First in a many part series, I’m aiming to break down the eight limbs of yoga into practical applications for daily living. The goal is to K.I.S.S. (keep it simple sweetheart) and initiate further inner awareness and personal reflection. You may notice that these principles cross over and can be found in the texts of other religious ideologies and beliefs, thereby revealing universal truths. These truths hold no boundaries and are not distinguished by social class, time, place or circumstance.
“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. – Albert Einstein
The eight limbs of yoga are a set of guidelines and practices we can incorporate in to our daily lives that develop and support the fundaments required for living a meaningful, peaceful and purposeful life. We gain peace, humility and healthy morality which brings us to a state of inner balance and deeper connection with self and humanity.
The yama-s are the first limb and are the ethical practices that are founded on control and restraint. They reflect a universal ethic, and in following them a foundation or framework is created that supports all of the subsequent limbs (or guidelines).
Ahimsa, the first yama means non-violence and non-harming and in its essence relates to cultivating compassion towards ourselves and others. It expresses a reverence for life and is expressed through abstaining from intentionally inflicting pain or harm on other living creatures – ourselves included, through thoughts, words or actions
Our outer thoughts and actions correlate directly to our inner state. Contentment, self-love and peace shows through our physical actions, words and thoughts through kindness, forgiveness, non-judgement and self-control. Whereas inner conflict, self-hatred, greed, desire for power and control create delusional thinking that causes us to behave unethically.
We can begin practicing ahimsa gradually, and while the physical expression of non-violence and non- harming may be the most obvious form we must also consider other manifestations of the latter. Being conscious of the more subtle forms such as; gossip, thoughts of hatred, rudeness, harsh words, lying or deliberately hurting someone's feelings. This may seem a tall order, but the first step is cultivating awareness, being mindful of our thoughts and actions and asking ourselves the question of what our intention in those interactions are. Many further considerations can be made including food choices we make, drugs and alcohol as well as the products we purchase (fair trade, free range, cruelty free etc.).
Practicing ahimsa requires that we reserve personal judgements. We are free to express this in a way that is authentic to every one of us. The intention in not to instill guilt or shame as that would be contradictory to the true meaning, thereby self-harming. Rather we can create awareness in how we can individually find ways of practicing the meaning of ahimsa towards ourselves and others in our day to day lives.
How do you practice compassion, non-harming towards self and others? And what are some other ways you can further incorporate ahimsa in your day to day life?