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Ahimsa by Gillian Taylor


Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence or compassion to all living things. Ahimsa is the first of the five Yamas which are the ethical and moral guidelines in yoga.

“Ahimsa, rightly understood, is the ultimate weapon; it turns one’s enemy into a friend, thereby banishing the possibility of further conflict. In the practice of yoga, it is important to understand that the same life flows in the veins of all creatures.” – Swami Kriyananda

When we understand Ahimsa, we understand that it is about the subtle practices and not just the larger scope of things such as physical violence. Hurting people with words, talking about them behind their back, lying to them and slandering them are all manifestations of violence.

We can also show acts of violence towards ourselves with our self talk, negative and limiting beliefs etc. Perhaps the best place to start the practice of Ahimsa is with ourselves. Oftentimes those that hurt others the most do so because they are deeply unhappy with themselves. We can incorporate Ahimsa into our daily lives. One of the best places to start is our minds and the thoughts we think. A meditation practice teaches us to observe our thoughts and let the pass through without attaching to them. We are not our thoughts. Practice thinking good thoughts about yourself or others. It takes time and work but it is a practice like everything else. The Metta or Loving Kindness meditation is a great place to start. We have used this in class so you may be familiar with it. This particular one is from “Mindful,” practice after doing some deep breathing exercises.

Bring to mind someone for whom you have deep feelings of love. Seeing or sensing this person and noticing your feelings for them arise in your body. It may be simply a smile that spreads across your face, or your chest becomes warm. Whatever the effects, allow them to be felt.

Now letting go of this person in your imagination, and keeping in awareness the feelings that have arisen.

Bring yourself to mind now. And seeing if you can offer lovingkindness to yourself, by letting these words become your words…

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I ride the waves of my life

May I live in peace

No matter what I am given

And noticing the feelings that arise and letting them be, as you look within yourself with mindfulness and equanimity.

When you are comfortable, try offering lovingkindess to someone who supports you, who has always "been on your side." Bringing this person to mind, imagining them perhaps across from you, and letting these words become your words…

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you ride the waves of your life

May you live in peace

No matter what you are given

Once your feelings flow easily to a loved one, turn your attention now to someone with whom you have difficulty - it’s best not to start with the most difficult person, but perhaps someone who brings up feelings or irritation or annoyance. And seeing if you can let these words become your words as you keep this person in awareness…

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you ride the waves of your life

May you live in peace

No matter what you are given

Notice the sensations and feelings that arise within you. And seeing if you can just allow them and let them be.

And now bringing to mind the broader community of which you are a part. You might imagine your family, your workmates, your neighbors, or fan out your attention until you include all persons and creatures on the planet. And including yourself in this offering of lovingkindness, as you let these words become your words…

May we be happy

May we be healthy

May we ride the waves of our lives

May we live in peace

No matter what we are given

Notice the sensations and feelings that arise within you. Sitting with them for a few moments until you are ready to end the practice.

Finally, Ahimsa can be practiced in all areas of our lives, even on our yoga mats. How we move, not forcing ourselves into postures and practicing with sensitivity and mindfulness are ways of practicing Ahimsa in asana.

When we treat ourselves with kindness, compassion and live our lives from a place of balanced love, we naturally want to extend this to all who we come in contact with.

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