Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that is commonly translated as ‘nonviolence’, ‘absence of injury’ or ‘do no harm’. Ahimsa is a Yama, which translates as ‘observance’. Ahimsa relates to doing no physical, mental, or emotional harm to anyone or any sentient being. Although Ahimsa is often discussed in terms of non-harming or being nonviolent towards others, the practice of Ahimsa needs to include you. Our compassion and kindness must include ourselves as well as others.
Ahimsa – Our Physical Body
Physical activity improves our wellbeing and our bodies benefit from exercise. But if you are pushing your body beyond its limits and not listening to what your body needs you are not practising Ahimsa. I have seen people running in extreme heat, I have known people who push themselves to breaking point at the gym, and I wonder what harm they are doing to their bodies. I have observed individuals practicing asanas (physical postures) in yoga classes who are determined to push their bodies to the limit. I see individuals harming their bodies in the quest for longer hamstrings, stronger arms, or the desire to force their bodies into an asana, striving to mimic the extreme postures they see on Instagram (don’t get me started on this subject, I will go on a tangent). This is not practising Ahimsa and it is not practising yoga.
I teach a gentle form of Hatha Yoga accessible to all body types and ages, a practice that includes all aspects of yoga and not only the asanas (physical postures). I encourage students to observe and listen to their bodies, to adjust their practice to their present moment. However, despite instructions from a teacher to adjust your practice to suit your body, a yoga teacher cannot feel what you feel or know what sensations you are experiencing in that moment. The ultimate responsibility for your body lies with you. Physical activity, whether it is a yoga practice, working out at the gym, etc. is intended to enhance our physical wellbeing, not harm our bodies.
Each of us will have our own physical strengths and weaknesses. We may have experienced injuries or illness, and our genetics will play an important role too. To practice Ahimsa, you must learn to connect with your body, to listen, observe and adjust any physical activity to be in alignment with what your body needs in this moment. Not what it needed yesterday, not what it may need tomorrow, but what it needs now. Release the desire to compete with those that stand near you in class, your practice is your own.
How else can you practice Ahimsa and take care of your body? Healthy, nutritious food and adequate rest are important. Listen to the signals from your body and don’t ignore or dismiss physical symptoms or pain signals that are a natural warning from your body that care needs to be provided. Never delay seeing your medical health professional when you need care. Perhaps you need to be spending more time in nature and connecting to the environment around you. It may be about going to bed earlier and practicing healthy bedtime habits, for example, no screen time before bed.
Ahimsa – Mentally, Emotionally & Spiritually
Ahimsa is not only about nonviolence to physical bodies, it also encompasses mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Surrounding yourself with supportive and kind people is also practising Ahimsa. Being in a situation, a relationship, or an environment that impacts negatively on you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is harmful.
How you talk to yourself and about yourself is also part of practising Ahimsa. Become aware of how you think of yourself and question your thinking habits and patterns. This is not about ‘positive thinking’ as it is currently being widely used/abused by some to infer that we need to be positive all of the time (please refer to my blog – Positive thinking, the good, the bad and the ugly for further discussion about this). I am referring to habits that you may have developed in the way you think about yourself, or the way you talk about yourself to others. Do you talk to yourself with the same love and kindness that you do to those that you love? Notice the type of language you use to describe who you are; can you be kinder and show greater compassion to yourself?
Perhaps you want to make some changes in how you care for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, as you make these changes, you may discover that you need some assistance. This may relate to your mental wellness or some emotions you may be experiencing. Perhaps you need help to learn how to listen to signals from your body that you have become closed off from. Reaching out to others when you need help is an example of showing greater compassion to yourself and practising Ahimsa. Sometimes we can benefit from additional support and assistance and talking with a counsellor or other helping professional may assist you in finding your own way to work with challenges you encounter.
I am a counsellor, hypnotherapist, life coach, yoga, and meditation teacher. Contact me to arrange a time for a no obligation, confidential discussion about how I may be able to assist you.
Inner Mind Therapies
Phone 0403 357 656