Yoga off the mat: non-violence and compassion - Ahimsa
Patanjali, the great guru that wrote the yoga sutras also conducted a set of lifestyle rules for yogis. These consist of eight limbs and they serve as guidelines to live a whole and purposeful life.
The first limb, Yama, deals with one's ethical behaviour and sense of integrity. It is divided into five part, with the first part Ahimsa – non violence, to not harm any living being trough our words, thoughts or actions. It can also be interpreted as compassion; for others and for yourself. Showing compassion through my words means that I try to always speak the truth that lives in my heart. Nevertheless, I do not always speak or share my words if not asked to. I get no benefit out of speaking to deaf ears, to someone that might not understand how I’m thinking, nor to someone who might feel hurt. I also try to choose my words wisely, so that I make myself clear when I speak. As with my words I try to think honest and positive thoughts about relevant things. Did you know we think 50.000 to 60.000 thoughts each day and that 70-80% of these are negative? And that 90% of the thoughts we think are repetitions of thoughts from the previous day? So it is very important to start to notice what we think and see if we can change certain patterns. Meditation truly helps with this. The more I observe myself and my own thoughts I notice that some of my thoughts follow a learnt pattern that I no longer feel comfortable with. It can be immediate reactions to other’s words or actions that make me feel or think bad things about myself or the other person. So part of my Ahimsa is making sure that what I think is kind, true, honest and evolving. I try to chose as many organic and Fairtrade groceries as I possibly can, same goes for skin care, clothes etc. to cause a little less harm out in the world and support the people and companies that try to do good. Non-violence often involves being a vegetarian, which I am not. I do eat meat, eggs, butter and cheese but when I do I always chose organic and small production goods.
Ahimsa is also applicable in terms of our physical practice and asana yoga. How often do we not glare over on our neighbours mat and wish that we where as flexible as him or her, or that if them on the front row can do it so can I? Only to push a little harder, try to go deeper or in some other way actually cause harm on our body? So Ahimsa means to practice compassion with yourself as well. I try to really listen to my body without expectation: does this body need less or does it need more? What does the body really need? The better we get at listening, truly connecting with the body we’ve got for this journey, the easier it will be to take care of it. What does Ahimsa mean to you and how do you practice it in your life?