Ahimsa. Typically defined as the idea of non-harming or non-violence, it is the first of five yamas (or social contracts) defined in Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. While ahimsa is generally thought of in relation to others, there’s a whole side of the definition that is often left out. Ahimsa more accurately means the complete removal of violence and harm from one’s body, mind, and spirit. This absence of violence toward the self then leads to the absence of violence toward others.
This idea struck a chord with me. We live in a society where self-harm is so common, we don’t think much of it anymore. Think of all the times you or someone you know has said something self-deprecating. The last time you pumped yourself full of caffeine instead of getting a full night’s sleep when you were exhausted. The last time you skipped a meal in an effort to be ‘skinnier.’ Now think of how those things might have affected how you treat others. Self-hatred is more readily accepted than self-love.
Is this the world we want to live in? Where those around us silently beat themselves up, which leads to negative actions in all avenues of life? Where we are our own cause of pain?
When the Dalai Lama was questioned about self-hatred, he was baffled. The idea never occurred to him that someone could hate themselves. Imagine that for a minute. Imagine a world where self-hatred doesn’t exist, and what that world would look like. How people would treat one another.
I decided I wanted a world like that. I wanted to break that pattern of negativity, for myself and for those around me. I wanted to practice being an example of self-love, so I could be a better yoga teacher and more importantly, a better person.
If ahimsa is the removal of harm and violence from the mind, body and spirit, here are three ways we can begin to challenge ourselves to remove that violence and practice loving kindness.
Ahimsa and the mind: everything begins here.
The mind is the most powerful tool in our possession. Everything begins from this point. If we plant a seed of negativity, of self-harm, that seed begins to grow. Soon we look in the mirror and critique ourselves, and rather than celebrating the gift that we are. We cut ourselves down for not being the best-looking, smartest, fittest, or whatever story you’re telling yourself. Today, observe your thoughts. Recognize that thoughts lead to actions, and in order to remove violence in our everyday life, we must remove it from the birthplace that is the mind. You are beautiful, whole as you are and perfectly imperfect. Accept that.
Ahimsa and the body: we are what we eat.
The body is a celebration. This vessel allows us to move around this world, to breathe and live and accomplish amazing things. To nourish and love our body fully, we must remove all aspects of violence from our way of living, which includes our food. In today’s world we’ve removed ourselves greatly from the food that we eat. The principle of ahimsa would challenge that idea: we should know and understand what we are eating and where it comes from. Today, I ask you this: how can you be removing violence from the body if you’re consuming the flesh of another living being that suffered from violence? Nourish the body with whole, plant-based foods. Treat your body as a temple that doesn’t get it’s fuel from the death of others. Celebrate the sacredness that is life. After all, some of the biggest animals in the world thrive off of nothing but plant fuel!
Ahimsa and the spirit: what you do today matters.
No matter what religion you subscribe to, there is an idea of duty, of responsibility to fellow man, of compassion towards all. This compassion must first start with the self. As the Buddha once said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” The spirit is nourished by loving others. Today, allow that love for yourself to morph into love for others. Remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle, and that everyone is looking to be loved for all that they are. That love can start today, with you.
I challenge you to practice being mindful. I challenge you to listen to yourself, and when you hear that voice of negativity, of self-hatred and the violence that comes with it, make the conscious choice to silence it and replace it with something kind. As the Dalai Lama said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” It all starts inside us.
How do you practice ahimsa? What’s the most significant act of non-violence you do in your daily life?
Photo: Joana Sorino via Flickr