The first of the eight limbs we'll explore in the yoga sutras series, is the first of the Yamas—Ahimsa. Ahimsa is most often translated as "non-violence" and in Ravi Ravindra's translation of The Yoga Sutras, he also extends a few more translations, such as "non-violation", "non-manipulation", and "non-interference." Ahimsa has also been understood as "non-harming."
Ahimsa operates on the level of thought, feeling, speech, and action and points towards inner motivations/restraints, and one's inner relationship with the psyche, heart, spirit, and body — and according to the yoga sutras one cannot truly be free of outer anguish when there is internal struggle or judgment. The inner and outer are understood as intricately connected and one.
With all the yoga sutras, ahimsa is a practice, developing and growing over time. Like any practice, integrating ahimsa into daily life, may require time and mindfulness to become a way of life. Yogic scholar, Georg Feuerstein, wrote, "At first the practice... requires conscious effort, but as the yogin's [or yogini's] inner being become more attuned... the application of non-harming [ahimsa]... becomes habitual."
So whether you're a yoga practitioner or interested in cultivating a more loving life, cultivating ahimsa through conscious practice can lead to a more mindful, compassionate way of being in the world.
Here's 3 ways to get started with cultivating ahimsa (aka... bringing more love & compassion into your life):
1. Shift your perspective. Whenever judgment arises, whether towards yourself or towards others... pause, take a breath, and shift your perspective. Acknowledge that judgment is present and rather than believe the judgment, try shifting your thoughts towards a loving lens, see the situation or thought for what it is, and become compassionately curious about what's happening.
2. Release negativity. Whenever negativity is present, the opposite can also be true. Whenever negativity arises, acknowledge its presence, then describe (either mentally or by writing it down) the opposite emotion/feeling/thought and notice if the positive attribute is a quality that you would like experience more often. If you notice that the same negative feeling continues to arise, you might want to cultivate a daily practice that focuses on cultivating the opposite and positive feeling in your life.
For example: if you feel jealous towards another person, you might start a gratitude journal, where when you wake up every day you write down 3 things that you are grateful for.
3. Let go of the struggle. With non-stop information overload, whether it be the negative media or advertisements telling you that you're 'not good enough,' it can be easy to get overwhelmed or even start believing all the negativity. When you notice a thought arise that tells you that you need to be someone else or you 'should' be doing something (even when it's completely out of congruence of who you are), try dropping these outside expectations and instead turn inward. Breathe. Drop into your heart and breath into the 360 degree circumference of your energetic heart (e.g. front of the heart, both sides of the heart, and the back of the heart), feel the immense amount of love that is available to you, and get aligned with your authentic self.
Stepping into your true self and getting aligned with your authenticity is an act of love.
Acting through non-violence and becoming mindful of your thoughts can be a transformative and in some ways an alchemical practice, turning negativity and challenges into your greatest gifts. As you consciously release negativity (whether subtle or overt), you not only let go of negative emotions and feelings that have been weighing you down — but you also pave new neural pathways in the brain (i.e. literally rewire your brain) to think and feel in a more compassionate, loving, and peaceful way. And it all starts with one step, one habit, and one thought.
The more you transform inner/outer violence and build habits that are based in ahimsa, you will naturally cultivate a loving presence that will eventually permeate everything that you do.
Resources for further reading:
The Wisdom of Patañjali's Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra
The Yoga Sutra of Patañjali: A New Translation and Commentary by Georg Feuerstein