Ahimsa: practising non-violence is our greatest gift to others
Ahimsa – not to use violence against any living being in action, thought or words. This includes your relationship with yourself. Ahimsa is the very first part of the five yamas. The yamas are the first limb of the eightfold path of Ashtanga yoga.
Accepting unconditional love
In my opinion, this is the moral principle that is the most important, and embrace all other parts of the eightfold path. The first and perhaps the very biggest. If we have insight and deep understanding of what it means to live with compassion, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and heartfelt love to ourselves and others in every moment, there is nothing else to be achieved. It is a love that is unconditional, forgiving and makes us the very best of ourselves. We have understood the most important part and become so aware of what is in all our ‘rooms’ that nothing is done or said in ignorance or unconsciousness anymore. The truth is clear to ourselves. We are aware of every action and take responsibility for ourselves and our actions in a warm and loving manner. We are ready and have fulfilled our task on earth.
Mahatma Gandhi advocated and lived by ahimsa and this approach is the greatest gift we can give each other. In almost all major philosophies and religions, the principle of non-violence is seen as the basis for a functioning world. However, many forget that to live in a world without violence means avoiding violence in any form.
Acknowledging our fears
Human life often involves many long trials. Unconditional love is something that is very hard for most people to live with. We wish and want it to be so, but fears of different kinds give birth to feelings and behaviours that are far from love. Instead, the fears of the ego prevail and we are fearful and small in our actions against ourselves and others. We try to unconsciously and consciously control, own and rule others in fear that we do not always know or understand.
Through the first two branches of yoga, where ahimsa is the foundation and the prerequisite for spiritual development, we become more and more aware of ourselves and everything we have within us, as well as how we convey it to others. Becoming aware and working for a life and a world without violence will also affect your karma and the consequences you and your dear ones live with.
Discovering yourself and daring to see the games that happen both consciously and unconsciously means that you as a person become authentic. You become whole and get the feeling that you are living in truth. This provides an integrity that creates security for you and others. You are basing yourself. This is of course a journey through life and perhaps through many lives.
Applying ahimsa to our yoga practice
Ahimsa – to live without violence against oneself and others – is something that I know an asana practice can be conscious of in a very clear way. The practice of asanas can be very demanding, sometimes tough and painful. In my own practice, I have crossed the border many times into ambition or looking good in an asana, even though the pain signaled that I should stop. The fear of not being good enough as I am has led to situations where my body did not feel good. Breathing changes and performance takes over.
When unaware, the body is moved to a limit where damage can occur. Once the damage has occurred, it is common for the responsibility to be placed on the yoga, the position, the teacher or something else. In fact, it’s your own unconsciousness about yourself and the need to be good or look good that pushed you to that limit. When these dark, ignorant rooms become bright and conscious, the change of what you think you will have to do or perform in another light will come.
I have practised yoga in various forms and in different ways for over 35 years. I have been teaching yoga since 1995. Ahimsa has always been important for me in order to gain consciousness. Both for myself in my own endeavour to live with yoga and in my teaching with my students. Dare to listen inward and put an end to it if it hurts, both in your own practice and in the adjustments given and received. When something does not feel loving but instead hurts or is uncomfortable, there should always be room for saying no.
Finding the courage to change
I have learned most deeply about ahimsa in those moments and periods when there has been pain both in the body and the soul. The deepest force of change lies in the courage to dare to feel what hurts and see what really is, and to move on with compassion, understanding and love for oneself and others.
Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith