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Ahimsa: The Practice of Non-Violence in Everyday Life


"Ahimsa-pratisthayam tat-sannidhau vaira-tyagah"
"In the presence of one who is established in nonviolence, enmity ( enmity:hostility/friction) is abandoned"

Sutra II.35

In a world filled with chaos and conflict, the principle of Ahimsa stands as a beacon of peace and compassion. Originating from ancient Indian philosophies, Ahimsa is a profound concept that transcends boundaries of religion and culture, advocating for non-violence in all aspects of life. From interpersonal relationships to global politics, Ahimsa offers a timeless wisdom that resonates deeply with humanity's innate desire for harmony and understanding.


Understanding Ahimsa

Ahimsa, often translated as "non-violence" or "non-harming," is a foundational principle in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and various other spiritual traditions. At its core, Ahimsa teaches us to cultivate empathy, compassion, and respect for all living beings, recognizing the interconnectedness of existence. It extends beyond mere physical harm, encompassing thoughts, words, and actions that cause suffering or disharmony.


In the pursuit of harmony and peace, the principle of Ahimsa extends beyond our interactions with the world around us; it begins within ourselves and radiates outward into our relationships, communities, and beyond. Rooted in compassion and empathy, Ahimsa offers profound guidance on fostering non-violence in every facet of life, from the personal to the societal.


Ahimsa Towards Oneself

The practice of Ahimsa first begins within and self-compassion is the cornerstone of Ahimsa towards oneself. In a world that often demands perfection and self-criticism, practicing Ahimsa means treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness.

Here's how we can cultivate Ahimsa within:

  1. Self-Acceptance: Embrace oneself fully, recognizing both strengths and weaknesses without judgment or condemnation.

  2. Self-Care: Prioritize physical, emotional, and mental well-being by engaging in activities that nourish and rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit.

  3. Mindful Awareness: Cultivate self-awareness through mindfulness practices, observing thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion rather than criticism.


Ahimsa in Partnership


Healthy relationships (of all forms) thrive on mutual respect, understanding, and empathy. Practicing Ahimsa in our interactions with loved ones fosters deeper connections and harmony.

Here are ideas on how to embody Ahimsa in relationships:

  1. Active Listening: Listen attentively and empathetically, seek to understand the perspectives and feelings of others without judgment or interruption.

  2. Empathy and Compassion: Cultivate empathy by putting oneself in the shoes of others, acknowledge their experiences, and respond with compassion and kindness.

  3. Non-Violent Communication: Communicate openly and honestly, express thoughts and feelings respectfully and constructively, while avoiding blame, criticism, or aggression.

  4. Respectful Boundaries: Honor the boundaries and autonomy of others, refrain from imposing your own beliefs onto them.

  5. Conflict Resolution: Approach conflicts with openness and a willingness to find mutually beneficial solutions through dialogue and compromise.

  6. Collaboration and Support: Foster a sense of camaraderie and teamwork by offering support, encouragement, and assistance to friends and colleagues. Be inclusive; seek at people that align with your offerings/work/aspirations and collaborate.

LIFT EACH OTHER UP

In a world where competitiveness can feel like the norm, support each other and journey together.


The Power of Thoughts and Words

"Vitarka-badhane pratipaksa-bhavanam"

"Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts."

Sutra II.33

At the heart of the principle of Ahimsa lies a profound recognition of the power of our thoughts and words. Ahimsa teaches us that non-violence begins within, manifesting in the way we think about ourselves and others, and extending outward into our communication with the world. In a society where words hold immense power to heal or harm, cultivating mindful communication grounded in non-violence becomes essential for fostering understanding, empathy, and harmony. When we think negatively, we are sending messages that activate our fight/flight, releases cortisol (stress hormone), and lowers our immunity; making us more prone to illness and physical pain. Nonviolent thoughts release dopamine; our feel good hormone.

Our thoughts serve as the seeds from which our words and actions blossom. When rooted in negativity, judgment, or aggression, these thoughts can perpetuate harm and discord, both internally and externally. Ahimsa calls us to cultivate a mindset of compassion, kindness, and empathy.

Words have the power to uplift or wound, the practice of Ahimsa in thought and word offers a transformative framework for communication. By cultivating compassion, empathy, and authenticity in our interactions, we can create environments that nurture growth, understanding, and connection.


Mindful/Nonviolent Communication

Mindful communication is the cornerstone of Ahimsa in action. It involves approaching conversations with presence, intentionality, and empathy, fostering connections based on mutual respect and understanding.

Non-violent communication emphasizes the following principles:

  1. Empathy: Seek to understand the feelings and perspectives of others, listening with an open heart and without judgment.

  2. Authenticity: Communicate honestly and transparently, expressing thoughts and emotions with sincerity and vulnerability.

  3. Respect: Honor the dignity and autonomy of others, refraining from language or behaviors that diminish or belittle them.

  4. Clarity: Articulate thoughts and feelings clearly and respectfully, avoiding ambiguity or passive-aggressive language.

In environments where communication is characterized by support and encouragement rather than criticism and competition, individuals are empowered to thrive and collaborate. Cultivating a culture of non-violent communication fosters trust, cohesion, and psychological safety, enabling individuals to express themselves authentically and contribute their unique perspectives and talents.


Non-violent communication is not merely a tool for conflict resolution but a philosophy of relating to others with compassion and empathy. In a world where divisiveness and polarization often prevail, embracing non-violent communication offers a pathway to reconciliation, understanding, and unity. By choosing our words mindfully and speaking from a place of empathy and respect, we can bridge divides, build bridges of understanding, and cultivate communities grounded in mutual support and solidarity.

As we embrace non-violent communication as a cornerstone of our relationships and communities, may we sow the seeds of empathy and harmony, fostering a world where every voice is heard, valued, and respected.


Asanas for Ahimsa

By showing up on your Yoga mat, you are already practicing Ahimsa. As you move deeper into the practice of Yoga, you will become aware and connect to your true essence.

Here are a few asanas to help you practice Ahimsa in the body:


  • Setu-Banda Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

    • Heart opening poses radiate kindness outward


  • Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold)

    • Forward folds are an offering of self-love


  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)

    • Find your strength in this pose and be a warrior for nonviolence.



  • Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior)

    • Offers resilience and dispelling of negative energies


In conclusion, as we navigate the complexities of life, the principle of Ahimsa serves as a guiding light, illuminating a path of compassion, understanding, and peace. By practicing non-violence within ourselves, in our relationships, and communities, we can sow the seeds of harmony and create a world where every being is valued and respected. As we embrace Ahimsa in all its dimensions, may we cultivate a more compassionate and interconnected world, one small act of kindness at a time.


If you would like to practice Ahimsa on your mat, join me every Tuesday, 5:30pm-6:30pm (pst)

at True Self Yoga:

In-person & virtual options available.



Next month: Satya (Truthfulness)


Shanti,

Lisa Ostler

RN, BSN, NC-BC, FMN, RYT

Student of Ayurveda


 

Bryant, Edwin F., et al. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary: With Insights from the Traditional Commentators. Macmillan, 2018.


 

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