Yoga is a journey of creating harmony in one’s life, and letting go of the things that no longer serve us. In this process, we discover a deeper reality of sense of self (being), a place of joy, happiness, and contentment.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali delineated the eight limbs of yoga. These precepts are intended as guidelines to living a life with meaning and purpose. They may be seen as a kind of map for seekers of greater happiness and spiritual fulfillment.
The Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga
The first limb consists of the yamas, or universal ethical observances. The Sanskrit term yama more specifically translates as “bridle” or “rein.” Just as a rider places a rein on a horse to steer the animal in the proper direction, the yamas are restraints that we willingly and intentionally place upon ourselves in order to direct our efforts towards creating a full, happy and meaningful life.
There’s no mistake that the Yamas come first; after all, if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself!
The Yamas: Seeking social harmony through:
The very first – and often thought of as the most important – Yama, is ‘Ahimsa’, which means ‘Non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’. (‘Himsa’ = ‘hurt’ and ‘a’ = ‘not’)
“Yoga is a path; the first step is to do no harm.”
Nonviolence is refraining from acts of violence, harm and unkindness to others, to the earth, and to oneself. In this sense, we’re talking about non-violence in all aspects of life.
Yoga Sutra 2:35 reveals; ‘In the presence of one firmly established in non violence, all hostilities cease’
This implies that those who do not cause harm emit ‘harmonious vibrations’, encouraging others to live peacefully too. Saints and Sages over time have lived with this quality and inspired others. Ghandi’s life was lived by the vows of Ahimsa and Satya.
Gandhi goes right to the point with this quote: “Any threat to a person’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, sexual security or identity is a boundary violation.”
In its most literal sense, nonviolence may be interpreted as not hurting or killing other people! But to truly embody Ahimsa we must extend past this literal interpretation to include not just these violent actions but also thoughts, feelings and words.
We must pay constant attention to our propensities toward unkind behaviour, harmful thoughts and hurtful speech. We must practice compassion toward all living beings.
Nonviolence as a practice is not just outwardly focused. We must also turn it inward and also treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. This can be the hardest part of all for some.
The most important quality of ahimsa is not the negative command, not to kill but its broader positive message of love. Love toward oneself and all beings is the very first step and the foundation for the entire philosophical system of classical yoga.
BKS Iyengar describes ahimsa as having “a wider positive meaning – love.”
How to incorporate Ahimsa in daily life:
Ahimsa in Asana (Yoga postures):
Ahimsa in Diet:
Ahimsa in Thoughts:
Practices for nonviolence
“How we treat ourselves is in truth how we treat those around us.”
What is happening in you when you are unkind or violent?
Author: Tegan Wallis