Non-violence (Ahimsa): Studying the Yamas

In order to contemplate non-violence, or Ahimsa, we must first consider violence. According to my Google dictionary, violence is “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something; strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force.” Commonly, when we think of violence, we might think of it as something that someone does to someone else. That is not always the case. We can be very violent toward ourselves.

The personification of Ahimsa, Mahatma GandhiTo me, the personification of Ahimsa is Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was a peaceful protester who advocated for non-violent protests, encouraging societal and governmental reform.  Here are some quotes from Gandhi that illustrate the values of Ahimsa:

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Physical violence

I would guess that we all have some pretty good ideas of what physical violence is, both to ourselves and between ourselves and others. I don’t think we really need to spend a whole lot of time on this. However, I want you to think about a scenario. I know a lot of people who have been down this road before. Consider this, isn’t it a form of violence toward yourself if you have an injury where a doctor prescribes rest, and yet you persist with activity?

Mmm hmmm. Chew on that for a minute.

Now, what about physical violence to our environment? Can you see how destroying our land and polluting our water and air leads to pollution of ourselves? The chemicals that we expel, the resources that we waste, may not be issues that we realize we are handling. Perhaps you use too much water and live in an area that doesn’t get droughts. Your excess currently has no significant impacts to your life, but what will it mean for future generations? Will your irresponsibility cause issues in the future?

Mental violence

Have you ever thought, “I am my own worst critic?”  If you have, that, my friends, indicates that you should spend some time on Ahimsa. Judgement and criticism are two main tools for mental violence. These tools can be used against other people or against yourself.

What is so interesting to me is the question, “So what?” Whenever I start to have critical or judgmental thoughts about myself or others, I ask myself, “So what?” If I think my son is not putting his socks away in the drawer like I think he should, so what? Does it make a difference? No. Can I be big enough to accept that the way I like to put away my socks may not be the way that everyone in the entire world likes to put away their socks? Sure. So why in the world would I take the time to judge his actions as right or wrong? What a waste of time and energy!

I try to remind myself that “All roads lead to Rome.” That one sounds a lot better than “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” The point is that maybe you go left and the person next to you goes right, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t end up at the same place later on.

Here’s something else to think about:  By offering unsolicited advice you are actually inflicting a form of mental violence on someone else. Even though, you are trying to help, by offering unsolicited advice you are actually telling the other person that they are incapable of or unqualified to make good decisions for themselves.

Emotional violence

Emotions run deep. They stay with you from year to year, and if you don’t work at letting some of them go, they’ll stay with you for forever. Some of the big emotions involved with emotional violence are anger, fear, and frustration.

Sometimes, these emotions feel like a bag that you carry with you wherever you go. Sometimes, these emotions ride along hidden, like a receipt you don’t need that you accidentally left in your pocket a long time ago. What is important is that you ask yourself, “Does this serve me?” Anything that is not presently giving you power and strength, you can get rid of. It’s like an emotional decluttering. Do you need it? No? Acknowledge why you have it in the first place, and then let it go.

No one has ever said, “Gee, I wish I had all that fear and anger back.” Simply acknowledge, release it, and move on.

What do I do?

First, foster kindness and compassion for yourself. In kindergarten, my teacher told me (repeatedly), “You worry about you.” I didn’t like my kindergarten teacher, and I hated that sentence. (Let’s take a moment to appreciate that “hate” is a red flag for some Ahimsa work!) I hated it because it is so difficult to stay out of other people’s business and work on yourself. Looking inside and asking yourself the hard questions is no fun. It’s messy and emotional but well worth the time you will invest in yourself. And you should always invest in yourself.

Now that you are being kind and compassionate to yourself, you can be kind and compassionate to others. Try as we might, if we are judgmental of ourselves, we will be judgmental of others. If we are cruel to ourselves, we will be cruel to others. Begin by working on yourself, and the results will overflow to others.

Here’s a lovely video about how to apply Ahimsa to your yoga practice.

I wanted to let you know that I was originally going to share this with you on Sunday. However, as some people might be feeling some very strong feelings post-inauguration, I thought today would be perfect! Next Sunday, though, please look forward to an article on the second Yama, Truthfulness (Satya).

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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