Yoga is so often perceived as a physical practice.
The physical aspect of yoga is actually one limb of an 8 limbed practice that, in its entirety, offers ancient knowledge on how to live a spiritual and balanced life both on and off the mat.
The 8 limbs were written into existence over a thousand years ago by the sage Patanjali, who is considered to be the father of modern day yoga. However, the concepts surrounding yoga may have existed for many years before this, albeit passed down in an oral tradition.
The 8 Limbs
Some of these 8 limbs may prove very difficult to modern day yogis. Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) for example, where you remove external stimuli so that you can listen to the sound from within, may not be available at all times whilst holding down a job and a busy life. But finding the room in our hectic schedules to bring a little pratyahara in can help us to slow down, calm down, and invite more peace, quiet, and awareness into our day to day. Simple adjustments like a temporary social media detox, or not reading the news headlines for a few days can be modern-day twists that encourage pratyahara into our lives!
Today, however, we are discussing one particular limb: the Yamas
What Are The Yamas?
The Yamas are a set of ethical guidelines that are recommended to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. They compose of five self-restraints: things that you shouldn’t do.
The Yamas are also complemented by the Niyamas, a set of things to do, obligations to live by, but we'll get into those another time.
For now, we are just going to focus on the very first Yama, Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which applies to all living beings. However, nonviolence is a broad aspect. While, yes it means not physically hurting or causing damage to others, it also encompasses a whole range of violence that we bring to ourselves, and others, through physical, emotional and psychological violence.
The Yamas are designed to allow us to cleanse the mind, body and spirit by living more consciously.
These Yamas have been in existence for more than 2000 years, and have lasted the test of time because they are just as relatable today as they were when they are written.
Of course, when interpreting ancient principles, we sometimes have to take a look at it from the perspective of our modern day lives. So how can you incorporate Ahimsa in your day-to-day?
In Daily Life
You can apply Ahimsa to your daily life by becoming more conscious of the way that you treat yourself. This can come in many forms. Consumption. The food you eat, the media. By being more aware of Ahimsa you can consider the things you consume daily. Do they cause you harm? Emotionally or physically?
When it comes to diet, if we're talking strict Ahimsa, it would mean to refrain from any animal-derived products. However, that doesn't mean that is the be-all and end-all. We recognise that food is very personal and very cultural. Making steps to ensure that your diet doesn’t hurt the planet, doesn’t cause unnecessary harm to animals, and does not cause undue stress to other human beings is a journey, not a straight-through process.
You can also apply Ahimsa to your diet just by caring for your body, fueling it with a healthy and nutritious diet. Being connected and aware of your body and the changes based on what you eat and drink is a great start to look at areas that you could better care for your body.
How You Treat Yourself
While many people practice nonviolence whether consciously or subconsciously, an area that often gets neglected is in the way you treat yourself. The voice in your head, is that you or an external observer? Are the words inside your head always kind or can they sometimes be cruel?
By practising Ahimsa you are also looking at the way you treat yourself. In times of suffering, times of anger. Do you care for your soul the way you would a close friend going through a tough time?
It is extremely important to remember that it all starts within. Work on self-love and speaking to yourself with words of kindness to incorporate Ahimsa into your life.
How You Treat Others
Alongside the physical harm, it is also just as important to practise nonviolence to others in terms of emotional harm. It can be a natural reaction to retaliate or act in anger but we can practise treating our feelings/thoughts (anger) with compassion and kindness and this will then propel to others.
Responding in loving ways, knowing that you are in control of how you feel and that you have the power to show yourself compassion before you react.
Bringing Ahimsa into your wellness journey means recognising that wellness is holistic. It could be the food you eat but it can also be the way you care for yourself. What makes you feel good and present? Make sure you are making time for it.
Simply by becoming more aware of Ahimsa and starting to bring it into your daily life, you may start to see shifts in others around you. When we find non-violent ways to react and to be, this radiates out onto the world around us. Want to learn more about Ahimsa? Our online short course ‘Love - by BeWell’ is a 7-day course packed full of exercises, meditations, mantras and daily practices that can help you draw the principles of Ahimsa into your day to day life. The course is completely free, and you can sign up HERE