In the wake of all that has been happening in our world, I feel I am revisiting the yoga philosophy and practices at just the perfect time. I began reading a book on the Yamas & Niyamas. The Yamas & Niyamas are the foundation to all yogic thought. It is not a religion in and of itself but rather a way of life. You can think of them as guidelines, precepts, ethical disciplines or restraints and observances. There are 10 jewels in all – the first 5 being the Yamas (restraints) and the last 5 the Niyamas (observances).
Yamas = Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Non-excess, Non-possessiveness
Niyamas = Purity, Contentment, Self-discipline, Self-study, Surrender
The first jewel, Ahimsa or non-violence has resonated with me since I first learned of its full meaning and the real intention behind the practice. Ahimsa is non-violence in your words, thoughts and actions not only in regards to those we love but towards all people, animals, the Earth and most importantly oneself.
Ahimsa takes courage, balance, self-love and compassion. “We learn compassion as we dissolve our personal version of the world, and grow gentle eyes that are not afraid to see reality as it is.” This takes courage. Courage to step outside of societal norms. Courage to accept not only ourselves but others just as they are. Courage to learn the difference between belonging and fitting in. Courage to discern between real fear that keeps you alive and fear that keeps you from living.
Here are 5 ways to begin practicing Ahimsa.
- Begin by doing one thing daily you normally wouldn’t do. If you’re feeling brave, make that one thing that scares you.
- Create balance by finding guidance from messages of your body. Practice yoga or find movement through a connection to your breath and listen.
- Notice what you might be avoiding in your own life because you are so interested in others lives. Are you a worrier? A fixer? Discern the difference between ‘help’ and ‘support’.
- Pretend you are complete. There is no need to expect anything from yourself or to criticize or judge or change anything about you.
- Start practicing Tonglen or Metta (loving-kindness) Meditation.
I try everyday to live with ahimsa. For me, I keep the word and its full intention in the forefront of my mind. No, it is not always easy however it becomes easier over time. I am catching myself more quickly when I begin to judge or make not-so-nice comments/thoughts. I have also stopped beating myself up every time I slip up, recognizing that I too am living a human life and am not perfect.
It begins with loving yourself. Accepting you for you….just as you are. Then and only then can you truly love another. Then and only then will you truly respect, care for and cherish the Earth and everything on it. Then and only then will you begin to realize that your health is directly related to the health of the environment and want to protect it.
“Our inability to love and accept all the pieces of ourselves creates ripples – tiny acts a violence – that have huge and lasting impacts on others.”
You can learn more about all 10 jewels by reading The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. (some of the words/phrases in this post come from the aforementioned book).