Ahimsa Non Violence
Ahimsa is often translated as non violence. It is an important concept in Buddhism, Hinduism & Jainism. Ahimsa is also the first yamas (moral disciplines) described in Patanyali’s Yoga Sutra. And the yama’s are the first limb of Yoga. This means that if you are beginning your Yoga journey, then you have to understand ahimsa.
While Ahimsa is commonly referred to as “non violence” the more correct literal translation from Sanskrit is “absence of injury”. This is an ancient concept that originated in the Vedas—Indian spiritual and philosophical wisdom dating from 1900 BCE. This concept is over 4,000 years old.
Yet, many mislabel Gandhi as the ‘father of ahimsa or non violence’. They are not aware that Gandhi was symbolically reclaiming India’s rights and identity from the British Raj by embodying what had long been integral to ancient Indian philosophy: ahimsa.
What is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa means living in a way that causes no injury in thought, speech, or action to any being, including ourselves.
And the only way one causes no harm – is by understanding & resolving the conflicts within your own psyche. Ahimsa is always an internal process.
If someone did something that impacted my emotions, beliefs or sense of self, then any response I make in that state of agitation – is an act of violence. To practice ahimsa – you have to reflect on the root cause of that agitation and resolve it within yourself. Only when you are genuinely not agitated internally – are you able to practice ahimsa.
Other concepts confused with Ahimsa
Ahimsa is not to be confused with kshama (forgiveness) or daya (compassion or kindness). Ahimsa goes beyond these concepts. If I (my ‘ego’) feels injured by someones action – then I need to forgive them (Kshama). And if I can’t forgive, then I need to show compassion (daya) as this prevents me from reacting to the situation negatively. You see, forgiveness, compassion or kindness are all egoic processes and as long as you have to forgive, show compassion or kindness, you are not really practicing ahimsa.
A Personal Struggle with Ahimsa
I often say that Yoga is not just a practice for me. It underpins every aspect of my life. Yoga is deeply rooted in my personal psyche, my family tradition, my cultural heritage, my DNA. For me teaching Yoga is not a career but a personal calling. And I resisted teaching in public classes for a very long time because I did not want to misrepresent Yoga, the authentic practice & philosophy.
Due to these beliefs, I often found myself upset when I saw Yoga misrepresented in the press, on social media or in yoga classes. And I would observe myself in a state of ambiguity. Part of my ego “the academic” reacted to the perceived misrepresentation in annoyance, wanting to quickly correct the error. A second part “the inner Yogi” called for reflection on my annoyance & pranayama (breath work) to stabilise my emotional state. And “the pragmatist” part of my ego searched for the most practical, effective resolution to all situations. In my youth “the academic” often got her way.
As my Yoga practice developed, I learned that “the academic” needed to be tempered with kshama (forgiveness), “the pragmatist” needed daya (compassion & kindness) and “the inner Yogi” needed space/time. But I also began to see that if any of these parts of my ego were active, then I was not practicing ahimsa.
So I found myself having to remind “the academic” if she popped up, to embody the wisdom, but let go of the need to be wise. And I find her popping up less frequently. I remind “the pragmatist” to go with the flow. And challenges seem to spontaneously resolve. And “the inner Yogi” has learned to honour the process.
So, do I practice Ahimsa?
Yes, often. It is becoming a more spontaneous process. But more importantly, I am aware when I am not practicing ahimsa.
With this awareness, I find myself reflecting on and resolving more within my own psyche. And this is the beauty of Yoga, self awareness gained through every limb. Excuse the pun.