Today, I am going to share with you one aspect of the first limb of yoga. The Yamas are character-building restraints, meaning practices Yogi’s aim not to engage in. Yamas are practices one can use on the mat and in daily life.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
When most of us think of yoga, we think about putting our body into postures on a yoga mat, when yoga postures (or Asana) only makeup, 1 of 8 aspects of yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient yogic text that outlines the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
To practice, Ahimsa or non-violence one refrains from causing distress towards others and one's self. In a yoga class, Ahimsa may support you in listening to your body in yoga postures to avoid injury. Ahimsa does not just refer to physical injury, it also refers to the awareness of our thoughts, judgments, and criticism.
Have you ever received a compliment and quickly dismissed it? Saw someone’s picture on social media and compared yourself or began judging that person? What about critiqued yourself in a yoga class for your expression of the shape looking different than what you’ve seen in pictures online?
To practice, Ahimsa invites kind thoughts, compassion, and the ability to observe yourself and others without judgment.
My Own Experience Practicing Ahimsa
When I first started practicing Ahimsa, I thought this would come naturally to me. I considered myself pretty non-violent and compassionate. I was encouraged to journal daily about what was arising for me. I began to notice my inner critic. I passed judgments at my choices, experienced agitation towards myself and others. While these aspects are a common experience many of us face, I recognized how powerful shifting these thoughts could be.
When I allowed myself to witness my critical mind as it was, even though this was difficult and uncomfortable at times, I was able to compare myself to others less often and the judgments began to lessen. This helped me to find ease, peace and reduce suffering.
What does it look like to cultivate Ahimsa?
First, invite yourself to come into the practice of self-observation without judgment. In order to see clearly what you’d like to shift, you must first be open to observing your patterns as they are. Give yourself permission to get curious and collect data. Maybe you spend time journaling or in quiet reflection daily.
Then when you find aspects you want to shift, invite yourself to broaden your perspective and invite in compassion. (I.e. The next time someone gives you that compliment and you feel the urge to dismiss it or discredit it – See what happens when you let the words sink in).
We are often our own biggest critics.
Yogis engage in these practices to increase their ability to witness their True Self. When one can see clearly, they can grow into their best self and live out their life’s purpose. Practice Ahimsa with the practice of Ahimsa. Meaning as you enter into this practice, be gentle with yourself, this will take time to develop.
Twice a week I offer a 90-minute online yoga class called "Yoga for Mind Body Wellness". Would love to have you join me.
About the Author
Dana Saad is a Registered Yoga Teacher and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In addition to conducting private individual counseling at Key Therapy Counseling, she also holds weekly yoga classes (see list of classes here). She completed her yoga training at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and has pursued additional training in Trauma-Informed Yoga (through Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga) and Yoga Nidra (through the iRest Institute). Her Trauma-Informed Yoga classes incorporate a mindful approach to trauma processing, deep relaxation, and mind/body balancing intended to treat current symptoms related to an overactive nervous system.