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Ahimsa

This week I am joined by my dear friend and sister from another mother, Katie Elliott. I hope you enjoy her writing and spirit as much as I do. This week we are exploring the Yama Ahimsa in an effort to look at the way we move and the effect we have on our world. Whisper quietly and sweetly, "do no harm." xx- Adriene

Ahimsa

When we delve into yoga, beyond the poses that keep our bodies feeling good and our beings centered, we inevitably come across the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa is one of 5 yamas - the moral and ethical guidelines that yogis strive to live by. In short, ahimsa is the principle of nonviolence. Sounds like a cinch, right? At first glance, what probably comes to mind is physical violence towards another so it’s easy to think we’ve got that one in the bag. It’s when we dig a little deeper that we see all that ahimsa encompasses and just how important, and at times difficult, this yama is.

 

a·him·sa    nonviolence towards oneself and all living creatures; an attitude of universal benevolence; the spontaneous expression of the highest form of love; the complete absence of violence from mind, body and spirit.

 

Wow. What amazing concepts to strive for! We could talk for days on this subject but for now, here are a few examples of how we can start incorporating more of this principle in our daily lives.

Ahimsa in your physical yoga practice (asana): Remember that time in yoga class, when your body was asking for bridge pose but everyone else seemed to be popping up into a perfect backbend and you almost caved (against better judgment) but at the last minute, before pushing up into said backbend, you chose what was right for your body over what your ego was yelling at you to do? Well congratulations! You just practiced ahimsa! It’s the concept of not pushing your body beyond what it is capable of and in doing so, possibly causing yourself injury.

But we haven’t even mentioned the self talk that was going on during all of this....ahhhh, the practice of ahimsa when it comes to our thoughts! (Insert scary music here. Just kidding, it’s just a matter of mindfulness.)

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I believe most people don’t consider themselves as being violent towards other people/creatures. (I’m not going to go into vegetarianism here but that is a way that many people practice ahimsa and a great conversation...)

As I was saying, we may pride ourselves on our loving, peaceful, inclusive mindset towards our brothers and sisters, but when it comes to our own self talk, holy cow, we can be down right mean. “I’m not good enough, I suck, I’m too fat, I’m not smart enough, athletic enough, skinny enough, young enough...I’m not enough or I’m too much, I hate myself!” This is classified as harmful and sometimes violent self talk. Things that we’d never dream of saying to our best friend, we hurl at ourselves numerous times a day. And sometimes totally unconsciously.

Ahimsa reminds us to be gentle with ourselves. Let’s make self-love cool again, as Adriene says!  We’re going to make mistakes, experience lows, have doubts and insecurities but one of the greatest and most powerful gifts we can give ourselves is to change that negative self talk.

Phew! Ok, let’s lighten the mood and talk about a few other ways to practice ahimsa. Changes we make, habits we create or break stick a lot better when we implement them for the right reasons and when we receive feedback from the experience of doing so. Pick a way that feels right for you and try it on for size, see how you feel. See if it changes your life or at least your mind set.

-For those of us who have a tendency to push ourselves physically, let’s take a month and dial it back a bit. Incorporate some down time. (Permission granted to binge watch that Netflix series!)

-Maybe it’s showing more kindness to the weird co-worker instead of gossiping about them at the water cooler.

-Maybe it’s trapping that spider and taking it outside instead of throwing a shoe at it while standing on the arm of the couch. (You will feel like a brave, immortal super hero for this, trust me, and that’s an instant benefit!)

-Becoming conscious of any road rage we may have. Whoa nelly, that’s a good one! Imagine a world with no road rage!!!

There are a great many ways to begin to incorporate more of this beautiful principle into our lives, and the world can only become a better place (albeit more spider filled) because of it! (And there will be way more benevolent super heroes to go along with all those spiders.)

Please feel free to comment below on the wonderful ways in which you already practice, or plan to start practicing ahimsa!

 

Namaste,

Katie

 

Katie is an artist with a lust for travel and a profound love of nature. Her ideas of true happiness consist of: a great book, a blank notebook and pen, the beach, oil paints, a glass of good wine, yoga, soul friends and lots of laughing. Not necessarily in that order.

Connect with her on Instagram at @katieelliott108 or @dakinikate.

                                                              Katie and Adriene cheese.

53 comments on “Ahimsa”

  1. Beautifully narrated with some simple steps to bring ahimsa into our day to day life. Spiders will be most happy lot...!! 🙂

    1. It seems I’ve been practicing Ahimsa principles in the form of cognitive behavioral self therapy. Small conscious tweaks everyday. This is a lovely post. Would love to learn more about the yama of Ahimsa. Any suggestions for resources?

      1. The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi has an excellent section on the Yam and Niyamas. I love her take on ahimsa.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Katie. They are very thought provoking indeed. But hey, no more spiders being put outside, because evidently it kills them. Just let them loose in a dark indoor space, so that they will stay cosy! Kind regards. Reg. Namaste!!

