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Ahimsa And Yourself

Posted by terrepruitt on February 5, 2016

Recently I posted a bit about the eight limbs of yoga.  Basically a list of the limbs and a sentence about each.  Then I followed up with a list of the yamas and niyamas which are the first two limbs of yoga.  I am sure each limb can and does have volumes written about them.  And I am sure that each of the yamas and niyamas have volumes written about them.  I thought I would just do a post on each yama and niyama.  I was taught the yamas are restraints or restrictions, while the niyamas are observances or rules.  Ethical principles and spiritual practices, respectively.  I mentioned one way to look at it is our attitudes toward our environment and our attitudes towards ourselves.  Well, this is a bit about Ahimsa.  A way to look at Ahimsa.  Not the only way, just one way.  And not even the entire way, just a bit.

Ahimsa is non-violence, non-harming, and/or non-injury.  Now for me, the first thing I think of is non-violence as a physical act.  I think of hitting, punching, stabbing, shooting – something physical and VIOLENT.  I don’t actually do any of those things.  So I think, “I’m good.”  I bet a lot of us are.  But then when I remember that the idea is to have it apply to our thoughts, our words, and our actions, I realize, “I’m not so ‘good'”.  How often do we say that all too common phrase, “I wanna kill . . .” or “I could kill for a . . . ” even though I never really would, am I practicing ahimsa when I say it?  I don’t think so.  I am not sure that this type of talk is not harmful.

Another way we can look at ahimsa is as compassion.  So if we are compassionate we are non-violent, non-harmful, and/or with not cause injury.  And this could be applied to ourselves.  Are we compassionate with ourselves?  Do we get down on ourselves when we don’t do as we expected?

An exercise I participated in recently had us examining how we practice ahimsa when it came to ourselves.  Ahimsa and our self on and off the yoga mat.  In regards to Ahimsa with myself off the mat I realized I say – to myself – I am stupid a lot.  Because of my habit of getting to bed so late the first think I think of on Monday morning is  “Oh, I’m so stupid.”  I think, “Every Sunday since you don’t have to teach on Mondays you stay up too late and then it is so difficult to get up on Monday.  And it sets the tone of being tired for the rest of the week.”  What about you?  Do you ever find yourself saying things not in keeping with ahimsa in regards to yourself?

On the mat or in any exercise situation, we could apply ahimsa.  It could be as simple as not being violent with oneself.  It could be as simple as not causing harm – don’t do anything that will harm you or cause you injury.  But sometimes it is the compassion that is the challenge.  The compassion that says, “You need to be gentle with your body today, right now.”  We so often have that other voice saying, “You are here, get the MOST out of your workout.  Work harder.  Burn more calories.”  Perhaps even chiding you for something you ate and so feeling like you were “bad” for eating something “bad” you have to punish yourself with a really hard workout.  That is not ahimsa from many angles.  Sometimes it is difficult to be compassionate with yourself on the mat or in a workout situation.

It could just be a matter of, as Aadil Palkhivala said, not pushing when we should be pulling back, not fighting when we need to surrender, not forcing our bodies to do things they are not yet ready to do. So sometimes it is not just “not doing” more, but surrendering or not fighting.

As with all the Yamas, there is a lot of room for me to improve in practicing them.  I am not posting about them because I have them all figured out and I practice them perfectly.  I am writing about them to help me remember them.  I think I have a lot to work on when it comes to ahimsa in thought and even words.

What about you?  Just in regards to Ahimsa towards yourself?  How are you with that?  How does it differ on and off the mat?

4 Responses to “Ahimsa And Yourself”

  1. Louiza said

    I have felt jealousy…it’s a feeling that comes with negative thoughts for another person. These are violent thoughts because they do not mean well. It is painfull to know that I am capable of such feelings. This is not ahimsa. But the more I allow myself to realize, acknowledge and accept my imperfections as a human being start to shed jealousy and its violent characteristics.



  2. Louiza said

    Hi Terre,

    What I’m trying to say is that if I am jealous of others, I am violent because of the thoughts and feelings that come with a jealous heart. Therefore ahimsa is not present in the presence of jealousy.

    This is an extreme example of the opposite meaning of non- harming (ahimsa), but because I’m human I have had glimpses of jealousy and I can see and understand the violent nature of jealousy.

    If I were to apply ahimsa to my asana practice, I would use the example that just occurred the other day in my yoga class. Our teacher instructed us to lengthen our legs in Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) in order to lengthen the sides body. This practice requires a deep focus, steady observation and no criticism. Ideally we would like both legs to lengthen equally, and be equally strong. If I’m not careful I may find myself getting agitated with my inability to lengthen my left leg as well as my right. I may start labeling one leg as my good leg and the other as my bad leg. The agitation and frustration causes tension in the body and the pose can easily turn faulty resulting in injury. What I need to do is focus with kindness and compassion to come to an understand as to why my left leg is not lengthening as well as the right. What can my right leg teach my left leg without the labeling and struggle between the two sides.

    Ahimsa is important in our asana practice. It keeps us safe and at peace. It goes beyond the mat. Ahimsa is to be practiced everywhere and anywhere we start to feel our breath shorten and when our body tenses from thoughts that are not useful.

    By the way… In this practice I discovered that the grounding of my arms have an influence on the length of my side trunk, hips, and legs.
    Another day, same pose, another way.

    Did you know that human beings as well as creatures abandon hostility in the presence of someone who follows Ahimsa? Per Patanjali.
    It’s contagious!

    Thank you,



    • So you believe that your FEELINGS are bad? That is what I am asking? I am asking if you assign “good/bad” to FEELINGS. So if you are sad or mad that is bad? I was asking about FEELINGS. I believe FEELINGS and THOUGHTS are two different things. You are saying thoughts AND feelings and I am asking about the separation of the two.

      And while you say this is an extreme example of ahimsa it is – to me – the exact example of ahimsa. Because as I said most of us don’t have issues with what we tend to think of as VIOLENT behavior. Say, slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, things along those lines. But it is the actions that we do every day that might not be in line with ahimsa. You state violent nature of jealousy – where some people have actually slapped, punched, kicked, or stabbed someone, others might have just acted in a “violent” nature – more mellow, but still violent, like saying hurtful things.

      But my question was more towards the FEELING of jealousy, because just as you are opting to not label one leg a “good” leg and another leg the “bad” leg, I try not to label my feelings. They are after all just feelings. And sometimes they cannot be helped, they just are . . . they sometimes just surface without thought. So while feeling jealousy might be considered against ahimsa to you, it is not necessarily to me. To me the ahimsa comes in when I think “violent” thoughts BECAUSE of my feeling. You had said your jealous thoughts AND feelings.

      Your example about your legs in the shoulder stand is PERFECT. That is the perfect way to share the idea of ahimsa. Such a great example, a reason as to why and how (The agitation and frustration causes tension in the body) it can affect our practice.

      Wow! You are just full of lessons. Thank you! Your “by the way . . ” is another perfect lesson. Your arms are influencing your trunk, hips, and legs. It is like the body is all connected, right? Another perfect thing to share. You were focusing somewhat on your legs, when in fact the origin might be your arms. I love that “Another day, same pose, another way.” I think I am going to use that in my classes. I think that is something to help people realize that the practice they are doing is the practice at that moment. Tomorrow it will be different.

      I think I might have heard that at some point . . . about the hostility in the presence of ahimsa. It is like when one person is yelling others do too, or if one person is whispering other do too. Makes sense that if one person is non-violent other might follow . . .

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response and thank you for sharing. And thanks for sharing such GREAT things! Lots of great stuff in that comment!!!!



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