The most important Yoga” (I really recommend watching it – not only because of his stunning postures! 🙂 ) . He is not referring to ahimsa as “non-violence” but instead as “being gentle”. Somehow, this sounds more nice, doesn’t it? It still implies the aspects of inflicting no harm to others but it is adding even more meaning to ahimsa. Apart from avoiding to insult someone, for example, it encourages the ability to say something nice, to smile, to be gentle. It means to be gentle to your environment, to nature, to think ahead how you can foster even more loving kindness and share it with all beings around you. Ahimsa becomes then a distinct approach to life.

These two interpretations I have shared with you are more focused on the external world. I think that there is even a third layer. In my understanding ahimsa – the act of being gentle – should first of all start within ourselves! What does that mean? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time, when I was mean to MYSELF?
  • Do I have to think so negatively about ME?
  • How am I harming myself and why?

I can only speak for myself, but I tend to be very self-critical about my skills or work. Often I catch myself thinking that “I am not good enough” or “It could have gone better”. The list is nearly endless. And it is not only thoughts which can be harming. Just think of all these bad habits outside there: bad food choices (and we KNOW that this x…th slice of cake is not good for us, don’t we?…), sleep depravation, overworking, suppression of emotions, smoking and drinking excessively, etc., I guess you got it.

For me, ahimsa starts with learning to be gentle with myself. It means to understand, how I am sabotaging myself on my way to be happy, to filter out our self-made banana skins on our route and to comprehend why am I even doing that. And even more, being gentle while doing this self analysis. It is completely normal to have these obstacles in our minds and the good thing is that – since they are self-made – we can also remove them easily again 🙂 (quite comforting, isn’t it).

The moment we learn to be gentle to ourselves, it will be easy to project this loving kindness to the outside world.

Ahimsa – on the inside and outside.

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