” Your yoga practice actually takes place every moment of your day when you practice ahimsa — that is, being mindful to not think, speak or act in a harmful way to yourself or others.”
During a yoga class, one has the space to learn to be present in their body and mind without judgment. It is a refreshing and healing way to experience being, and it’s often what keeps students coming back to the mat. Because at least during the class, we consciously avoid thoughts and actions that harm ourselves. This also serves as a beautiful example of the principal practice of yoga: ahimsa, or “non-harming.”
The reason we keep returning to yoga class is that we feel, intuitively, the importance of speaking kindly to ourselves. We notice how different we feel after class, and even how we are less reactive with those around us. Even if we don’t know the words, we are feeling the practice of ahimsa begin to take root.
In this and even more ways, our yoga practice is not limited to the mat. Indeed, we begin to flourish on the yogic path when we embrace a yogic worldview, the first step of which is ahimsa. Here I’ll explain more about the philosophy of ahimsa, what it means to practice it and what to do if you’re finding it difficult.
A Sanskrit term, ahimsa is formed from the root words, himsa, which means “to cause harm” or “to engage in violence”; and the prefix, a, which negates what follows it. Therefore, ahimsa means “non-violence.”
Most people don’t consider themselves violent, so it might seem like there’s nothing to learn here. It’s worth asking, “What is the opposite of harm?” To do the opposite of harm requires more of us than simply not hitting people. Ahimsa is a positive, chosen action, rather than an absence, and it begins in our minds.
The yamas and niyamas of “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” are suggestions for how to interact with the external world and how to treat ourselves, respectively. The yamas and niyamas lead Patanjali’s list of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, and ahimsa is first among the yamas, or “abstentions.” This is no accident. Ahimsa is the first of the first because it’s the most critical. If we only engage in one yogic practice, this is the one to choose. Until we are seriously committed to the practice of ahimsa, we have little chance of realizing the goal of yoga: union
Is an accepting, non-injurious voice the first one you hear if you break a dish, or are running late or make a mistake at work? If so, wonderful! If not, there might be space to cultivate ahimsa.
Luckily, even though The Eight Limbs of Yoga are prioritized, we don’t need to have mastered ahimsa before we begin doing asana. Rather, doing asana can be a way for us to practice ahimsa.
If I am unforgiving and a perfectionist with myself, if I mentally say unkind things to myself when I am disappointed or frustrated with myself, there’s a good chance I apply the same treatment to those around me.
Everyone has used sharper words than intended, or judged someone else unkindly and acted on it. These thoughts, words and actions are usually based in our experience of separateness—our sense that we are distinct from other people. Yoga teaches that this distinction between “I” and “not I” is false. We have little chance of realizing the spiritual truth of yoga—union—if we continually reinforce the notion of separateness through unkind thoughts, words and actions.
If we’re struggling to be kind to ourselves, either on a particular day or in general, we can situate our practice differently. A loving-kindness meditation is the act of consciously sending thoughts of kindness or love to another person. When we bring to mind someone we care about, we can naturally be filled with a feeling of warmth. Directing that kindness to a loved one and, ultimately, to all beings everywhere (ourselves included!), is a loving-kindness meditation.
To put ahimsa first in our practice doesn’t mean we have to master it before we can engage in any other part of yoga. Instead, ahimsa practice means committing to learn every day how to better think, speak and act without harming ourselves or others.
www.yogapedia.com/ahimsa-yogas-single-most-important-practice-kindness written by Sheila Miller