    1. Good to know! I have a little spider in the corner of my room this very minute, so I'll just let her be. Thanks Reg. 🙂

    2. That's a good point - I thought I was doing the right thing by putting the little guys outside. I will remember this from now on!

  3. This was so great to read. I needed to hear this, especially the part about not pushing ourselves past a safe point, in our asanas or workouts. I always have that inner dialogue that goes between, "You need to push yourself harder in order to feel good about yourself!" and "You know what it feels like to be injured and unable to work out - slow down!" This was a good reminder to practice nonviolence towards ourselves.

  4. What about taking care of your nutrition by feeding our body healthy food instead of making it "fight" against unhealthy foods? is that considered an act of Ahimsa as well?

    1. I'd say yes, but intention is a large component of ahimsa. When we knowingly consume things that aren't good for our health, then ahimsa reminds us that there is room for improvement. 🙂

  5. I think the universe is talking to me. My first in class yoga session was at an Ahimsa Studio just last week. I was unaware of Ahimsa before finding this place. The vibe there was great. Though I was in a room full of strangers I felt as comfortable as I do when I'm on the mat at home with Adriene (and Benji). When I received the email announcing Adriene's new Ahimsa video I was excited. I feel I'm on the right path. Thank you, Adriene. And thank you, Katie, for this great article.

  6. I love how getting onto my yoga mat has created beautiful intentions within me... I stopped eating animal flesh and started appreciating the joy of nourishing myself without violence. I began a journey of caregiving for my parents, both with dementia/Alzheimer's. I created space in the morning for meditation and looking inward, to be more gentle with my ruminating self. And the most amazing part of this journey is that I didn't have to force myself to do any of these things, the intentions and actions seemed to grow organically out of my joy in Adriene's gentle yoga practise. Namaste and love, may we all awaken to a more nonviolent universe.

    1. Wow this is so lovely. I wish you a lot of strength and patience, I remember how hard it was when my grandfather had Alzheimer and my mom took care of him for several years...

    2. I love this. I find a similar response to changing what's on my plate, and leaving violence off. My whole mood and energy towards myself and others is more centered, calm and relaxed. More loving.

  7. Katie, I loved this post- so funny and practical! I am a newbie to all of this yoga lifestyle and the 5 yamas. Do you have a good book recommendation for me? I’d love to learn more.

    1. Hi Keri! Thanks for the sweet feedback and I'm glad to hear you are starting your journey into yoga. I think you'll love it and I do have two good book recommendations. (Well, I have A LOT more that 2 but I won't overwhelm you). The Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar and The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. Happy reading!

  8. Oh, this Self Talk. I think this is the biggest one. If you practice kindness with yourself you cannot be as mean as before to others.

    Great text!

  9. I read something recently which suggested wearing a hair band on your wrist and changing sides every time you catch yourself at negative self talk. Amazing how it highlights and encouraged a change in this habit

    1. When I started trying to be more conscious of this, I was so surprised at how often I caught myself with negative self talk. It can be so subtle and we can become so used to it that doing something like the hair band trick is a great way to be aware. I love that idea!

  10. Thank you Katie..it's been a while since i revisited the Yamas. Being aware of little ways we "harm" ourselves and others is key to living well. Thank you for putting this together and inspiring many to "do no harm."

  11. Thank you Katie! I've described the comparing and negative self talk as an old granny rat, with hair curlers, that resides in my mind. She's got half a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Is that weird? Absolutely but its a way to not take myself so seriously and get back to the heart space. Where the birds sing and the rain falls!
    P.s. I've had a conversation with the spiders in my home. They are to stay in the closets out of sight. If they want a visible corner of the home it requires a rent payment. Lol

    Thank you again for sharing light namaste

    1. Leeanna, I love the granny rat with curlers and a cigarette! Ha! And the not taking oneself seriously is so important too. Sometimes we do just as much harm judging ourselves for our less than perfect actions. Everybody has a granny rat and she needs love too, dang it! 🙂

      And I've kindly asked all my house mate spiders to just please stay out of my bed.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful words. For me, the negative self talk is a big issue that I recently began to realize. I actually thought I had come a long way with that but when I look at it in terms of this practice... Ahimsa.... I find that subconsciously I have been doing a lot of it and I want that to change. I also want to give so much more love to myself and others.. even the spiders that scare me. Thank you again. I am grateful and learning so much. Namaste beautiful Soul!!!

    1. I think when we learn to give love to ourselves first and foremost, it radiates out to others and to the world. The negative self talk can be subtle too. I know for myself, I catch myself thinking/saying something that's not overly mean or anything - but it's still not how I would talk to my friend or my mom, etc.... so I am working on that every chance I get and I think it is making me more patient with others as well.

      Thank you for the kind feedback and it's nice to have this community to learn and grow with! Namaste!

