Violence is a sad fact of daily life in the modern world. We’re tend to think of it as dramatic acts like the Westminster attack, highly visible outbursts that we feel helpless to prevent.
Yoga teaches us, though, that we have a responsibility to practice ahimsa — non-violence. The first of the eight limbs of yoga is yama — universal morality. Yama signifies respect for all other beings. It is the ethical foundation of yoga and instructs us to practice non-violence, This is a basic principle of many belief systems, and the basis for living in harmony.
Meditation opens space for ahimsa
To understand our responsibility of non-violence we have to understand that violence isn’t just bombs, knives and fists.Violence begins in thoughts and beliefs. When we are angry and wish someone ill (even if we would never dream of expressing the thought) it is an act of violence. To be unforgiving, hostile, or aloof is to be violent. Prioritising our comfort over someone’s survival is violent. Feeling entitled to our privileges is violent. Withholding kindness or support is violent.
Confronting violence in the world around us means confronting it in our own hearts, minds and spirits. We cannot be mean, even in petty ways, and expect society to hold itself to a higher standard.
This is a huge responsibility. It requires daily effort to respond to other people in loving, positive, peaceful ways.
Yoga is a chance to practice non-violence in a safe, focused environment. Begin by practicing compassion towards yourself and your body while in the studio. Release thoughts of competition or strain, or “I’m doing this wrong.”
Acceptance is the root of ahimsa. When we accept ourselves just as we are, we don’t have angry, aggressive thoughts. Treating ourselves with kindness and compassion is the natural foundation for interacting with other people in an open, compassionate way.
We all have struggles. Instead of building defences or lashing out ahimsa calls on us to love life and love each other. Suffering that turns to anger just causes more suffering. Non-violence is the only way to break the cycle.
Share your questions or thoughts on ahimsa in the comments!