Ahimsa, dear Ahimsa. The first Yama. The first thing we learn in the eight limbs of yoga… but let me take it back a step for you…
There are eight limbs of yoga, this we know – without wanting to repeat myself, you can read an outline of them all here.
The first limb? The Yamas – moral observances that show us how we can best act towards ourselves, and the world around us. Because, if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself – right?
There are five Yamas, and the first is Ahimsa – meaning non violence or non harming.
This little Yama teaches us to be good to ourselves, and in turn we will be good to others.
Don’t put yourself under any unnecessary pressure, don’t be down on yourself, don’t physically harm yourself.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I fell even more deeply in love with yoga when I discovered the Yamas and the Niyamas (which we will get to in six weeks time!) – this to me changed the whole way I viewed my physical practice.
In yoga, in the physical practice it is easier said than done to practice Ahimsa, especially when we are new to yoga – we want to do it all… NOW! And we often force our bodies to do things before it’s ready, which is when we get hurt, something that happens especially when the ego takes over.
Remember the ego? That little voice that says ‘she can do that, so why can’t I?’ Truth is, maybe because your body isn’t made that way, maybe you will never be able to do it, maybe you can’t today but can tomorrow. So what? Don’t pressure yourself to do anything before it’s ready.
And off the mat too – I mentioned an example in class – about being vegan so you don’t harm any living thing. But then what if all your food intolerances cause you to harm yourself with what’s left on the shelf that you can eat? You’re not hurting other animals, but you’re hurting yourself, you won’t then be your best self, and won’t be able to help others – and the circle goes on!
Balance things out: do what you can, do your bit but do what you can to keep yourself happy, healthy and helpful to others.
Ahimsa is often considered the most important Yama, which is probably why it’s the first.
And for me the warrior poses (Warrior II seen in the photo above) are a good symbol of Ahimsa: Virabhadrasana translates to hero friend – named after the fierce warrior Virabhadra, who is said to symbolise our inner ability to overcome ego and ignorance. So warrior postures aren’t actually fighting postures, they’re about peace and finding inner strength, of focus and confidence – a strength that overcomes the ego that harms.
Be good to yourself, and you will be the best version of yourself, be a warrior.