  13. Thank you Katie and Namaste! Inwould *love* to know about all five yogic principles. I already practice ahimsa by not killing insects and by eating mostly vegetarian but oh my gosh I never thought about it with my self talk This is particularly helpful because I started my journey quitting smoking on January 15th and it has been a rocky ride! The concept of no harm to myself is the basis for my quit and I suppose I realized speaking badly to myself does NOT make it any easier to fight through nicotine cravings but YOGA and the concept of ahimsa does! Love this blog entry! So happy and grateful for reading this on this beautiful April new moon Sunday. Thank you, namaste KULA!

    1. A good book on the yogic principles is The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele! It sounds like you are on a great path and congrats on quitting smoking- that's awesome!

  14. Thank you for this! My New Years Resolution is Patience, Tolerance, Forgiveness and I try to remember that every day. Still not sure about the spider thing...

  15. I love this Katie! Well done! I love that it is all-encompassing. NO violence. Even though I like to think my self-aggression doesn't harm anyone else, I know at another level that it makes me less accepting than I would like to be. Thank you, goddess!

  16. I love this! Thank you for writing it! It is so hard to try to not be perfect or strive for perfection! I know we are all human but who wants to make mistakes? I am a nurse and I definitely don't want to make mistakes! I strive for that perfection in every aspect of my life, not just work. But when I am on the mat that is one of the few places I am ok with not being perfect and being just me and I am working on transferring that to other aspects of my life.

    Also, asking for a friend, does flushing stink bugs down the toilet count against practicing ahimsa?

  17. It's the self talk that I continue to struggle with. Thank you Katie and Adrienne for this lesson on Ahimsa. I finished The Crown, suggestions on the next Netflix binge, greatly appreciated!

  18. I started being conscious of my road rage a few years ago and it has completely changed my mood and life! I live in Los Angeles where traffic is a part of life, and for a while I was letting it stress me out constantly -- but then one day I just decided to stop letting it get to me. If somebody wants to speed past me and cut me off, fine -- they must just be in a much bigger hurry than I am. It's a little crazy how just a tiny change in mindset can make a huge difference in one's life!

  19. Katie, this was thought provoking and worth reading! I’m relatively new to yoga and have just completed Adriene’s True 30 day Yofa! I shall now follow her monthly timetable. I and very guilty of over pushing myself and causing injury and as you pointed out - then I can’t practice at all! I shall remember to practice your ahimsa advice in future - although I will find it hard! Old habits die hard!! Thank you!!

  20. This was beautiful. I love it. Thank you so much for sharing it with me. Namaste xo

  21. You made me smile with the spider story. Yes, I remember that time I had to free two big spiders from the bath tub in our holiday house. Taking the vacuum cleaner would have been so much easier, but I decided that I didn't want to do that. I took me a lot of 'focussing on the breath' to come close enough to trap them in a glass, but that feeling afterwards... Oh yes!!!
    It's good to take time to reflect on ahimsa every once in a while (and act, of course)...

  22. Hi Adriene, It's so sweet to have a best friend like kattie.. What a beautiful story about ahimsa, thank you for sharing this !

    -Depobola

  23. I did my AHIMSA session last night and I felt great!!! It was just what I needed!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful ideas!! I am a little too strict with myself and I want to learn how to incorporate AHIMSA principles into my daily life!!!
    By the way!! I live I the mountains of Costa Rica and I am surrounded by spiders and scorpions...I will try not to kill them!

  24. I can’t tell you how much this writing has affected me. I started doing yoga with Adrienne in January and I love how it makes me feel. However, I didn’t realize how much negative self talk I had been doing until I read this. Thank you Katie for sharing. I know I will be a changed person as a result of incorporating Ahimsa into my daily routine.

  25. Hello! Thank you SO much for all that you do! My young son would like me to request that you pretty please make a free yoga for growing pains. His legs and arms ache quite a lot!
    Thank you so much!
    Blessings!
    Casey & Sam

  26. Thanks for this beautiful and possitive message! blessing and love to both of you and the whole Adriene comunity =)

  27. Love from the PHilippines.

    I love boxing and MMA but the weird thing is I love your peaceful Yoga takes me away from it and gives me that balance.

    Thanks Adrienne!

  28. I've decided to do a deeper dive into my yoga practice and will definitely read the suggested books. I did want to share that *because* of this post, when I saw a spider this morning, I chose to let him free outside rather than killing him on the spot. Now I have to figure out how to do that while still breathing... 🙂

  29. Madam,please do a yoga for hypertension,I m only 28,my BP is 140/80 mmHg,I m doing some of your yoga videos on and off .please give some tips.thank you mam.

  30. A little late to the party here but thank you for this post. It helped me reset and remember all the ways in which I can be improve my own self talk and also to curb any outwardly personal grievances against others who have done me harm. You are amazing (and so is Katie)!

  31. I’ve decided to do a deeper dive into my yoga practice and will definitely read the suggested books. I did want to share that *because* of this post, when I saw a spider this morning, I chose to let him free outside rather than killing him on the spot. Now I have to figure out how to do that while still breathing…

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