Exploring Pantanjali’s Yamas – Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas, which when translated means nonviolence.  The Yamas are part of the eight-limb path of Pantanjali designed to help move a person along the path of enlightenment.  Nonviolence seems pretty straightforward – don’t beat anyone up, do no harm to any living creature, right?  Turns out, while this is certainly part of Ahimsa, there are acts of violence that people commit each day that they probably have no idea are actually violent.

Have you ever tried to tell someone how to do something better?  Ever find yourself trying to “fix” someone else?  How about worrying about another person’s well-being or choices?  Guess what?  In doing these things, according to the principles of Ahimsa, you have committed an act of violence on another.  While perhaps these were small and well-meaning gestures, nonetheless they were violent acts.  What we are saying when we try to take over another person’s life is that we do not trust them to know best for themselves.  We are showing them disrespect by not allowing them to experience and learn on their own.  Moreover, when we spend time focused at another’s life situation, we are not spending the time on our own path, our own journey.  We end up not living in the present, and in turn committing violence against ourselves.

This really hit me.  I thought I was being kind in many respects.  Wasn’t it better that I told my husband how to “properly” fold the laundry?  Surely, it benefited my son to warn him about the pitfalls of teenage life?  However, spending some time focusing on my need to interfere, I realized how difficult it must be for another person to hear that they seemingly never knew the right way to do anything.  How superior I must sound doling out my advice from on high?  Yikes.

So, now I have been spending my time a little differently.  I’ve surely almost bitten my tongue clear off a few times, and I have also without a doubt “interfered” a bit here and there, but I am trying.  I am aware.  I’m hoping that is half the battle.

To learn more about Ahimsa and the rest of the Yamas and Niyamas, I recommend reading an excellent book by Deborah Adele “The Yamas & Niyamas. Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice.  Deborah has put together a beautifully written book that very simply and eloquently educates the reader about the spiritual wisdom behind the Yamas and Niyamas.  What’s more, she has added a section in each description that invites the reader to delve deeper and explore how each of these observances and practices can apply in their everyday lives.


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