Yamas are moral disciplines practiced in Yoga. There are five primary yamas and Ahimsa is generally the first one considered. It is translated as non-harming or non-violence. There are obviously very big examples of harming/violence in our world today and it doesn't take a yogi to understand that war, terrorism, bullying, spousal/child abuse and so much more is damaging to individuals, communities and the world. And since most of us (hopefully) do not have a role in those bigger arenas, perhaps there is a tendency to skip over this yama and figure we're pretty non-violent individuals. But let's look a little closer.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a non-violence training presented by Meta Peace Team and hosted by the Midland chapter of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. We had interesting conversations about the range of what we might feel are violent actions. Personal experience, context, legality and geography were just a few factors that make a difference in our interpretation of violence. While most of the day's focus was on violence between people, we did touch on the thought that the original source for external violence is violence in our own manner of thinking. Remembering our first yoga discussion last month (you can read it here), yoga looks to unite all aspects of our selves as well as our relationships to others. When we learn to integrate non-harming behavior in our yoga practice and in our personal lives, it has a tendency to spread out into our communities as well. So a peaceful, non-harming world depends on having peaceful, non-harming individuals in it!
There are literally hundreds of moments each day that we could consider as opportunities to practice non-harming. What does this look like day-to-day? Starting right at home - very close to home - in your own skin. Physically, do you treat your body in a non-harming way each day? Do you give it nourishing food, engage it in active motion, allow it adequate rest? Mentally, do you enjoy new learning, encourage yourself through difficulties, congratulate yourself for true effort - regardless of outcome? Emotionally, do you support yourself like a good friend, allow time for grief and change, practice gratitude? Spiritually, do you make time to connect with Something bigger than you, find meaning in your life, do things that feed your soul? Moving outward into relationships and community, do you take time to consider the choices you make, the actions you take, the words you speak and their level of non-harming? What about the actions or words you withhold - could the withholding be harmful?
Ahimsa is a cornerstone of Yoga practice, but in my naturopathic practice, I see great value in this as well. Cultivating non-harming as a habit, a mindset, a lifestyle supports the body in maintaining its desired state of balance. The body knows how to heal itself, but often we are our own worst enemies, doing harm and impeding that progress! An attitude of ahimsa guides our actions toward health, builds resilience in the face of stress and connects us with ourselves and others in a peaceful and resourceful way. Volumes have been written about this, and surely many more are yet to come. But let's begin this minute today and practice. Watch your thoughts and actions and words today. Encourage - even exaggerate - the ones that are non-harming. Discourage, minimize, dismiss the ones that are less so. Reflect at the end of the day - what difference did your attention to ahimsa make in your day? In the day of others? Feel free to share!