Ahimsa is the first Yama, one of the five Yamas within the eight limbs of yoga which are the ethical, moral and societal guidelines for anyone and everyone. Whether you practice yoga or not these limbs can be wonderful guidelines that can influence how we live our lives.
Ahimsa can be identified as a practice of non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical, mental and emotional.
Non-violence is defined by honest compassion, empathy and love. You can achieve this by embracing love and allowing yourself to be open in a way that is free from judgement and expectations. We very often choose to escape from certain traits held within ourselves. Did you know that talking to yourself in a negative way can be seen as violence towards yourself?
HOW DOES NON-VIOLENCE MANIFEST IN DAILY LIFE?
To understand how non-violence can manifest in our lives each day, we must first learn how subtle daily actions and responses contain elements of violence. This often happens against ourselves. When our thoughts contain negative responses like disappointment, resentment, or guilt, when we feel shame, we are subtly creating violence. If you can't forgive someone for something they've done against you, or if you can't forgive yourself for something you've done, this is an act of violence because it keeps you within the negative cycle, and sometimes the cycle can be overwhelming or difficult to break.
Consider how violence can function in the subtlest of ways. Violence disguises itself well; it manifests in words, actions and even inner thoughts.
Yoga is a great way to access Ahimsa in our daily interactions. By practicing yoga, you can confront your own inner 'demons' with compassion and empathy. This then allows you to pave a pathway for transforming negative emotions and tendencies without acting on these feelings. You observe them, your reactions towards them.
Ive said within classes before, "Allow your reactions to turn into responses".
Yoga creates the avenue to getting in touch with any violence you hold inside of you through non-violent means and therefore to express negativity without hurting anyone, yourself included. Releasing negative energy through positive intentions transcends the negative aspects of yourself, creating peace in the world around you and within you.
HOW TO INCORPORATE AHIMSA
You can incorporate ahimsa into your daily life in many ways, take a moment to think about how you move through your day, can you notice anythings that may be unkind, or 'violent' in someway? The way you talk to others, the way you care for your body, the decisions you make and even what you're eating.
You can bring Ahimsa into your life through compassion. It's the ability to accept events as they are with an open heart, letting go of reacting in any negative way and replacing those feelings with kindness and acceptance.
Also, move with intention. Consciously put non-violence into action. Instead of letting the limits of your body create stress, make the decision to intentionally respect and even love the limitations your own body has. Explore yoga poses gracefully, do it without force.
Yoga gives you the chance to practice non-violence in your mind at the same time. While tuning in to your body, simultaneously start to watch as your thoughts form. Cultivate your awareness of your own thoughts to find if there are hints of violence against yourself or others in your life. Awareness doesn't mean reaction, though. You don't need to push these thoughts away ” just recognise them. Observe them as they come into your consciousness, and then watch as they again leave.
AHIMSA IN THE BODY AND MIND
We can understand ahimsa as the being mindful of thoughts. Thoughts naturally move into and out of our minds. The thoughts themselves don't necessarily cause harm. However, holding onto thoughts and letting them repeat again and again in your mind is what in the end turns into actions or words of violence. Start to practice simply observing your thoughts instead of reacting to them. When you allow yourself to acknowledge and observe, you'll find that your thoughts slip from your awareness just as easily as they come in.
You can be at the peak of health and still have your thoughts deeply affect your wellbeing. Yes, exercising and eating well are hugely important for your health, but even if you do these things "right," your thoughts can harm you. Negative thinking sends out messages to the body that trigger the fight or flight response. Thoughts do this even if there's no outside threat.
The fight or flight response secretes cortisol, which you might know better as the stress hormone. This, in turn, lowers the immune system, and that then makes us more likely to experience physical pain and sickness. And again, it's not just those bad thoughts we have about ourselves that do this. Jealousy, anger and judgement toward others make us feel bad as well.
That's where our non-violent thoughts come in. When we think lovingly, these thoughts trigger dopamine's release into the body. Dopamine is that chemical that makes you feel good and relax. Unlike cortisol, dopamine brings strength to the immune system. It can even cure illness. Those who think of themselves as optimists tend to have stronger immune systems and recover faster from illnesses and injuries. Optimists may even live longer than those who think of themselves as pessimists.
PRACTICE AHIMSA DAY TO DAY
+ Think good thoughts.
The way we communicate to ourselves matters and it starts with our thoughts! Our thoughts and emotions have a huge influence on our well-being. The way we think and feel is proven to be connected to our immunity, brain, our cells and genes. If we find our minds filled with negative thoughts there is a big chance that negativity will be outwardly expressed, we begin to be judgemental, we criticise ourselves and others and it can become a cycle that doesn't make us feel to great, physically and emotionally.
Read this blog post to help get your inspired:
+ Look after yourself!
It's time to look after our bodies and be a little more conscious of the way we eat, and what we eat. You may come across many yogis that are vegetarian and vegan, as Ahimsa is across the board in all concepts we can acknowledge that eating animal products is encouraging violence. I have been vegetarian since a young child and was a strict vegan for many many years, despite this I knew deep down inside something wasn't adding up for me personally, even knowing the 'best' vegan diet and consuming everything I could to keep me in check my body wasn't well due to underlying health conditions. I have since started eating eggs, and fish. Im still high on the veggie life and buy organic, non farmed animal products every time. If you do buy meat, look into where it's from and the process it's going through, you can still consciously eat. We can all make these small changes, day by day, Im not preaching (and can look back and honestly say I was mortified about eating meat and others that did, THAT HAS CHANGED!) Another act of violence is being SO rigid within your beliefs that there is no room for experience, failure and evolution! Eat all the greens, cut back on caffeine and sugar and really notice the difference when you look after your body right.
+ Listen to your body.
Its time to listen a little closer, to notice the things that trigger us, to honour the small stuff, to up our self care and to get more sleep! I think we forget how important it is to put ourselves first and with fast and busy lives we very often put everything else before us. This can deplete our energies, physically and mentally. So next time you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a step back, rest, meditate, cook some nice food, read a book, go to a yoga class, sleep early. You do you.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and over the next few weeks we will start to incorporate the eight limbs within our practices again, it will be nice to guide you deeper into the philosophy in bite size pieces that are easy to listen and absorb.
If you have any questions, feedback or inspiration about the blogs I would love to hear from you!
Have a beautiful weekend.