The First Yama: Ahimsa
There are eight limbs on the path of Ashtanga Yoga. There are five Yamas. The Yamas focus on the relationship we have with the world outside. ‘Ahimsa’ is the first Yama.
The Yamas are moral codes or guidelines to restrain behaviors that are motivated by grasping, aversion, hatred, and delusion.
‘Himsa’ means violence or harming. Ahimsa means not causing pain or harming. The root of the word means ‘pushing against.’
“You should not cause hurt even by a word, a look or a gesture. Tolerance, fortitude, equanimity – these help you to be steady in ahimsa (absence of violence).”Sathya Sai Baba
To better illustrate this Yama, think about some time when you’ve had a bad day. Maybe a co-worker did something to upset you. Then on your way home from work, someone cuts you off in traffic. By the time you pull into the driveway, you aren’t in the best mood.
Think about how easy it is to release some of this pent-up frustration onto a family member or close friend. Maybe they simply ask you about your day and you respond with a slight attitude. This simple act of ‘pushing against’ is a form of ‘Himsa.’
Ahimsa isn’t meant as a way to punish yourself for these habits but to help us become more aware and practice adjusting how we interact with the outside world.
Simple Exercise to Practice Ahimsa
- Think of one person in your life that you love dearly, someone you interact with often. Choose that one person to practice this Ahimsa exercise with. You don’t need to let them know that you are doing this practice. This is more a practice of self and how you interact with the outside world.
- To begin, start to become aware of how you might be carrying stress in your everyday life – be it from work, a busy home life, or whatever it might be.
- Notice, as those stresses come in, where you feel that emotion in your body or mind.
- Next, consider what it might feel like to let those stresses go.
- Finally, for a week – make a commitment to recognize anytime you ‘push against’ this loved one. This could be a mannerism, a look, or even a sarcastic or short remark.
- If it feels right – maybe consider this action, whatever it might have been, and verbally recognize your action to your loved one. This does not have to be an ‘I’m sorry’ but simply express to your loved one that you recognize your action and are conscientious.
This practice is not meant to be a penance but rather an act of awareness. Be easy on yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you feel you made a mistake. ‘Ahimsa’ is also no harm against yourself. Be patient and know that just the act of trying and becoming aware is tremendous.