By Melody Lima


Ahimsa—Non Violence
Compassion, Love & Hugs

In Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, the first Yama—ethical rule, code of restraint—is Ahimsa. Ahimsa is non-violence in thoughts, words and actions.

Ahimsa pratishtayam tat sannidhau vairatyagaha (Sutra 2.35)

Ahimsa = non-violence;
Pratishtayam = established in;
Tat = his;
Aannidhau = presence;
Vairatyagaha = violence will be dropped.

“When a person is established in non-violence, then violence is dropped in his or her presence.”
~Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

Many mindful practitioners comprehend and practice the do not kill philosophy and do not use guns. We choose a more loving and peaceful lifestyle. Many yogis became vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons, choosing compassion  toward others, animals and the earth, rather than violence.

Sharon Gannon, of Jivamukti Yoga, shares her views in her book, Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Path to Greater Health and Happiness:

“Ethical vegetarians eat only plant-based food in order to show compassion toward animals and other humans and to benefit the planet.”

As we explore ahimsa a bit deeper, we find ourselves in unchartered territory.

“Ahmisa is one of the world’s great principles which no power on earth can wipe out.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Most yoga teachers I know who teach and practice, have passed their edge of comfort, physically. Are we teaching our students that yoga is to push beyond our limitations and boundaries? Are we teaching that pain and suffering is authentic yoga? This negative thought process is not yoga.

Calming the fluctuations of the mind, yoga chitta vritti nirodha (Sutra 1.2), is our goal along the path, not perfect shapes, fancy pics posted on social media or ultra, cool expensive yoga outfits.

We easily get caught up in the hustle of our multi-tasking life. I have been there—competitive, searching, aggressive and unfulfilled. It becomes a constant loop of negative thoughts and our monkey mind.

Adding ahimsa to our thought process, Judith Hanson Lasater, a renowned yoga teacher and the author of six books, including A Year of Living Your Yoga, says:

“I encourage students to notice how many times they have an enemy image of something—a neighbor, a co-worker, even the government. Write down your five most negative thoughts,” she offers. “These thoughts themselves are a form of violence.”

Compassion for ourselves is primary to a fulfilling yoga practice and life.

Words that are spoken and written, are one of the most challenging areas of practicing of Ahimsa. Do we say what we mean? Do we write with compassion? How is our tone?

I took a class with a teacher who asked her students: “If not now, when?”

I always responded in my head: “Whenever!”

This power push in asana class never inspired me. However, the words stayed with me in a negative way. But it inspired many others and this teacher’s classes were and continue to be packed with students. Yoga mats are millimeters apart from one another and stuffed together in a studio of sweaty bliss.

Words are everything. Words cut, uplift, wound, inspire, deplete, heal, sadden and love those who receive them.

Contrarily, another teacher often recited this Apache Blessing during Savasana:

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,
may the moon softly restore you by night,
may the rain wash away your worries,
may the breeze blow new strength into your being,
may you walk gently through the world and
know it’s beauty all the days of your life.”

I often share with my students these compassionate words with love, in honor of my teacher.

Has our active yoga practices become too aggressive for us? Do we push ourselves past our edge? Do we practice injured?

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

~Pema Chödrön

If you practice a rigorous style of yoga like Ashtanga, Bikram or even Hot Power Yoga, this may be a familiar to you, especially if you are dealing with an injury. Injuries give us pause, whether we like it or not. Often we find an injury happens during the most inconvenient time.

And yet, this pause allows us the space to be gentle, kind and loving to ourselves and to others. We can add some restorative poses to the classes we teach, or we can try a different class to practice with a softer approach to poses. Softer and kinder doesn’t always mean easier. Giving ourselves restful poses can be the most challenging to practice, even to the advanced practitioner.

Several of my friends commute into New York City during the hot month of July to visit with Amma every year.

Amma is the hugging guru. She has an international following of people who stand in line all day, to get a hug. They bring their children, friends and spouses to be embraced with love and compassion by a woman from a faraway land.

Whether we choose to be vegetarian, quiet the negative thoughts, speak in a kinder and more gentle manner, soften our yoga practice or give more hugs, we are choosing compassion over violence. We are practicing Ahimsa on and off the yoga mat.

After all, love is all we need.


Photo: (source)

Editor: Dana Gornall