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Non-violence - an Ethical Practice of Yoga

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

The theme of this month is ahimsa, the first yama when discussing "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali" and the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Yamas as we relate to them, is a set of moral guidelines that help us navigate our relationship with the world - within ourselves first then our relationship with the world around us.

The first yama, or moral discipline, is “ahimsa”. Ahimsa roughly translated means “hurt not and is often translated to “non- harming” or “non violence”. What seems like a simple principle in thought and action, is really quite profound and challenging to put into daily practice. This "non-harming" or "non-violence" applies to areas in our mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual lives.

Lau Tzu said it wisely and simply - “ watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

To apply this philosophical principle to your daily life, practice becoming very aware of the thoughts you have each day and how they guide your written and spoken words. Notice how your written and spoken words are in relationship with your actions. To experience this in it's simplest form try this simple practice.

Mirror gazing:

Sit in front of a mirror for 30 - 60 seconds (set a timer).

Observe yourself.

Look into your eyes.

Notice what thoughts arise.

What came up?

Was your mind full of judgement, disappointment, embarrassment, or even anger?

If the answer was "yes", there's some inner work to be done.

Step one of the mindfulness practice is to simple sit, observe your thoughts, and not become attached to thought. It is to simply observe our thoughts and label them.

Try the mirror gazing activity again.

This time, when the automatic negative thoughts (ants) arise, notice it, let the thought go and in that very moment inject grace, love, and even forgiveness towards yourself.

Can you think of a situation or interaction you've had with someone else where the automatic negative thoughts turned into automatic negative speech, or worse automatic negative actions?

If so, pause now to be grateful for the opportunity to even notice. The first step to healing and recovery is knowledge. It is with this knowledge that awakens your responsibility to pursue healthy change within.

If we keep the guiding principle of ahimsa (non harming) at the back of our mind every day we can eliminate much suffering. Like a plumb line, this principle keeps us anchored, balanced, and centered.

This is the first discipline in the 8 Limbs of Yoga because it is here where we build a foundation for all the other yamas and niyamas. Without this first one, the others lack context and definition.

"In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease." - Yoga Sutra 2:35

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