Yoga Ethics 1, AHIMSA

posted in: Sutra, Yamas & Niyamas | 10
Clematis flower, Fredonia NY (ckg photo)

The first Yama is AHIMSA,  nonviolence.

I write this first yama post on nonviolence while Superbowl43 is on in another room….just to add a tad of irony regarding bringing nonviolence home.  OK OK I know that football is not intrinsically violent…but the ads often suggest a way of life that, well, can be improved upon!

Bouanchaud begins his discussion of these precepts by saying the “Respect for all beings and all things must permeate all levels.”

Ahimsa  shines like a luminous flower in the center of the circle of our practice, penetrating through and illuminating all other areas of the eightfold path.

Georg Feuerstein, preeminent yoga scholar, says in The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali,  “They are not only the first steps on the path but form the very foundation of the whole yogic enterprise. At first the practice of these moral principles requires conscious effort, but as  the yogin’s inner being becomes more attuned to the  higher realities, the application of non-harming, truthfulness, and the other virtues becomes habitual.”

Yogini-writer Nischala Joy Devi (The Secret Power of Yoga, A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras)) underscores the importance of Ahimsa in the practice of the other Yamas:

“When we revere all as ourselves through Ahimsa, the other four qualities of Yama: Satya (truthfulness), Astheya (generosity), Brahamacharya (moderation), and Aparigraha, (abundance) are naturally present.”

Ahh, such a place to begin our yoga practice from! And yet, how many of us begin with an underlying sense of violence to our own bodies? How often do we  speak in a derogatory tone or words to our Selves? How often do we compare ourselves to the yogi or yogini practicing next to us, or to the teacher, or some other image we have seen in a magazine?

from my journal:

Ahimsa all of the other principles flow from this

the biggest challenge here for me is to not harm myself

I am really working on caring for myself

mentally, physically, psychologically, spiritually.

Not overdoing anything

finding the optimal, healthy balance

drinking enough water for goodness sakes!

If I harm myself, I harm others

we are connected

being proactively healthy for myself means doing good for others

it means keeping the link whole

do not take the connection lightly

Meanwhile, I reread Farhi’s early pages (YOGA BODY MIND & SPIRIT)  for the umpteenth time and today I make a vow of practicing ahimsa toward myself. Aren’t all of the precepts summed up in this one word?

The popular Buddhist nun from Gampo Abbey, Nova Scotia, Pema Chodron suggests a practice of ultimate friendliness toward oneself. This is ahimsa, lovingkindness, metta.

Can I allow myself to float into …..myself ….without trying to tie myself up?

Can I begin to act as if I love my self?

Can I become devoted to my own spiritual and physical and mental health?.

What is the relationship of me to me?

I am working on my own dear negativity towards myself.

Do you believe in PEACE? Inner…Outer….in your community… with your kids, parents, sisters….World….

Is peace the same as nonviolence – can one be at peace and be violent or self-injurious at the same time?….can they exist without each other?

Are there levels of violence and self or community-injury? How much am I willing to put up with? Do my yoga and meditation practices take me to deeper levels, so that I accept less and less injurious behavior from myself and others?

Do I truly feel this way towards all beings, or only to a certain *level* of being?

What can I do to wake myself up to a deeper practice of AHIMSA? Are there already supports in my life that will encourage the development of this ethical principle in my life?


Taking these thoughts to the international arena, see the excellent Huffington Post blog piece by

Ed and Deb Shapiro – Gitmo Or Gandhi: How Does One Deal With Violence?

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10 Responses

  1. I find practicing ahimsa toward myself is harder than practicing towards others. It’s so easy to start beating myself up over things that are meaningless and its easy to forget and show gratitude for my strenghs and accomplishments. For me, meditating on this principle is important.

  2. Laughingyogini- may you spread laughter throughout the world and may it become an epidemic. as you know laughter is the best medicine.

    Ahimsa ahimsa ahimsa–let it be everyone’s mantra

    Thank you for a super comment on our HuffPo blog

    You will enjoy tomorrow’s –quite cheeky

    In yoga, Brahmananda (Ed)

  3. Brahmananda and Perce, Thanks so much for commenting and spreading your joy and struggle.

    Perce, Remember, even in meditation, practice with lightness. That is how we end up laughing with each other when we’re trying a difficult pose together. That laughter is our communication of sacred honor for each other and ourselves. Your practice remains unbelievably beautiful! I am grateful to be able to participate 🙂

  4. If you enjoy this post, you will surely devour the Carnival of Healing which includes this and several more links to fascinating pieces collected from contemporary blogs.

  5. This is a valiant effort with meaningful intentions. Westerners relate to Eastern philosophy based on their own life experience. When you connect day-to-day activities with the ideas behind yoga sutras, human beings tend to digest them on a practical level. Your website is a gem. Thanks for choosing to share parts of yourself with the world.

  6. Liara, Good point! I guess we relate to EVERYTHING based upon our experiences, don’t we?

    One of the reasons I appreciate Nischala Joy Devi’s book, THE SECRET POWER OF YOGA and Bernard Bouanchaud’s THE ESSENCE OF YOGA is because they discuss the sutras in exactly the manner you describe: as touchstones for living our lives in the contemporary world. Isn’t it amazing that these ancient threads can speak to us with so much truth, today?

    On another note, I appreciate the affirmations for my work. Thank you for offering – once again – your insights in a response.

  7. Thanks for your contribution to the 177th Carnival of Healing.

    Spirituality that doesn’t change everyday life is less useful. Nonviolence is a challenging practice but we mustn’t give up on it. Even in small ways, nonviolence enhances life.

    Pamir | Reiki Help Blog’s last blog post..Modern Reiki

  8. Pamir, It was an honor to be included in that particular Carnival because it was so well done and put together so thoughtfully. Not the usual carnival at all.

    Thanks for your comment about spirituality and daily life – it inspired a blog posting :

    You are so RIGHT ON!

  9. One of the greatest act of ahisma you can do for yourself and for others is to eat vegan foods. This helps yourself (healthy, pure and tasty!) the planet (more greenhouse gas comes from meat eating than all the worlds transportation combined!) and of course th sentient animals who are tortured so.
    .-= E´s last blog ..The successful activist isn’t even active? =-.

  10. I practice Yoga at home mainly for the purpose of having a relax mind and body. Stress is really high on our workplace and yoga helps me relax.

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