Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means non-violence or non-injury. It is an ancient and profound concept that is deeply rooted in Indian culture and philosophy. The idea of ahimsa goes beyond mere physical harm and extends to non-violent behaviour towards others, animals, yourself, and even the natural environment.
My recent family holiday in Italy inspired me to write a blog post about Ahimsa. I was lying on the sand with my toes in the water when my sister started asking about some things about yoga, and soon enough, I was teaching her the meaning of ahimsa and how it can be applied to our everyday life. Later that evening, as we were driving home, a mosquito was in the car. I was quick to shout out, "Ahimsa! Don't kill it; open the windows to let it out!" We all burst into laughter and they opened the windows to get the mosquito out instead of...you know what. It was a small gesture, but it made me aware of how important non-violence is in daily interactions. Even the smallest actions help.
However, ahimsa is not just about interpersonal relationships or small gestures of kindness towards others. It is also about extending compassion and empathy to all living beings. As Mo Gawdat explains in his book Scary Smart, artificial intelligence is learning from how we treat other beings. If we teach AI to value and respect all forms of life, even something as small as a fly, it sets a precedent for how we should be treated ourselves.
Ahimsa reminds us to live our lives with dignity, respect, and compassion towards others and ourselves. It is a powerful concept that can help us create a more peaceful and harmonious world. Let us always strive to practice ahimsa daily, and remember that every small act of non-violence can make a positive impact.
Ahimsa in the yoga philosophy
Ahimsa is a fundamental principle integrated into the philosophy of yoga. In the ancient text of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which is considered the foundational text of yoga, ahimsa is one of the Yamas, which are moral and ethical principles that guide our behaviour towards others and ourselves.
The Yamas represent the first limb of yoga, known as the "Yamas and Niyamas." They are guidelines for living a virtuous and balanced life. Ahimsa, being the first Yama, serves as the foundation of the entire yogic path. It emphasises non-violence in thought, speech, and action.
By practising ahimsa, we cultivate a sense of compassion, non-judgment, and harmlessness towards others. We learn to interact with the world in a way that avoids causing suffering and promotes peace. Ahimsa encourages us to harness our thoughts and emotions, ensuring they do not lead to harm towards ourselves or others.
Incorporating ahimsa into our yoga practice means being mindful of our physical postures (asanas) and avoiding force or strain that could potentially lead to injury. It also means cultivating a non-competitive mindset and accepting our limitations without aggression or self-criticism.
Moreover, ahimsa extends beyond the mat and into our daily lives. It challenges us to approach conflicts and disagreements with empathy and understanding. Ahimsa encourages us to cultivate loving-kindness, forgiveness, and patience, ultimately contributing to a more harmonious and compassionate society.
By practising ahimsa as part of the eight limbs of yoga, we can create a more peaceful and compassionate world within ourselves and in our interactions with others. It is a constant reminder to be conscious of our actions and words and to choose kindness in every situation.