Following on from our yoga lessons last week I would like to send anemail about Ahimsa, non-harm to ourselves or the world around us.
As so many of you already know, our yoga practice runs far more deeply than just the physical postures or asanas. Whilst moving the body is a wonderful way to free and stretch our muscles and bring a sense of relaxation and rejuvenation, if we do not attend to our mind and what we put into our bodies we are leaving so much out of our move towards inner peace and wellbeing. Yoga means “unity” of mind body and soul and can be much more transformational than a one hour a week yoga session!
There are 8 Limbs to Yoga and our pathway to inner peace. The first Limb is made up of two parts: the Yamas (guides to our moral interaction with the world) and the Niyamas ( a guide to practices concerned with ourselves, cleanliness and a healthy and spiritual existence). The very first step on this journey is Ahimsa – non-harm. “A” = Non and “Himsa” = Violence or Harm; the first of 5 Yamas.
To my mind there are three main ways we can incorporate Ahimsa into our daily lives and practice:
Physical, which can be broken into two sub sections:
What we do with our bodies
How often do we come to a yoga practice, exhausted and drained after a long day? Ahimsa teaches us to be aware and mindful of how we feel and to act accordingly. Not to push ourselves beyond what will do us good ….and this takes practice. We want to improve, but part of the journey is to learn to be kind to ourselves and only work within our means. This does not mean giving up but rather, moving to our “edge” and then gently nudging against our boundaries, not trying to push through them and thereby almost certainly doing ourselves harm and in the long run slowing down our development.
We can learn to be curious about how our body feels, not judging it but allowing ourselves to be full of self care for the vehicle which will carry us through our entire lives. We will never receive a new body so we need to take care of what we have and nurture it. By doing this we will encourage more peace within us and take more kindness and love to those around us.
What we put into our bodies
Many yogis practice a vegetarian or vegan diet as this is part of creating non harm in the world. If we eat meat from an animal that has died in stressful circumstances then we are taking that stress into our bodies and it becomes part of us and supports violence in the world. Meat is not necessary for humans to develop and be strong and healthy and it is worth giving some consideration to and being mindful about the harm that is done to animals so that humans can eat meat. This does not necessarily mean immediately becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but perhaps reducing the amount of meat eaten or maybe making a couple of days a week vegetarian/vegan ones.
Of course if cutting out meat from our diet would cause us harm then we should respect this too but maybe we can think about buying organically from farms where animals have a good life and good death; perhaps look at supporting ethical and environmentally friendly companies.
in addition, eating a diet that is good for us, with little or no excess of sugar, caffeine, salt and alcohol supports Ahimsa by being kind to our bodies.
Mental – how and what we allow ourselves to think
How often do we find ourselves judging whether we are good enough at something; doubting whether we are capable; thinking we are not as good as the person next to us on the yoga mat; criticising our face, hair, figure?? We all do it and it creates negativity and harm within us and this creates stress which reduces our immunity and thereby can create disease. If we practice more kindness and self love, this will not only make us feel happier and will spread out to those with whom we interact but it will also reduce stress in our system. This “feel good” effect will in turn will release dopamine which increases the strength of our immune system. It is a fact that positive people tend to live longer than those who are negative.
When we act with Ahimsa in our thoughts it means not physically or mentally harming others, ourselves or Nature; not thinking negative thoughts about ourselves or others; and making sure that what we do and how we do it is done harmoniously rather than in harm.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
– Lao Tzu
Starting on the mat, we can begin to take less harm out into our lives and the world at large …..