The 8 limbs of Yoga: 1st Yama: Ahminsa - Non Violence

If you have read some of my other blog posts on the 8 limbs of Yoga, you will be familiar with the yamas and niyamas, you will understand that these give the aspiring yogi a moral code, a set of principles by which to live.

The Yamas  can be loosely translated as the restraints.  In Christianity the "Thou Shalt Nots", in Buddhism the noble truths, in Hinduism  the Niyamas can be shared as the observances. 

The 1st Yama:  Ahimsa - is translated as Non-Violence

One of the great leaders of modern times - Mahatma Gandhi , helped his country of India gain independence from British colonial rule and as a practicing hindu, he believed in non-violence. It was part of the moral code and for many practicing hindus part of the fabric of Indian life.  Gandhi  took ahimsa or non-violence as his north star, his guiding principle, the reference point for any decision or decree he ever made.

  Gandhi did not fight with the British to achieve his aims.  He simply carried about his business and negotiations, he fasted to the point of death to make a point, but he never called his country to arms against the oppressor, he would not use violence to make change and pleaded with others not to as well.

When I consider non-violence in my own life, I can see that I am asked to be kind.  Firstly,  I consider being non-violent inside of myself.  Can I offer myself space for any violent thoughts I do have, all ideas of revenge, hurting others and even if I think that my actions maybe justified, I first have to admit my own capacity for violence.

It is inconceivable for people to imagine being violent to a helpless infant for example.  When we hear stories on the news that a parent has been violent towards a baby we are shocked and outraged.  However, most parents I know, when down on their knees with tiredness, woken again for the umpteenth time by a baby crying, trying to cope with months and months of being a new parent, feeling sleep deprived,  may have found themselves thinking some kind of momentary violent thought towards their child. Luckily ahimsa is alive within us, we refrain from acting violently and so harmony prevails.... even if the child keeps crying !

Like a priest who preaches love and kindness in his church and then comes home and kicks the dog. Or the boss who tells you they understand when you need to miss work because of your kids, and then shouts at you one day when you had to take a child to the Dr. Or the person at the supermarket who shouts at the check -out clerk. These seemingly little acts of meanness, are actually our capacity for violence acting out. 

It is my belief that we have to own and acknowledge this capacity, this potential for violence that we all have,  in order to obtain an understanding of our non-violent nature.  We have to face the shadow to be able to choose the light.

Yoga means joining, connecting, union.  Your practice on your mat is where you can practice life, and connect and join with all those parts of yourself that you'd maybe rather not see.  Or are too busy to notice.  Once you are aware of your tendencies, habits and blind spots, there's an opportunity to release them.  If they are not seen they can remain silently running the show in the background.

In yoga,  you slow down, you notice and you become aware of those parts of you that you might otherwise miss in a busy life.  Everything that happens on your yoga mat, if you are aware and willing to notice,  is everything that is present in your life.

So how would you practice non-violence on your mat? 

In order to practice non-violence  or ahimsa on your yoga mat, you first need to recognize your tendency to push, to be aggressive, to try and shape yourself into some pose or other.  Watch any violence there might be towards any restriction, injury or hereditary pattern. This can appear as ignoring pain, shooting past it, being aggressive towards it.  Also notice any violence the thoughts that you need to fix or heal or change yourself in anyway.  In short you are looking at any type of violence towards yourself, your body, your emotions or your mind.

A non-violent approach is where you meet yourself where you are right now.  Where you are clear that this is how it is today.  Something maybe painful, maybe tight, maybe you are dealing with a long term restriction or injury.  You may feel terrible.  Your mind maybe full of excessive thinking. And there you are on your mat... just aware, just noticing, breathing and watching how the practice can shift you from anxiety, worry, aggression and violence to a state of  loving presence. 

And throughout your practice you move.   And when you move.  How do you move?  Is is violently? or is it kindly?  Lovingly, gently?   That's not to say you avoid moving strongly, nor do you need to avoid meeting pain or restriction in your body.  And when you can be gentle with yourself, that gentleness will pervade, it will grow, your loving kindness will grow, your mindfulness will blossom into all areas of your life. With ahimsa, non-violence, you approach your mind, your emotions, your body and your spirit with a certain capacity and watch it grow.  Then you can start to feel deep and lasting benefits of a yoga practice both on your mat and in your life.

Kathy White teaches yoga online and in person at her home studio on Vancouver Island.  You can download three free yoga videos from her website at


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