The Yama’s Part 1: Ahimsa
There is so much about yoga that I never knew! Even after attending classes in studios all over the world for several years I was unaware of mostly everything that yoga is. Of course I knew yoga was spiritual and that’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with it. To connect your mind, body and spirit through the moving meditation that is the physical practice really feels incredible. To be separate from your thoughts for even a moment can give you so much clarity. You learn that you are not what you think; you are the observer of your thoughts. With this knowledge you can see your thoughts more clearly, objectively and without judgment.
That is something I already knew about yoga. Something that I did not know about yoga is that the physical practice that we in North America think is yoga is actually only 1 of 8 steps to achieving the balance and good health that yoga offers. In fact the postures or “asana” in Sanskrit are only step 3 out of 8, not even high up on the list! But that doesn’t matter because in the end all of the steps work together to create the harmony in us that we all long for. These 8 steps are known as The 8 Limbs of Yoga and were written and practiced in India around 200 A.D by a person (not sure if they were a man, woman or possibly a whole group of people) known as Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras.
The 8 Limbs are really a lifestyle choice. A lifestyle choice that makes the connection between man and God, or man and a higher power, or man and the universe possible!
In my teacher training course at Marina Yoga and Reiki in Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand we dove especially deep into the first 2 Limbs of the 8 Limbed Path known as Yamas and Niyamas which can be explained as basic ethical principles to live by. They are fairly simple concepts that should come to us naturally but that we all struggle with everyday.
In the course we spent a great deal of time talking only about the Yamas, which can be outlines as Virtues of Universal Mortality. I see them as the things we should all strive to do everyday to make the world a better place. There are 5 characteristics of the Yamas, which are Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Moderation) and Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness).
Let’s focus now on Ahimsa, Non-Violence. Should be obvious right? Don’t be violent, don’t be mean, easy peasy. No, no, no my friends it’s a little bit deeper. Ahimsa means more than simply not hurting or being cruel to those around you. It implies that we should consciously be kind and thoughtful of others. In every situation we must adopt a considerate attitude toward every living being. This includes that mosquito buzzing around your bedroom at night. I’m not saying let the mosquito bite your face all night long, but instead of hunting it down to kill it, hunt it down to shoo it back outside where it belongs, be considerate of even the smallest, most annoying lives. Ahimsa is also the reason why you’ll find that a lot of yogis are vegan.
Ahimsa also goes deeper than physical action, here’s a quote straight out of my YTT manual “Any thought, word, or action that prevents us – or any other living being – from growing or living freely is harmful”. Non-violence starts inside each one of us with our thoughts! It means practicing compassion and love towards ourselves first, notice how this quote states “us” before “any other living being”. I think this is the trickiest part of practicing Ahimsa. Non-violence towards ourselves! It is so easy to think badly about ourselves, unfortunately it is natural and we all do it.
Imagine if we spoke to ourselves like we speak to our best friends. You would never hear me telling my bestie “you’re so stupid” or “you could have done that better, try harder next time”, things I often think to myself. Instead you’ll hear me telling her things like “No matter what You Am Enough” or “Good try, you’ll get it next time”. If we can stop the violence as it starts in the mind we can move through life as peaceful beings and the world would truly be a better place.
Give it a try! And be aware that breaking old habits is not easy, it takes time, patience and love. So be gentle with yourself. Talk to yourself like you would your best friend, with understanding and compassion because you deserve it.
I look forward to exploring the rest of the Yama’s with you in the months ahead.
Hi there! My name is Katelyn and I am one of the contributors to the wonderful LIA project blog.
I was born in Saskatoon, SK and was raised on a grain farm not far from the city. Growing up on the flatlands of Canada gave me this constant and overwhelming need to surround myself with everything natural so when I found Yoga after many years of ballet dancing it just made sense. To move my body with intention and be able to listen in on what my body was telling me was exactly what I needed to learn and what I try to convey to my students.
Nowadays I live in one of the most beautiful and nature-filled cities I have yet to discover, Zürich Switzerland. I try not to take any moment for granted because I know that it’s a damn blessing to live in such a lively yet organic city.
In my public and private yoga classes we move dynamically and with intention as I try to integrate Yoga’s basic principles into every class.
I’m honoured to share my writing with you all here and hope that it may help you better understand yoga, yourself and your neighbours.