Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yama 1 - Ahimsa

As promised on the Yamas and Niyamas post, it is now time to tackle these concepts on an individual basis, to really get the most out of all that work those kind sages did for us over two thousand years ago! So let's start at the top, with our first Yama... Ahimsa.

Ahimsa is the sanscrit term for "non-violence" or "non-harming"; or, as it is often nicely put, kindness to all living beings. It is gentleness in action, thought and speech. At it's most simple, this obviously means not murdering or harming other people (which we here at Broga Melbz feel is a pretty solid thing to recommend) or animals (which if you wish you can take as far as vegetarianism or veganism) but it also can be followed in a far more subtle and complex way at the level of our own thoughts and words towards others... and ourselves.

Yamas and Niyamas do not just cover our actions, but our thoughts and speech, and Ahimsa is a perfect place to start examining this more fully. It may be easy to say we do not physically harm or injure others (I WOULD HOPE!) but can that also be as easily said of our words and thoughts? Do we sometimes snap or speak impatiently towards others, or lash out and say cruel things when we are feeling hurt? And, probably even more commonly, are we in the habit of speaking cruelly and viciously TO OURSELVES??

A good way to practice Ahimsa in that case, is to first practice it as often as possible on ourselves... where it may be a fairly big revolution if we are used to continuously berating ourselves for not being "good enough", or comparing ourselves unfavourably to others! We can be our own worse critic - some thoughts we have towards ourselves can be crueler than anything we would ever imagine saying out loud towards others - and we are also in the habit of constantly judging our own internals against others externals. Meaning we look to what others project into the world, and compare ourselves to that false image, not knowing what truly may be going on in that person's life and mind. No wonder we come up short!

This comparison does us no favours, rather we need to look inside our own life and personality and see what is positive and worth admiring there. This can be hard work I know, and may feel strange at first - after years of self criticism we may have even managed to convince ourselves there is nothing there to admire (not true!)

By using Ahimsa we can begin to undo the damage that this kind of thinking can do, and emerge happier, more content in ourselves and more at peace. And naturally once we are in this state it will be almost unavoidable to let this kindness spill over to others.

So start by just observing - how do you speak to yourself? Do you call yourself "stupid" or berate yourself for not living up to where you think you should be. If you do - STOP! Stop by responding to that thought with kindness (and not by telling yourself off for telling yourself off - then we're right back where we started from!) Accept where you are and acknowledge that you are trying your best. Start "speaking back" to that voice, replacing that harsh, judgemental tone with something kinder. If someone you loved made a minor mistake would you yell at them and call them names, or would you tell them "honey, it's no big deal, don't worry about it"? Start to love yourself and tell yourself the same damn thing! You deserve it :)

Even if there is something you wish to change about yourself, acting with cruelty towards yourself isn't going to help. For example if your were wanting to lose some weight, calling yourself names and thinking negatively about how you have failed by not having lost it by the timeframe you wanted, is neither kind NOR effective! Rather accept your body the way it is in this moment, and encourage yourself by reminding yourself you may not be where you want to be but you are genuinely trying to change. Remind yourself of all the good choices and steps you have made, even if you maybe just made one that wasn't so great! Berating yourself will change nothing, and in fact probably just wear you down, setting you up for failure. Accepting and forgiving yourself, being kind in other words, will lead you more easily towards succeeding, and you will feel good about yourself in the process.

Don't wait till you are "perfect" until you feel you deserve your own kindness, because I hate to tell you... that day will never come! And frankly I'm glad! How boring would we all be without our lovely flaws :)

Use this same practice of observation to practice Ahimsa towards others. Witness how you speak to others, and the effects of your words upon them. Could you replace them with a kinder, less hurtful way of communicating? Same with your thoughts, if you feel yourself becoming frustrated or thinking less than lovely thoughts about someone in your head, remind yourself they are just another person who is trying to get by in this world. 99.9% of the time they have no intent of annoying you.

Okay, okay! I have gone on and on about this, but it is something I really feel passionate about and want to share with you! Personal anecdote time: this kind of cruel and judgemental thinking towards oneself was something I struggled with A LOT when I was younger, and boy do I know how utterly painful and destructive it can be! And that it maybe never really goes away (sorry!). BUT, by catching this hurtfulness and turning it to into kindness you can manage it pretty damn well, changing the levels of happiness and mental calmness you feel in a pretty phenomenal way. So please, if this resonates with you, start this practice of observation, acceptance and kindness towards yourself and others, and see what happens. You might just be surprised!

Thanks for reading, and as ever... Bromaste!


  1. Great post! I hope you don't mind, but I swiped your image for my own post :-))) I just found your blog, and so far I love love love.

    1. Thank you very much Brian! And I love that you used the image on your blog, my little Brogi looks right at home there. Really enjoyed reading your post, will definitely have to put some time aside to read the rest of your blog asap :)

  2. Hi there - I just found your site also by looking for images that would represent ahimsa because I'm putting together a slideshow for a talk I'm giving about the connections between veganism and ahimsa. I know you posted this many years ago and so maybe you won't even see this but I felt like I had to quickly comment. I appreciate the angle of your post that we need to be kind to ourselves - we absolutely do - but the brief mention that "At it's most simple, this obviously means not murdering or harming other people (which we here at Broga Melbz feel is a pretty solid thing to recommend) or animals (which if you wish you can take as far as vegetarianism or veganism)" seemed odd to me. Like I said, I just found your site so I'm not familiar with everything your yoga studio stands for and promotes, but I'd like to suggest that IF you do not currently promote veganism when speaking about ahimsa then you are doing your students a disservice. It's not taking it "far" to suggest that we abstain from paying others to breed, mutilate, and kill sentient beings for no reason other than habit, convenience, and our fleeting taste preferences. When we refuse to take part in that cruel cycle of purchasing animal flesh and secretions to consume (or when we wear their skin or pay to see them used for entertainment) it's not only causing harm to those animals but harms ourselves: our health, our environment, our psyche. I hope you agree! - Nicole, Maryland, USA