Non-violence is defined by compassion for ourselves and others.
The first of the five Yamas is ahimsa, or nonviolence. Most of us understand that we should not harm or kill other people. But beyond the embodiment of ahimsa, we must extend past this literal interpretation to include our thoughts, feelings, and words. We must pay close attention to our inclination toward harmful thoughts, unkind behavior, and hurtful speech. We must practice compassion toward all living beings.
Some yogis practice ahimsa by eating a vegetarian diet, while others choose to eat meat mindfully by knowing the sources of their meat, how the animal was raised, and supporting environmentally-friendly practices. Whichever interpretation we decide to choose, it is important to practice ahimsa by honoring and respect the animals that give their lives for our consumption.The practice of nonviolence also relates to how we direct our attention inward, treating ourselves with kindness and compassion. This is a challenge that often arises while practicing yoga or in our lives off the yoga mat. When we find ourselves pushing to stretch further, work harder, and go beyond our edge in constant pursuit of attention, perfection, and progress. This is a form of aggression and violence towards ourselves.
In the next month, we will go on a journey together and observe our tendencies and become aware of how we treat ourselves and the other beings in our world.
We will explore how we mindlessly push past our boundaries and see the opportunities to pull back and tune in to what’s going on in the moment and grow from the experience. We will cover what to do when we are compelled to do something that goes against our true natures and our inner-beings are fighting against it. We will explore the other options in that space just before we reach our edge rather than pushing beyond it.
This doesn’t mean we need to be complacent but instead, it is about being aware and to turn into where our edge is in each moment. Our edge is that place where we move away from our comfort zone and begin to challenge ourselves while maintaining our integrity, balance, and mental clarity in a calm, steady place with our breath. Mindfulness of our personal edge is key to practicing ahimsa on the mat and then becoming aware of our edge in our life relationships with outers and in the world.
The most important quality of ahimsa is not only the obvious “do not murder,” but its broader perspective of compassion and of love. First, we need to become aware of our relationship with ourselves and others and then move toward a deeper sense of understanding and compassion.
This is the foundation for all of the following months of our practice together!