The first time I learned about Patanjali’s 8-limbs was in my 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training back in 2003. As a group we read through the eight limbs, including the yamas and niyamas with each of their sub-limbs.
When ahimsa was discussed, my first thought was, “I haven’t killed anybody… check”, and I moved on. It took a little while for it to sink in that it was not the same as “Thou shalt not kill”, which was part of my Roman Catholic schooling.
When I realized that non-harming was different from not killing (although it can include not killing – depends on the context… as does everything in life), then I had to take a closer look at what this meant, and where harming or violence showed up in my life. I wasn’t a “bad” person or anything, however there was definitely room for improved awareness.
I have since done many experiments in the name of ahimsa:
- Became a vegetarian.
- Try not to rush. Making choices that put me in a position to rush is harmful to “my” self.
- Practice saying no. I can’t be everything to everyone, and it takes a huge amount of energy to try. I’ve decided that I need to focus on my dharma (purpose), and if something isn’t in line with that, then it’s harmful to the piece of the universe that I’m here to support, and to myself.
- Therapy… Learning to work with my emotions so they don’t end up expressing in harmful ways… probably some of the hardest work I’ve done.
- Resumed eating meat after 3 years of vegetarianism… this one was interesting. I chose my health, so I could be of service. Without my health, I was unable to teach, to be a great life partner, or even to go for tea and be a friend.
- Non-judgment. I don’t like how I feel when I’m being judgy, and I don’t like how it feels to be judged. We sometimes forget how powerful our words are, and how hurtful they can be.
- Trying not to be a “pain in the butt” – being aware of what’s going on around me, and working not to create more suffering or work for others. It’s amazing how much suffering we can cause by accident… I take the free parking spot and fail to realize that it’s someone’s designated parking. I’m not looking and I cut in front of someone in line at the store. Cutting someone off while driving.
And after years of practicing restraint, I realized that there was another facet of practice that had completely eluded my awareness – the active practice of love, reverence and compassion towards others. This one is a fascinating practice. I have a bunch of experiments here too:
- Daily yoga practice & Self-Care routines. I make better choices and am more loving when I feel good about myself, which makes it beneficial for those around me.
- Smiling at strangers.
- Being fully present – especially if I’m with other people. I noticed I had the habit of half-listening and half doing other stuff.
- Improving my communication skills.
- Learning to listen.
All my experiments in ahimsa are works in progress. I have yet to master any of them. And yet, I continue to explore and try. I have found each of them valuable, and very enriching. One of the biggest learnings for me is how personal this practice is (what you choose depends on your context), and yet how the effects ripple outward so strongly to affect many others.
What does your ahimsa practice look like? Where would you like to see it go?
Mona teaches Ayurvedic Yoga at the Janati Yoga School in Kingston Ontario, where she lives with her wonderful husband, their enthusiastic dog, and ninja kitten. When she’s not teaching, practicing or talking about yoga, you might find her enjoying a good meal, kayaking, climbing a mountain in Ireland, or zip-lining over a forest in Costa Rica, Roatan, or Whistler BC.