How to Practice 'Ahimsa' in Every-Day Life
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
What is Ahimsa?
Let's dive into some Yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras set out by Patanjali is a 8-limb path to follow in order to reach liberation or enlightenment. The first four of which is:
Yamas (moral guidelines)
Niyamas (self-regulating behaviours)
Asana (physical postures)
Pranayama (breath control techniques)
The Yamas are moral principles/guidelines that influence how we show up in the world. They lay the foundation of how we approach life and in turn, approach our practice. For me, it is the part that is responsible for the 'living' Yoga as opposed to the 'doing' Yoga. If we simply ignore the Yamas & Niyamas and focus solely on the physical postures, then we are simply not practicing Yoga but just stretching and breathing. Therefore, it is so crucial to have a deeper understanding of Yoga philosophy before we even get onto the mat.
The Yamas, of which there are five, begin with Ahimsa. Ahmisa is a Sanskrit word meaning "non-violence." The term is derived from the root word himsa, meaning "to cause pain," and the prefix, a, that means "not."
In a broader sense, ahimsa means "universal love and compassion." Practice of ahimsa involves refraining from causing physical and psychological pain to any living being, including ourselves. Ahimsa is forgiveness, divine love, and sacrifice. Ahmisa, in short, is being non-violent in thought and action, in body and soul. And there are so many ways of how we can explore and practice ahimsa in the modern world. Here are just a few suggestions I have put together below...
How can we practice Ahimsa in everyday life?
#1 Eat at least one nutritious meal a day
Practicing compassion to ourselves means not only taking care of our minds but our bodies too. Our bodies need nutritious and wholesome food to thrive so give yourself the gift of this pleasure. Try to incorporate at least five fruit and veg into your day even if it means buying it straight from the supermarket. Pre-plan some of your meals and indulge in leftovers. Leftovers are the single, most important way I minimise effort to cook. When you get time to cook, cook large portions so you can heat up leftovers when you are busy.
#2 Develop awareness of your thoughts
We can understand ahimsa as being mindful of thoughts. Thoughts naturally move in and out our mind all the time. Our thoughts and emotions play such a big role in our overall wellbeing. The way we think, and feel is proven to be connected to our immunity and brain function.
Mindfulness helps you to observe and develop awareness of your thoughts objectively, so you have time to decide whether to react to them or not. Similarly, if we don’t weed out seeds of self-harm or self-criticism, those seeds begin to multiply. We start to judge, compare, and criticise ourselves and others. The thoughts themselves don’t necessarily cause harm. However, holding onto thoughts and letting them repeat is what leads into words or actions. If you are constantly critical of yourself, you will inevitably be critical of others. Coming from a space of accepting and appreciating the innate imperfect perfectness of ourselves and people around us will strengthen the roots of ahimsa in us.
Here are some practical tips:
Do one thing for yourself every day (yes, everyday) that makes you happy
Give genuine compliments
Observe your anger or judgements and learn how to process them
Listen to others without thinking of your response. Listen to understand, not to respond
Perform random acts of kindness
Try to make someone else smile. It will make you smile too!
Say what you’re grateful for when you wake up and, say what you’re thankful for as you reflect on the day before you go sleep
Carve out proper time to rest and be with yourself
Develop hobbies that excite and uplift you
Get out of your comfort zone and try out new things and meet new people
#3 Try not to skip your meals or zzzzzz's
When I'm hungry or tired, I tend to not feel at my best. I get grumpy easily, become irritable and feel generally low. These states indicate low prana (vital energy). When our prana is low, it is difficult to practice ahimsa and be compassionate to others. So, make sure that you maintain high prana in yourself. Food, sleep, breath, and maintaining a calm state of mind are great sources of energy that help maintain high prana.
#4 Care for Mother Earth and our ecosystems
Trying to live each day as environmentally friendly as possible is a great way to practice ahimsa. Here are a few ways we can express our care for Mother Earth.
Taking staircases instead of elevators; walking and riding bikes instead of using a car and carpooling whenever possible.
Taking time to recycle and re-use
Bringing cloth or plastic reusable bags whenever you go grocery shopping
Supporting local businesses, and shopping at the local farmers markets or produce shops.
Switching to natural products to minimise the use of harmful chemicals
Buying second-hand clothes
Minimising paper products and using recyclable containers
Consuming less meat or being vegetarian for one day a week
Learning where our clothes and other objects come from, and choosing ethical companies and providers (or the most ethical shall I say...)
#5 Practice non-violence on the mat...
It is sometimes easier to practice self-compassion and kindness to ourselves on our mats rather than in real-life. When we learn how to develop this skill on the mat, it can be easier to translate it into our daily lives. Here are some useful questions to consider when practicing yoga:
Do you harm yourself in any way by either being too pushy or being too lazy?
Do you deny your body rest when needed?
Do you pay attention to your breath?
Do you glance at the other students in the yoga studio/online class and compare yourself to them?
Do you base your self-worth on whether you can do a certain pose or not?
Do you think how ugly your toes look when you are doing a forward bend or roll your eyes in sarcasm at your love handles in a side bend?
Do you get mad at yourselves for your chattering mind in savasana or in meditation?
These are good questions to ask yourself when next practicing to bring some ahimsa into our yoga practice.
#6 Just let it go...
Sometimes we just need to put a stop to controlling everything and need to let go and let things flow. A compulsive need to control is just a product of various fears that we have. Fear is the basis of violence and aggression. When we start letting go of preconceived ideas or outcomes, we start feeling more at peace with ourselves, others around and situations that we are in. Learning to surrender is a skill worth developing. This shouldn’t be confused with allowing harmful things to happen to you. It's more about learning to surrender to things out of your control. Just let it go and see where life takes you.
Please note: Part of practicing ahimsa is understanding that we are imperfect and that there will be times that we will cause harm to others and ourselves (whether intentional or non-intentional. However, it's more about reducing the harm caused wherever possible and reflecting/learning from our experiences.
This whole month we are exploring the great vow of Ahimsa in our studio and online classes. Please join me if you wish to learn and explore more about this :-)