Ahimsa is the first of 5 Yama's. What is a Yama? I hear you ask. Yama is the first branch of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Yama - Our relationship with the world around us
Nimyama - Our relationship with ourselves
Asana - Postures (The physical practice)
Pranayama - Breath control
Pratyahara - Withdrawal from the senses
Dharana - Concentration (focus)
Dhyana - Meditation or contemplation
Samadhi - State of ecstasy or true bliss
What is Ahimsa and how can we practice it?
Pratisthayam Tat Samnidhau Vaira Tyagah –Yoga Sutra II.35 Ahimsa
(In presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease)
Ahimsa the practice of non-violence or non harming. At first glance we see non-violence and think "I'm not violent. Check that one of the list, done. Next please". But unfortunately its not that simple, it doesn't mean just not physically attacking someone but also for our thoughts and speech to be non-harming.
Ahimsa is the practice of causing no to any living thing. Bear in mind that it is impossible to do absolutely no harm to anything, simply walking down the street we can walk on bugs that we are unaware are even there and possibly killing them. A way to think about Ahimsa is to choose what action and thought in this moment will cause the least about harm possible. This is the yama that has encouraged many yogi's to become vegetarian and it is one way that you can practice Ahimsa but it is not required. You can still eat meat and practise Ahimsa by buying local and from farmers that look after the animals welfare, and for many other individual personal reason that people have.
AHIMSA AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Using less plastic and carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee cups is another way to practice Ahimsa by looking after the planet. Choosing products that aren't tested on animals and buying from companies that are sustainable, trying to cause the least amount of damage as possible, companies that try to give back.
There are a million different ways to practice Ahimsa and in this present time of Global warming and sea pollution our planet needs us to practice Ahimsa more than ever before and I can see it everywhere we are trying to be more conscious of our decisions, we are trying to be more mindful and we are trying to cause the least amount of damage.
It can become overwhelming with all the devastating information that we receive about our planet, it might feel like its all to much that we end up doing nothing but how about you pick one small thing that you can do to practice Ahimsa. When that change becomes a habit, choose something else that you can do that will cause less harm and keep building from there, one little change at a time so you hardly notice but that little thing can have a big impact.
AHIMSA IN OUR THOUGHTS AND SPEECH
Our thoughts lead to speech and actions so by watching our thoughts we can begin to practice Ahimsa on a deeper level. Watch what thoughts go through your head on a daily basis, when someone cuts in front of you or speeds past you? You might think "I hope there's a speed van up ahead" We could perhaps change that thought to wishing them and everyone that meets them on the road a safe journey. This can be very difficult, as most of the time our thoughts are learned reactions, but when we start to pay attention we regain control again and again, practicing Ahimsa becomes a constant remember to notice our thoughts, watch them come in, watch them go and then decide for yourself how you'd like to respond.
When our thoughts become more peaceful and loving, we become more peaceful and loving and the people that we come into contact with us may feel more peace and love, it continues to ripple out into the world. The opposite is also true, when our thoughts are negative, we become more negative and frustrated and that ripples outward.
AHIMSA IN OUR YOGA PRACTICE
Practicing Ahimsa in the physical yoga practice is very important, because practicing Ahimsa in your practice leads to less chance of causing injury to yourself. Ahimsa means non violence to any living thing that includes yourself as well as others.
If a teacher gives an option to move deeper into the pose move mindfully into it, asking yourself "How does this feel in my body, does it feel like it's benefiting me or is it causing me pain? Can I still breath deeply?" These questions are important questions to ask yourself as you move through your practice so you are less likely to push yourself past your limits simply because the teacher suggested it or the person in front of you can do it. Maybe you don't try to move into the pose because you can already tell that you are at your limit and by practicing Ahimsa you stay where you are and feel good about that desicion.
To me Ahimsa is just about being a decent human being. Notice your thoughts as they come into your consciousness, watch them leave again and intentionally decide to love and respect your body and all its limitations. Choosing to move away from hate, anger, resentment and towards love, kindness and compassion for yourself and for all beings.
The yoga practice is a wonderful time to practice Ahimsa because there are few distractions and you are encouraged to turn inward and notice your breath and thoughts without judgement. You may see someone move into a difficult pose with grace and ease and automatically think "Oh look at her, she must be a dancer or gymnast, it's easy for her" , these are natural thoughts that our ego presents to make us feel better but instead can you simply change that thought to "Ya know what, good for her." and then let it go and continue with your practice.
Ahimsa in Action
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana Variation - King Pigeon Prep aka Mermaid
Eka - One
Pada - Foot
Raja - King
Kapota - Pigeon
Asana - Pose
Level - Intermediate
Mermaid pose is wonderful for opening up the spine and the front body, that tends to tighten up do to modern living. The opposite of violence and pain, is kindness and compassion, Mermaid Pose opens up the heart Chakra which promotes loving kindness. This pose is also challenging to tighter bodies and it is important to practice Mermaid Pose with caution and Ahimsa so you don't push past your limits. Remember yoga is not about looking good in a pose, its about feeling good in your body.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Boosts energy in the body
Releases stress and tension
Opens up tight hips
Strengthens pelvic floor and core muscles
Improves flexibility of the spine
Lengthens quads and hip flexors
Opens up the chest and shoulders
Can ease sciatica
Supports the digestive and reproductive systems
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Current knee or shoulder injury
High or low blood pressure
HINTS AND TIPS
You can use a belt to grab hold of the foot if your shoulders are tight.
Place a block or blanket under the hip of the front leg if your hips are really tight
Work within the limits of your body and know the staying in pigeon pose is always an option