Ahimsa: Non-violence, Loving Yourself and Others, Gentleness
“We do this practice so we are less miserable to be around.”
On the mat, I practice ahimsa by moving with breath, bandhas and, awareness. When I arrived in Mexico, I experienced a triad of sensitivities: left hip, right wrist and left shoulder. I widened my stance in Parsvotonasana, Virabahdrassana A, and Pavrita Trikonasana. I pulled in Mula Bandha like crazy during Somakonsana. Now, both hips smile. The shoulder and wrist require me to pay extra attention to where I place my hands and feet on the mat. Interestingly enough, I find every day my upper body prefers a different placement. Today, during primary series, I discover ease within these sensitive places. Today, I discover so much love during pranayama.
When I teach, I pay attention to the energetic lines within my students. Some students need a little extra encouragement: an invitation to meet the bandhas: a suggestion to up level. Other students benefit from a softer approach to this dynamic practice: a more feminine engagement. I whisper to these students: relax your neck: experiment with a less restrictive arm variation, and focus on the cadence of your breath. These rocket practices build strong, flexible bodies. But the true alchemy occurs when we practice with the rhythm of the Yamas. The transformation manifests when we prioritize union with breath, self, and others over mere asana achievement. This above all: is a practice of love.
“We learn to love ourselves, so we can love others more.”
– Larry Schultz-
Off the mat, many yogis tout ahimsa by preaching vegetarianism. As a yogi, I believe that all beings should be happy and free. However, I must confess: I am not a vegetarian. I’ve been a pescatarian for seventeen years: always waiting to jump the next ship to vegetarianism. When I was younger, it was easier for me to pass weeks and months without dipping into the sea. But, as I have gotten older, my body composition has changed. My recent attempts are rather unsuccessful. I lose my hair in big clumps. My energy levels plummet. So, I stick to my dietary lifestyle because the nutrition gives me the energy to serve. Sometimes, I meet teachers and students who scold me for my dietary choices. Don’t I know that I can’t be a real yogi if I eat fish? Don’t I like animals? Couldn’t I try a little harder? I want to remind YOU that ahimsa means loving yourself. How are you nourishing body in way that gives you the energy to feel happy and free (rather than curled up in fetal position?) It is not our job as yogis to judge others. Actually, this first yama encourages to not judge!
Nonviolence doesn’t mean sitting back when terrible things happen. You need to stand up for people in need. You need to speak up. What are we doing about immigrant children who are separated from their families? What are we doing to address the violence in schools? How are we exercising our rights to address this political turmoil? You don’t get to opt out as a yogi by meditating and visualizing peace. Do You say you want “all beings to be happy and free?” Do your research! Vote for a candidate who best aligns with your morals. Encourage other people to do the same. Nonviolence is not non-activity.
Fear. We don’t think about fear when we discuss Ahimsa. How could fear be a barrier to practicing? Fear is a powerful emotion: it is a psychical and psychological block that prevents us from seeking unity with ourselves, each other and our interpretation of the divine. When we live in fear, we block ourselves from visualizing and manifesting positive outcomes. We hide from people who may offer us love, or who need our love. When we are scared, we forget our roles as humans: seekers of the Self.
It is natural to be scared. My journal entry last night screams, “I am scared.” I break it down and see what I can do to address the fear. Are there practical steps that I can take? Can I make a smart goal? Or do I need to let go of the anxiety?
Ahimsa: it all keeps coming back to love. The eight limbs ascend to an unlimited sphere of love. The love has to start with yourself.
“Those who see themselves as whole, make no demands.”
-A course of Miracles, lesson 37-
All of this: the postures, the breathing, the ethical observations: these things lead us to absorption into the universal.
Marie Russel reminds me: You have to decide: is the universe a friendly or unfriendly place? Could you make your life on and off the mat, a practice of love?
This article is the 1st entry in the blog series covering the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, written for It’s Yoga International.For an introduction to the series, please visit, “Intro to the 8 limbs.” The author, Randee Schwartz, shares her own personal journey as a yogi and what it means to stay true to her own path. She’s currently living in Mexico and supporting the It’s Yoga International family with her creative writing skills.