The Ethical of Yoga – Ahimsa (Do no harm)
By Laura Hansen.
Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as a foundation for the practice of yoga (Patanjali, 1999). The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa which literally means avoid violence.
Ahimsa describes a universal value that can be summarized as ‘do no harm’. Ahimsa represents a complex belief structure common to Hinduism and Buddhism that links harmful actions to negative karma. Ahimsa applies to thought, word and deed towards all living things (Lasater, n.d.).
Gossiping about someone is doing harm. Some devoted practitioners take the practice of Ahimsa very seriously and will not eat animal meat because it does harm to animals, or will not build in soil where insects live. For most of us, the important thing is to recognize when thoughts and actions cause harm and work towards change. Keeping in mind that every action has consequences (karma), we improve our lives and karma by practicing kindness and compassion towards all life. When we cannot be compassionate, at the very minimum we do no harm.
As a yoga practitioner, we can begin practicing Ahimsa in our yoga. The following suggestions may be useful:
- Practice kindness towards yourself by making time to for yourself and for your practice.
- Practice kindness towards yourself by practicing positive self-talk. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice and focus on what you can do not on what you cannot do.
- Practice kindness and compassion towards yourself by not harming yourself in order to get into a certain posture. In other words, don’t push your body to the point of pain.
- Practice kindness towards your fellow practitioners by keeping your eyes on your own mat and focusing on your own practice.
- Practice kindness towards your fellow practitioners by staying on your mat, turning off your cell phone before class, and practicing yoga etiquette.
- Practice kindness towards your teacher by thanking them. If there is something you particularly enjoyed, take the time to tell them.
Once you get the hang of Ahimsa, it becomes more and more natural to think and behave with compassion. Remember that everyone you meet is going through difficulties. As the Buddha told us, all living things suffer. By practicing Ahimsa you not only help to alleviate suffering, but you don’t add additional suffering to the lives of other beings. Not only does the practice of Ahimsa improve karma, it may result in better relationships with everyone.
Off the mat, it is usually best to start by practicing compassion towards people you like, or feel neutral about such as sales clerks, other drivers, and family members. Once it becomes a little easier to practice compassion towards people we don’t dislike, then it is time to try practicing
Ahimsa towards those we don’t like. Begin with non-harming. Everyone has people in their lives that are more challenging to get along with than others. Begin by not thinking or acting in any manner that could be harming towards that person. For example, try to think neutral thoughts when around that person and to behave neutrally. Practicing kindness may take time but it will evolve if continue the practice.
Lasater, J. (n.d.), Beginning the Journey, Yoga Journal, found at yogajournal.com/wisdom/462 retrieved 7/8/13.
Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.
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