Yamas: Ahimsa [Nonviolence]

Unless we know, many of us mistake yoga for solely a bodily practice. We make our breath make noise, we clench our perineums, and we contort our body into some strange-looking shapes. In reality, though, yoga is comprised of eight limbs of practice. Enter today’s focus: my series on the yamas.

Specifically, the word yamas translates to “restraints.” Unlike other ethical codes of conduct, the yogic yamas are not meant to limit. Rather, they provide practical guidance to open up and show up more fully.

This might sound all well and good until we reach the first of the five yamas: ahimsa, or nonviolence, Arresting, isn’t it? Harm can be caused with words, without words, with actions, with non-actions. There is so much room for error. When we realize this, the concept can feel dauntingly impossible. But, remember: in all its possibility and impossibility, ahimsa is boldly encouraging more integrity from you and from others in life.

This particular restraint can be better understood by the things it isn’t. Ahimsa does not mean self-sacrifice, though there may be a time where the most nonviolent act involves sacrifice. Conversely, it does not necessarily lend itself to self-promotion, though there may be a time when it is appropriate to applaud oneself. And so, with this in mind:

Ahimsa means making the best choice possible for all parties involved. It means revising that choice when we realize it could be better for everybody. It means adjusting that choice to enable certain parties to reach the potential that others have readily available to them. It means recognizing that truthful words that hurt might be the least harmful path. It means standing up for yourself in a room full of people when nobody else will advocate for you. It means defending and supporting those in need. It means calling out injustice, even and especially if everybody else does not like it. It means forgiving yourself if you were wrong. It means letting go not because it did not hurt you, but because you deserve a full life from here on out.

Ahimsa means many things, and yet, it cannot be encompassed by a single pinpoint. By not committing to a particular, “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” path, ahimsa asks you to use precision, balance, trust, and compassion so that you can embody more integrity in life.

…and even when you don’t quite get it right, it asks that you be kind to yourself. You are learning.

Further Discussion:

  • What comes to mind when you encounter the concept of ahimsa? Were there any “BUT!”s that came up for you at its mention? [Those are telling you something. Find a safe space to listen.]
  • Are there specific areas of your life calling for your attention through this lens?
  • If there is a time that you did not embody ahimsa, is there a way that you can approach the situation now from this perspective?
  • How do you sense that you can better show up with ahimsa?


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